What is COVID Dashboard?
While inspecting deceptive websites, our researchers discovered the COVID Dashboard, full title – COVID dashboard at Johns Hopkins University – browser extension. It is promoted as a tool for easy access to information concerning the COVID-19 pandemic.
After investigating this extension, we determined that it operates as a browser hijacker. This piece of software modifies browser settings to promote fake search engines. Additionally, COVID Dashboard spies on users' browsing activity.
COVID Dashboard browser hijacker overview
After we installed the COVID Dashboard extension on our test machine, it reassigned the browser's default search engine, homepage, and new tab/window URLs to the addresses of promoted sites. Hence, whenever we opened a new browser tab/window or performed a Web search via the URL bar – it resulted in a redirect to the endorsed site.
This browser hijacker promoted various fake search engines, such as search.extjourney.com, track.clickcrystal.com, and others. While analyzing COVID Dashboard, we observed it causing a variety of redirection chains.
Illegitimate search engines are usually incapable of providing search results, so they redirect to genuine ones. We noted track.clickcrystal.com leading straight to Bing (bing.com) and Google (google.com), but also redirecting to another fake search engine before landing on the aforementioned legitimate ones. User geolocation can dictate what redirects COVID Dashboard generates.
Furthermore, like most browser hijackers, this extension employs persistence-ensuring techniques to prevent users from recovering their browsers.
What is more, COVID Dashboard has data-tracking abilities. Targeted information may include: visited URLs, viewed pages, searched queries, Internet cookies, log-in credentials, personally identifiable details, credit card numbers, etc. The gathered information can be shared with and/or sold to third-parties.
To summarize, the presence of software like COVID Dashboard on devices can lead to system infections, serious privacy issues, financial losses, and identity theft.
|Threat Type||Browser Hijacker, Redirect, Search Hijacker, Toolbar, Unwanted New Tab|
|Detection Names (installer)||Combo Cleaner (Trojan.Hulk.Gen.9), ESET-NOD32 (A Variant Of Win32/Packed.VMProtect.AIC), Kaspersky (HEUR:Trojan.Win32.Agent.gen), Rising (Malware.SwollenFile!1.DDB4 (CLASSIC)), Full List Of Detections (VirusTotal)|
|Browser Extension(s)||COVID Dashboard, COVID dashboard at Johns Hopkins University|
|Supposed Functionality||Easy access to information regarding COVID-19|
|Promoted URL||search.extjourney.com, track.clickcrystal.com|
|Detection Names (search.extjourney.com)||N/A (VirusTotal)|
|Serving IP Address (search.extjourney.com)||184.108.40.206|
|Detection Names (track.clickcrystal.com)||N/A (VirusTotal)|
|Serving IP Address (track.clickcrystal.com)||220.127.116.11|
|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).|
|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 innocuous. However, it seldom operates as advertised, and in most cases – its "handy" features are utterly nonoperational. It must be emphasized that even if a piece of software works as promised – that is not a guarantee of its legitimacy or safety.
How did COVID Dashboard install on my computer?
We obtained an installer containing COVID Dashboard from a deceptive website, and we found this extension's "official" promotional page. Most users access such sites via redirects caused by webpages using rogue advertising networks, mistyped URLs, spam browser notifications, intrusive ads, or installed adware.
Browser hijackers can be bundled with regular programs as well. Downloading from dubious sources (e.g., freeware and free file-hosting websites, P2P sharing networks, etc.) and rushing through installation processes (e.g., using "Easy/Express" settings, etc.) – increase the risk of inadvertently allowing bundled content into the system.
Intrusive advertisements also proliferate browser hijackers. Once clicked on, some of the adverts can execute scripts to perform downloads/installations without user consent.
How to avoid installation of browser hijackers?
We strongly recommend researching software and downloading only from official/verified sources. Installation processes must be approached with caution, e.g., by reading terms, studying possible options, using the "Custom/Advanced" settings, and opting out of all supplementary apps, extensions, features, etc.
Another recommendation is to exercise caution while browsing since fake and malicious content usually appears legitimate. For example, while intrusive adverts may look harmless, they redirect to highly questionable websites (e.g., gambling, adult dating, pornography, etc.).
In case of encounters with such advertisements and/or redirects, inspect the system and immediately remove all suspicious applications and browser extensions/plug-ins. If your computer is already infected with COVID Dashboard, we recommend running a scan with Combo Cleaner Antivirus for Windows to automatically eliminate this browser hijacker.
Permissions asked by COVID Dashboard browser hijacker:
COVID Dashboard browser hijacker's "official" promotional website:
Deceptive website promoting COVID Dashboard browser hijacker:
Appearance of the search.extjourney.com fake search engine promoted by COVID Dashboard browser hijacker:
Appearance of track.clickcrystal.com redirecting to the Bing search engine (GIF):
Instant automatic malware removal:
Manual threat removal might be a lengthy and complicated process that requires advanced IT 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 COVID Dashboard?
- STEP 1. Uninstall unwanted applications using Control Panel.
- STEP 2. Remove COVID Dashboard browser hijacker from Google Chrome.
- STEP 3. Remove COVID Dashboard homepage and default search engine from Mozilla Firefox.
- STEP 4. Remove rogue redirects from Safari.
- STEP 5. Remove rogue plug-ins from Microsoft Edge.
COVID Dashboard 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, select these entries and click "Uninstall" or "Remove".
After uninstalling the potentially unwanted applications, scan your computer for any remaining unwanted components. To scan your computer, use recommended malware removal software.
COVID Dashboard 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 "COVID dashboard at Johns Hopkins University" (or "COVID Dashboard") 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 "COVID dashboard at Johns Hopkins University" (or simply "COVID Dashboard"), look for a browser hijacker URL (e.g., hxxp://www.search.extjourney.com, hxxp://www.track.clickcrystal.com, etc.) 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 the browser hijacker URL (e.g., "search.extjourney.com", "track.clickcrystal.com", etc.) 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 covid dashboard 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 "COVID dashboard at Johns Hopkins University" (or simply "COVID Dashboard"), 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 "COVID dashboard at Johns Hopkins University" (or simply "COVID Dashboard"), remove the browser hijacker URL (e.g., hxxp://search.extjourney.com, hxxp://track.clickcrystal.com, etc.) 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 covid dashboard 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 covid dashboard 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 websites like search.extjourney.com or track.clickcrystal.com?
Cyber criminals (i.e., developers of browser hijackers and fake search engines) generate revenue through redirects to sites like search.extjourney.com, track.clickcrystal.com, and similar.
Is visiting search.extjourney.com or track.clickcrystal.com a threat to my privacy?
Most likely, yes. Websites like search.extjourney.com and track.clickcrystal.com typically collect (and sell) visitor data.
How did a browser hijacker infiltrate my computer?
Browser hijackers are primarily distributed through bundled installers, online scams, untrustworthy download channels (e.g., freeware and free file-hosting websites, Peer-to-Peer sharing networks, etc.), spam browser notifications, and intrusive advertisements.
Will Combo Cleaner help me remove COVID Dashboard browser hijacker?
Yes, Combo Cleaner will scan your computer and eliminate detected browser-hijacking applications. It is pertinent to mention that manual removal (unaided by security programs) might not be ideal, particularly when multiple browser hijackers are present. Since after one is removed – the others may simply reinstall it. Furthermore, removal-related settings might be unmodifiable with this software installed. Therefore, it is paramount to eliminate browser hijackers thoroughly and all at once.