Stop Browser Hijacks with CleanBrowsing

Although we spend a lot of time talking about the benefits of content filtering and how CleanBrowsing can help, there is a hidden benefit that comes in the form of a DNS Firewall that immediately helps any user that leverages the CleanBrowsing DNS Resolver.

To help illustrate how a DNS firewall works, we’ll use Browser hijacking as an example.

What is Browser Hijacking?

Browser hijacking is exactly as the name implies, when a bad actor is able to take control of your local browser settings by injecting it with their preferred settings.

The most common action is when you initiate a search in Google, the results are returned via a Search Engine Result Page (SERP) that looks like Google, but is far from it.

This type of attack is extremely valuable to bad actors, they monetize via ads and unsuspecting online users. While most are benign in the sense that they are abusing the ad ecosystem, some can be used for more malicious purposes (e.g., malware droppers, stealing sensitive information).

Practical Example – MyPrivacyKeeper Hijack

MyPrivacyKeeper Browser Hijacking

This is the exact scenario a customer was recently faced with. They engaged us frustrated that we were blocking their search queries. But what they failed to realize is that the CleanBrowsing DNS Firewall was doing its job, stopping them from accessing a domain intent on doing harm.

If you find yourself dealing with this hijack, don’t fret. MalwareTips has a great guide on how to remove it, and MalwareBytes works extremely well identify and removing all forms of Browser hijacks.

DNS Firewall – The Complementary Security Control

The example above is a real-world example of the benefits of a DNS firewall, but the examples don’t stop there.

Via the CleanBrowsing DNS we have been able to help organizations a) identify infected networks, b) eradicate those infections, and c) help create safe networks for all their users.

We do this by helping them take a proactive approach to mitigating the risk that comes with curious users that click on links, and also by helping them harden their network to monitor their outbound communication.

Example of how DNS Firewall can be used to Protect Your Network

Technically it all happens at the resolver level, where able to see the requests being made and apply specific rules based on what an organization defines as their acceptable use policy. This feature is built into the CleanBrowsing platform by default, and is not restricted to large organizations (i.e., all users, including parents have it by default).

The Domain Name System (DNS) is a critical piece of how the internet works. It is often underutilized as a defensive security control, but it’s highly effective. We encourage you to think about how it might help augment your security program.

Governments Take Stance Against Online Porn

The proliferation of online porn is growing at unprecedented rates. WebRoot estimates that 28,258 users are streaming pornography on the internet every second, 37 pornographic videos are created a day, 25% of the searches on the web are related to pornography (~68 million), and more than 200,00 Americans are classified as “porn addicts”.

The full impact of this proliferation is actively being analyzed by think tanks around the world, and governments are beginning to take direct action against its consumption.

A Fight For Clean Browsing Experiences

Amongst the western powers (e.g., Canada, United Kingdom, United States, Australia) we are starting to see more proactive steps by governments to take steps to create safe online experiences for our youth. The United Kingdom, for instance, is the most forward leaning; introducing a new legislation that requires commercial provers of online pornography to employ mandatory age-verification checks on their users, verifying they are at least 18 (takes affect July 2019) before accessing content that is considered sexual in nature. This is the first legislation of its kind in any country. This new legislation carries stiff penalties for companies in non-compliance, penalties that include being blocked in the UK and forfeiture of revenues in the country.

Whether you believe it to be right or wrong, governments around believe it to be their responsibility to take action and are actively doing so. States in the United States, for instance, are pursuing similar initiatives.

We are aware of a number of different US based initiatives that are taking online porn head-on. Specifically in Tennessee and Missouri, there are two independent initiatives designed to force Internet Service Providers (ISP) to implement new access and verification controls before accessing pornographic content. This mode of access control would include authentication verification through some form of password or biometric technology.

While the legislation in Missouri and Tennessee are still under review, Idaho has focused its energy on public institutions. In April of 2019, Idaho passed legislation that would force all public libraries to deploy content filtering technology on their networks to block access to pornographic content by July 2020.

The government’s position is the same as many parents, the accessibility of online porn is too pervasive. Unlike parents, however, governments have been investing time, effort and money to understand their impacts. For instance, in 2014 a 12-year old boy from Blackburn, UK was arrested for raping his seven-year-old sister; the contributing factor was what the child admitted was his own curiosity after watching online porn. This is but one of many examples of what governments are calling a rise in “child-on-child” attacks, specifically sexual ones that are being fueled by online porn.

Deploying Clean Browsing Experiences

At CleanBrowsing we are happy to support any government, or public, institution that finds themselves at the end of a new legal mandate or shares similar desires to provide safe browsing experiences on their networks.

Our Free filters are the best in the market and have no access or filter restrictions. The Adult Filter is specifically what your organization will need it. It not only blocks direct access to sites categorized as having adult content, but employs advanced blocking controls on search engines that allow it (e.g., Safe Mode on Google, Bing, etc…). It also provides advanced security filtering technology that ensures malicious sites are kept out of your network (i.e., helps ensure that users on your network don’t accidentally click on hacked sites).

If advanced visibility into the network utilization or additional controls (e.g., custom block pages) are required, contact us at; we’ll be happy to work with your organization on your specific needs.

Internet Porn and Its Impact on Kids

When we started CleanBrowsing we set out to create safe browsing experiences in our own homes. As parents to pre-teens, and like most kids, our kids were spending a tremendous amount of time online and we were afraid of what they might stumble on while surfing the web.

As technologists we didn’t want to hold them back from exploring the world that has been at the core of who we are, but we did want to put training wheels on the process. What we never planned, or accounted, for is the problem that is internet porn.

How big is the Porn business?

To put into perspective, conservative estimates have the industry pegged at $15Bn in revenue a year, with low estimates close to $6Bn and high estimated in excess of $95Bn (Source: QZ)

Calculating its proliferation on the web is hard, there are different studies conducted on the subject; many go back many years. Technologies growth is exponential on an annual basis, let alone over a period of years. A lot of the studies seem to be driven by specific ideologies, and it’s why looking at the economic impact can be more objective. Unfortunately, because the industry is predominantly private it’s next to impossible to really gauge the size of the industry.

While it’s difficult to gauge the economic scale of the industry, we do gain a much deeper appreciation for it’s size by looking at some of the stats provided by the most popular porn syndication – Pornhub:

2018 was an impressively big year for Pornhub and its users. Visits to Pornhub totaled 33.5 billion over the course of 2018, an increase of 5 billion visits over 2017. That equates to a daily average of 92 million visitors and at the time of this writing, Pornhub’s daily visits now exceed 100 million. To put that into perspective, that’s as if the combined populations of Canada, Poland and Australia all visited Pornhub every day!

Pornhub’s servers served up 30.3 billion searches, or 962 searches per second. To make sure there was always fresh content to satisfy those searches, Pornhub’s amateurs, models and content partners uploaded an incredible 4.79 million new videos, creating over 1 million hours of new content to enjoy on the site. If you were to start watching 2018’s videos after the Wright brother’s first flight in 1903, you would still be watching them today 115 years later! (2018 Usage Statistics)

The Affects on Kids

Most recently, while visiting with extended family I was having a conversation with my aunt in which she shared the following story:

Yes, the web is crazy. Just the other day your cousin (11 years old) came into my room shaken. He wouldn’t say anything, and I thought something serious had happened. He finally broke and told me that while he was online he came across a very weird site. On the site the guy was doing something to the girl. He couldn’t understand why he was doing it, he felt as if it was something he wasn’t supposed to be watching, but he couldn’t help himself. He couldn’t stop watching.

As we continued to chat, she told me that it took him a couple of days to come forward with this information. During that time he found himself continuously thinking about what he had seen. On one hand he felt that it was bad and against his religion, but on the other he was fascinated by it.

CovenantEyes performed a study and found the following:

  • – 57% of teens search out porn at least monthly.
  • – 51% of male students and 32% of female students first viewed porn before their teenage years.
  • – The first exposure to pornography among men is 12 years old, on average.
  • – 71% of teens hide online behavior from their parents.

Porn has always been there, but here at CleanBrowsing we can’t help but believe that today’s Porn is very different than we experienced in the 80’s. The proliferation and intensity of the videos, images and their accessibility scares us. Mainly because of our eye-opening experience with adults and their struggles with porn addiction. We can’t help but anecdotally recognize, while not fully researched, there is undoubtedly going to be some correlation between porn consumption and the psyche of our kids. We base this hypothesis on the number of adults we’re currently helping with their own online porn addictions; addictions that have become debilitating for many.

Creating a Safe Browsing Experience

As a parent, I found the experience my aunt described to be disturbing. While engaged doing something else on the web, something interrupted my cousins experience with something that brought him distress. Things like this shouldn’t happen, and it’s why we built CleanBrowsing; it’s impossible for us to shadow every action our kids take online, and protect them from the unsuspected, but we can use technology to help us get ahead of it.

If you share a similar belief and want to create a safe online experience in your home or organization, feel free to use our Free filters. We have Paid plans that provide more granularity in the controls and visibility on your network, but the Free plans are just as effective. If you have any questions, please feel free to email us