What is it with controlling the browser?
Let’s start with Wikipedia content “Many high profile browser toolbars over the years have been fraught with issues, either intentionally as malware or injected with computer viruses or due to poor conflicting programming when considering multiple toolbars being included on the single browser”.
The raison d'être of most toolbars is to (a) hijack your home page leading to higher advertising click per view revenue, (b) track your browsing habits (where, when and what you visit) (c) claim all search results via their own ‘search engine’ and (d) to deliver targeted results. That includes the so called good ones.
There is no such thing as a good tool bar – it is all about money.
I get really annoyed when Adobe (a reputable company) by default installs Google Toolbar each time there is a Flash Player or Reader update. The install screen delays just long enough before revealing the option not to install same that many have been tricked. And yes Adobe gets a reward every time a tool bar is installed.
Java often defaults to installing Google Toolbar or Yahoo! At one time Java installed Google Desktop (Bing Desktop is just as bad) which indexes your local files and keyword contents opening these up to its faceless scrutiny and guess what – more targeted advertisements.
Shame on some Antivirus companies that offer Browser Helper Objects (BHO) that are really just advertising pay per click vehicles.
Free software – watch out for the unwanted passengers
A popular program that I absolutely love and use regularly is IrfanView that seems to have been hijacked on some software download sites to include a wide range of tool bars that are not benign in nature.
I could go on and on but it seems the lure of cash for aiding and abetting tool bar and BHO installs is just too strong for some web masters.
What to do
First open up your browser and search for removing Browser Help Objects and Toolbars because each browser e.g. Internet Explorer, FireFox, Mozilla, Opera, Safari etc., is different. Then follow the instructions and remove every toolbar you can find.
If that is too hard a free program called Toolbar Cleaner can remove ‘more than 1 million tool bars and add-ons’ but even it tries to install ‘Anti-Phishing Domain Advisor’ (which is yes – another damned tool bar belonging to Lavasoft AdAware and Panda security) and change your home page. Benign – perhaps but uncheck both items before install and you will get the benefits without the pain.
After all this in Windows I also recommend running a registry cleaner like the free Wise Registry Cleaner to delete all vestiges of the nasty from registry. Wise is not malware but it will nag you to upgrade to a Pro Version so just ignore that.
It will also nag you to download the Wise Disk Cleaner which I recommend running weekly. However it may nag you to download Wise Care 365 which is also a very good but overly complex product that you don’t need so don’t install that.
Common toolbars to avoid (these are less bad than others not listed)
Web developer for Firefox
The majority of other tool bars are generally misnamed search tools or assistants and are to be avoided especially those that purport to search several engines and come back with consolidated results.
What tool bars are safe?
I would like to say none but for example LastPass toolbar is necessary if you use that password tracking software (and I do) and there may be similar ones that are necessary. Invariably if you install a tool bar it will report somewhere – trust no one.
Similarly if you use Classic Shell (highly recommended as it brings the Start button back to Windows 8) you don’t need some of the tool bars it installs so remove them.
Another variety of tool bars can find a way into Windows Explorer and Office - if you notice additional tool bars search on how to remove them too.