Is Microsoft a Home Page Hijacker?

by Preston Gralla

Is Microsoft so hard up for traffic that it has to resort to the sleazy tactics of spyware makers? Based on one feature of the beta of Microsoft AntiSpyware, that appears to be the case.

Overall, Microsoft AntiSpyware, is a very good, solid piece of software. But it has one particularly disturbing feature -- in essence, it hijacks your home page, and so is guilty of doing the very thing it's supposed to be protecting you against. And, as you might guess, it hijacks your home page to -- surprise! -- MSN.com.

How does it do this? In a devilishly simple and exceedingly misleading manner. When it detects that a hijacker is trying to reset your home page, it warns you and then asks whether you want to block the hijacker. When you answer yes, Microsoft AntiSpyware promptly blocks the hijacker. But it then does a hijack of its own and resets your home page to MSN.com.

If you dig deep enough, you can defeat AntiSpyware's home page hijacking. Choose Advanced Tools-->Browser Hijack Restore, and highlight Start Page. Click "Change restore settings to a new URL," type in your normal home page, then click OK. From now on, when Microsoft blocks a home page hijacking, it will let you keep your own home page, and won't do a hijacking on its own.

Microsoft AntiSpyware is still in beta, so let's hope that Microsoft changes this behavior. Apart from this grubby little feature, it's an excellent spyware killer -- one of the best ones out there.


What do you think of Microsoft AntiSpyware? Let me know.


20 Comments

notjcs
2005-03-02 15:57:37
what else are they going to do?
sorry, but i can't blame them. your home page has already been changed in this situation, so the program isn't going to know what to set your home page back to.


so what else is it going to do, set it to "about:blank"? many novice users aren't going to know how to change it back to something useful and instead wonder why their browser just brings up a blank page. (msn.com is the default for ie on a new computer, remember)


microsoft is right for setting it back to msn.com. anyone that has a homepage different than that probably knows how to change it back anyway, so i don't see the problem.

edice
2005-03-02 17:10:36
what else are they going to do?
How does it know the homepage has been changed? It monitors the setting, right? So, why can't it remember what the last setting was?
jwenting
2005-03-03 00:42:09
what else are they going to do?
If it did that people would scream that Microsoft anti-spyware is itself spyware.
It's a no-win situation for them, either set it to some default (and what's more logical than using your own site as that default) and get blamed for that or monitor what the page is and reset it to that and get blamed for that.



Remember this is Microsoft and there's people who will agitate against them whatever they do...
bry
2005-03-03 01:19:32
what else are they going to do?
monitoring that the homepage has been changed is most likely not the same as noting what the homepage value is.
jbond
2005-03-03 01:23:46
what else are they going to do?
so what else is it going to do, set it to "about:blank"? many novice users aren't going to know how to change it back to something useful and instead wonder why their browser just brings up a blank page.


Who are these dumb novice n00bs that you are so condescending about? I wish we could just get over this "new internet users are dumb, so we're going to do a dumb thing to help them" thing.


(msn.com is the default for ie on a new computer, remember)


More Adware. Why does a clean install of a browser have to have a default home page anyway?

pgralla
2005-03-03 04:47:55
what else are they going to do?
It should do what every other anti-home page hijacker program does --- keep whatever home page you set, and not do a hijack of its own. Every other anti-hijack program looks at what you've set your home page to, and if something tries to hijack it, keeps your own choice. It's very easy to do. Microsoft AntiSpyware is the only one that instead sends you to MSN.com.
cecker
2005-03-03 12:13:50
NO EXCUSE! QUIT MAKING EXCUSES!
When this beta was released, I had the sense to ignore it. After all, if M$ could develop good software, we wouldn't need to pop the extra cash for spyware and antivirus software, and spend time installing alternate web browser and email clients just so I can be safe from hackers, spyware and virus. This is yet another news item that proves my intelligence. Any change to any setting on my PC should be prefaced with a clear indication of what is going on -- there's absolutely no reason to reset the home page to MSN.com -- the previous setting could just as easily be restored. Quit making excuses for the sorriest excuse of a software developer and start demanding they do one of two things: Either quit illegally monopolizing the market or Quit releasing buggy, sub-standard, insecure software and patches that change my system settings. The more people make excuses for their bravado, the more they'll hold back the development and use of technology in everyday life.
jc@noirextreme.com
2005-03-03 13:21:09
Probably unrelated but worth noting
Redirect to Microsoft's home page in Firefox:


http://www.noirextreme.com/node/65

NeuralizR
2005-03-03 15:34:51
what else are they going to do?
While that may be the case for every other piece of software out there, you can't really argue (based on any recorded evidence) that Microsoft would not be slandered for doing just that, keeping track of what your home page is set to.


It may be worthwhile to make it an optional feature, so that those "privacy minded" users can opt to let MS store their homepage URL somewhere other than the spot where a user can edit it or just reset the homepage to something generic. But again, this would need to be an option users would ENABLE, just like setting the default home page yourself. Otherwise you know those privacy people would be crying about MS using the non-private option by default. Just like people that complain about checkboxes for receiving mail or submitting anonymous information while completely optional are still set to do those things by default and the user must make an effort to disable them.


I think, sadly, this is just the way things are on the internet today.


Actually, the best solution to this would be to disallow setting the browser's home page anywhere except in the browser preferences panel... but that's a completely different discussion. ;)

NeuralizR
2005-03-03 15:37:22
what else are they going to do?
Oh and it doesn't send you to msn.com specifically, it sends you to whatever you put in the setting for that, which is just semantics, but... still, figured it was worth pointing out. I think it's more reasonable to say "it's the only one that resets your homepage to whatever you tell it to instead of whatever it was previously set to". but that's just me. ;)
pgralla
2005-03-03 16:23:06
what else are they going to do?
Actually, it sends you to MSN.com, no matter what your home page setting is --- that's why I say it hijacks your home page. The only way to have it instead keep your own home page is if you change the setting the way I explained.
jwenting
2005-03-04 01:51:53
what else are they going to do?
Like I said, if it did that you'd complain that it was spyware by snooping into your system to find out what your homepage is...
jwenting
2005-03-04 01:54:28
NO EXCUSE! QUIT MAKING EXCUSES!
Your post does nothing but prove your stupidity once again.
viae
2005-03-04 09:58:40
Probably unrelated but worth noting
Its a feature. In Firefox you can type "keywords" in the address bar. Firefox will then automatically return the first result from google as that page (you can type the word or phrase by itself or you can type http:// before it). "http://" as a search on google happens to be microsoft.com. Try typing "boing" and you'll go to boingboing.net, try http://antichrist and you get some weird geocities website.
vapour
2005-03-07 20:46:45
what else are they going to do?
Bah. I am fed up with ALL microsoft software. I just spent three hours cleaning an infested windows 2000 box (it was running Microsoft AntiSpyware, AdAware and Norton 2005 when it was hijacked. Crappiest piece of software on the market (Windows OS). I am officially wiping all of it from the PCs in the house.
Oleander
2005-07-18 14:35:26
An unbiased solution
Actually, MS Antispyware has a very valid reason to change the homepage to MSN.com


Under the advanced options, there's an option to "restore browser defaults". This will correct any possibly browser hijacking to the original windows defaults. The windows default homepage is, of course, msn.com


To change this there is a button on the right that says "Change my restore default homepage", where you can put your desired default homepage the next time MS Antispyware runs.


Hope that helps!


Oh, and to all the anti-MS haters, perhaps next time you should look at the options that are directly in front of you, or perhaps learn to understand what the programs that you're installing do.

Bruce
2006-03-21 12:43:43
The Evil Empire strikes again. I can't fix the problem because when I run Microsoft Anti-Spyware it says it's expired and won't update. I don't think I want to download another 7M of headaches (beta 2). Fortunately I don't often have to put up with IE but on the rare occasion when I do it's infuriating that I have to see MSN.
PK:-}}
2006-03-22 10:57:10
I think the new MICROSOFT HOME PAGE HIJACKER STINKS Im using opera from now on. STUFF MICROSOFT
Paul
2006-03-22 10:59:56
Does anyone know how to get my homepage back from the MSN site?????????????? It would be usefull if someone posted an answer instead of us all winging about it.
A T Mann
2006-05-01 06:03:48
How do you find Advanced Tools? I don't see them anywhere.
Thanks