What is Surf Start?
While inspecting suspicious websites, our research team discovered the Surf Start browser extension. It promises easy access to surfing sports results and news. However, our inspection revealed that Surf Start operates as a browser hijacker and promotes the search.nstart.online fake search engine.
Surf Start browser hijacker overview
Surf Start assigns search.nstart.online as browsers' homepage, default search engine, and new tab/window URLs. Additionally, this browser hijacker employs persistence-ensuring techniques - to prevent browser recovery.
With this extension installed: new browser tabs/windows opened and search queries typed into the URL bar - result in redirects to search.nstart.online. Fake search engines are usually incapable of providing search results, so they redirect to genuine ones.
We observed search.nstart.online causing several redirection chains. In some instances - it redirected straight to Bing (bing.com), while in others - the redirects landed on the nearbyme.io illegitimate search engine. Unlike most sites of this kind, nearbyme.io can generate search results, but they are inaccurate and may promote deceptive/malicious content. Note that search.nstart.online might redirect elsewhere since various factors like user geolocation can determine that.
Furthermore, Surf Start has data-tracking functionalities. Browser-hijacking software usually targets: visited URLs, viewed pages, searched queries, usernames/passwords, personally identifiable details, credit card numbers, etc. The collected information can be monetized via sale to third-parties (potentially, cyber criminals).
To summarize, the presence of software like Surf Start on devices can result in system infections, serious privacy issues, financial losses, and even identity theft.
|Threat Type||Browser Hijacker, Redirect, Search Hijacker, Toolbar, Unwanted New Tab|
|Browser Extension(s)||Surf Start|
|Supposed Functionality||Quick access to surfing-related content.|
|Detection Names (search.nstart.online)||N/A (VirusTotal)|
|Serving IP Address (search.nstart.online)||18.104.22.168|
|Affected Browser Settings||Homepage, new tab URL, default search engine|
|Symptoms||Manipulated Internet browser settings (homepage, default Internet search engine, new tab settings). Users are forced to visit the hijacker's website and search the Internet using their search engines.|
|Distribution methods||Deceptive pop-up ads, free software installers (bundling), fake Flash Player installers.|
|Damage||Internet browser tracking (potential privacy issues), display of unwanted ads, redirects to dubious websites.|
|Malware Removal (Windows)||
To eliminate possible malware infections, scan your computer with legitimate antivirus software. Our security researchers recommend using Combo Cleaner.
Browser hijacker examples
Browser-hijacking software usually appears legitimate and harmless. Users are enticed into download/installation with promises of "useful" functionalities, which are seldom operational. And even if they are - that is not proof of the software's legitimacy or safety.
How did Surf Start install on my computer?
We obtained Surf Start from a deceptive webpage. Browser hijackers can have "official" promotional pages, and they are pushed through online scams. Most users enter these sites via redirects caused by webpages using rogue advertising networks, mistyped URLs, spam browser notifications, intrusive ads, or installed adware.
Browser-hijacking software can be bundled with (packed alongside) ordinary programs. Downloading from dubious sources (e.g., unofficial and freeware sites, Peer-to-Peer sharing networks, etc.) and rushing installation processes (e.g., skipping steps and sections, etc.) - increase the risk of allowing bundled content into the device.
Intrusive advertisements proliferate browser hijackers as well. When clicked on, some of the adverts can execute scripts to perform downloads/installations without user permission.
How to avoid installation of browser hijackers?
We strongly recommend researching software and downloading only from official/verified sources. It is just as important to approach installation with care, e.g., by reading terms, studying possible options, using the "Custom/Advanced" settings, and opting-out of additional apps, extensions, tools, etc.
We also advise being careful when browsing since illegitimate and malicious content typically appears ordinary and harmless. For example, intrusive advertisements can look legitimate yet redirect to highly questionable sites (e.g., gambling, pornography, adult-dating, etc.).
In case of encounters with ads/redirects of this type, check the device and immediately remove all suspicious applications and browser extensions/plug-ins. If your computer is already infected with Surf Start, we recommend running a scan with Combo Cleaner Antivirus for Windows to automatically eliminate this browser hijacker.
Permissions asked by Surf Start browser hijacker:
Deceptive website promoting Surf Start browser hijacker:
Appearance of search.nstart.online redirecting to the nearbyme.io fake search engine (GIF):
Instant automatic malware removal:
Manual threat removal might be a lengthy and complicated process that requires advanced computer skills. Combo Cleaner is a professional automatic malware removal tool that is recommended to get rid of malware. Download it by clicking the button below:
- What is Surf Start?
- STEP 1. Uninstall Surf Start application using Control Panel.
- STEP 2. Remove Surf Start browser hijacker from Google Chrome.
- STEP 3. Remove search.nstart.online homepage and default search engine from Mozilla Firefox.
- STEP 4. Remove search.nstart.online redirect from Safari.
- STEP 5. Remove rogue plug-ins from Microsoft Edge.
Surf Start browser hijacker removal:
Windows 11 users:
Right-click on the Start icon, select Apps and Features. In the opened window search for the application you want to uninstall, after locating it, click on the three vertical dots and select Uninstall.
Windows 10 users:
Right-click in the lower left corner of the screen, in the Quick Access Menu select Control Panel. In the opened window choose Programs and Features.
Windows 7 users:
Click Start (Windows Logo at the bottom left corner of your desktop), choose Control Panel. Locate Programs and click Uninstall a program.
macOS (OSX) users:
Click Finder, in the opened screen select Applications. Drag the app from the Applications folder to the Trash (located in your Dock), then right click the Trash icon and select Empty Trash.
In the uninstall programs window: look for any recently installed suspicious applications (for example, "Surf Start"), select these entries and click "Uninstall" or "Remove".
After uninstalling the potentially unwanted applications (which cause browser redirects to the search.nstart.online website), scan your computer for any remaining unwanted components. To scan your computer, use recommended malware removal software.
Surf Start browser hijacker removal from Internet browsers:
Video showing how to remove browser redirects:
Remove malicious extensions from Google Chrome:
Click the Chrome menu icon (at the top right corner of Google Chrome), select "More tools" and click "Extensions". Locate "Surf Start" and other recently-installed suspicious extensions, select these entries and click "Remove".
Change your homepage:
Click the Chrome menu icon (at the top right corner of Google Chrome), select "Settings". In the "On startup" section, disable "Surf Start", look for a browser hijacker URL (hxxp://www.search.nstart.online) below the "Open a specific or set of pages" option. If present click on the three vertical dots icon and select "Remove".
Change your default search engine:
To change your default search engine in Google Chrome: Click the Chrome menu icon (at the top right corner of Google Chrome), select "Settings", in the "Search engine" section, click "Manage search engines...", in the opened list look for "search.nstart.online", when located click the three vertical dots near this URL and select "Delete".
- If you continue to have problems with browser redirects and unwanted advertisements - Reset Google Chrome.
If you continue to have problems with removal of the search.nstart.online redirect, reset your Google Chrome browser settings. Click the Chrome menu icon (at the top right corner of Google Chrome) and select Settings. Scroll down to the bottom of the screen. Click the Advanced… link.
After scrolling to the bottom of the screen, click the Reset (Restore settings to their original defaults) button.
In the opened window, confirm that you wish to reset Google Chrome settings to default by clicking the Reset button.
Remove malicious extensions from Mozilla Firefox:
Click the Firefox menu (at the top right corner of the main window), select "Add-ons and themes". Click "Extensions", in the opened window locate "Surf Start", as well as all recently-installed suspicious extensions, click on the three dots and then click "Remove".
Change your homepage:
To reset your homepage, click the Firefox menu (at the top right corner of the main window), then select "Settings", in the opened window disable "Surf Start", remove hxxp://search.nstart.online and enter your preferred domain, which will open each time you start Mozilla Firefox.
Change your default search engine:
In the URL address bar, type "about:config" and press Enter. Click "Accept the Risk and Continue".
In the search filter at the top, type: "extensionControlled". Set both results to "false" by either double-clicking each entry or clicking the button.
Computer users who have problems with search.nstart.online redirect removal can reset their Mozilla Firefox settings.
Open Mozilla Firefox, at the top right corner of the main window, click the Firefox menu, in the opened menu, click Help.
Select Troubleshooting Information.
In the opened window, click the Refresh Firefox button.
In the opened window, confirm that you wish to reset Mozilla Firefox settings to default by clicking the Refresh Firefox button.
Remove malicious extensions from Safari:
Make sure your Safari browser is active and click Safari menu, then select Preferences...
In the preferences window select the Extensions tab. Look for any recently installed suspicious extensions and uninstall them.
In the preferences window select General tab and make sure that your homepage is set to a preferred URL, if its altered by a browser hijacker - change it.
In the preferences window select Search tab and make sure that your preferred Internet search engine is selected.
Make sure your Safari browser is active and click on Safari menu. From the drop down menu select Clear History and Website Data...
In the opened window select all history and click the Clear History button.
Remove malicious extensions from Microsoft Edge:
Click the Edge menu icon (at the top right corner of Microsoft Edge), select "Extensions". Locate any recently-installed suspicious browser add-ons, and remove them.
Change your homepage and new tab settings:
Click the Edge menu icon (at the top right corner of Microsoft Edge), select "Settings". In the "On startup" section look for the name of the browser hijacker and click "Disable".
Change your default Internet search engine:
To change your default search engine in Microsoft Edge: Click the Edge menu icon (at the top right corner of Microsoft Edge), select "Privacy and services", scroll to bottom of the page and select "Address bar". In the "Search engines used in address bar" section look for the name of the unwanted Internet search engine, when located click the "Disable" button near it. Alternatively you can click on "Manage search engines", in the opened menu look for unwanted Internet search engine. Click on the puzzle icon near it and select "Disable".
If you continue to have problems with removal of the search.nstart.online redirect, reset your Microsoft Edge browser settings. Click the Edge menu icon (at the top right corner of Microsoft Edge) and select Settings.
In the opened settings menu select Reset settings.
Select Restore settings to their default values. In the opened window, confirm that you wish to reset Microsoft Edge settings to default by clicking the Reset button.
- If this did not help, follow these alternative instructions explaining how to reset the Microsoft Edge browser.
A browser hijacker is a type of adware infection that modifies Internet browser settings by assigning the homepage and default Internet search engine settings to some other (unwanted) website URL. Commonly, this type of adware infiltrates operating systems through free software downloads. If your download is managed by a download client, ensure that you decline offers to install advertised toolbars or applications that seek to change your homepage and default Internet search engine settings.
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
What is the purpose of forcing users to visit search.nstart.online website?
Cyber criminals (i.e., developers of fake search engines and browser hijackers) generate revenue through redirects to sites like search.nstart.online.
Is visiting search.nstart.online a threat to my privacy?
Most likely, yes. Websites like search.nstart.online typically collect (and sell) information about their visitors.
How did a browser hijacker infiltrate my computer?
The most commonly used distribution methods include: bundled program installers, online scams, untrustworthy download channels (e.g., freeware and free file-hosting websites, P2P sharing networks, etc.), spam browser notifications, and intrusive ads.
Will Combo Cleaner help me remove Surf Start browser hijacker?
Yes, Combo Cleaner can scan devices and eliminate detected browser-hijacking applications. It is pertinent to mention that manual removal (unaided by security programs) might not be a perfect solution, particularly in cases where multiple browser hijackers are present. Since after one is removed - the others may re-install it. What is more, removal-related settings might be inaccessible with browser-hijacking software installed. Hence, browser hijackers must be removed thoroughly and all at once.