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Remove spam ads and malware from web browser

What are browser extensions?
Browser extensions are super handy little applications that extend the browsers functionality and allow it to be able to do things like take full page screenshots, notify you about emails, block ads and tons of other useful things. Extensions are great and there is no reason to be afraid of installing and using them, but you need to be aware of the permissions you are giving them and what can happen when those permissions are abused. Extensions are plentiful, which is great but also means that they are not really very well checked before going on to the extensions library.

What is browser spam?
Browser spam ads are becoming more and more common with the increase of extensions readily available. These extensions can contain adware or malware that will display over real web content. This may have been added by the author of the extension or it could be a genuine issue that they didn’t know about. You may not notice the issue as soon as you download it either because it may be introduced later in an update to the extension without you really noticing.

I recently had problems with the Webpage Screenshot extension for Chrome. The extension was injecting some malware in to the browser that displayed ads over content and even overlaid invisible links to ads (most of which were also spam linking to more malware).

How do I know if it is browser spam and not an operating system virus or malware?
These kinds of malware or adware can only affect your browser window because it is given those permissions when it is installed. But it is only an extension to the browser so can only work within it and only work while the browser is open. If you are getting ads or spam outside of your browser then you need to run a virus scanner on your machine to find out what it is and remove it.

How can I remove it?
The problem I had was with Google Chrome so I am going to show that as an example, but other browsers will work in a similar way. To remove the problem you need to work out which extension or extensions are the problem. To narrow it down you need to look for the ones that have this permission to ‘read and change all your data on the websites you visit’ as this is what allows the extension to inject the spam ads.

webpage screenshot permissions

You can see all of your extensions by going to Chrome -> Preferences or going to this link in the browser – chrome://extensions/ and from the list you can view the permissions for each one as well as disabling and removing them. If you remove all your extensions and you are still having the same problem you may need to reset the browser.

chrome extensions

You can do this by going to chrome://settings/ and then clicking ‘show advanced settings’ and click on ‘reset settings’.

How can you avoid this in future?
It is not always possible because extensions can be completely legit and then become infected on an update. But be sure to read the extension reviews and even quickly google it before installing it, it will save you time in the long run from trying to remove it.