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Charter Communications Hijacks Windows Live Search

By January 26, 2007

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There are plenty of spyware and malware programs out there that will hijack your default home page or search engine. Antivirus and anti-spyware software will typically identify and block such attempts because they are illegal, or at least unethical. Imagine my dismay then when my default Web browser search engine was hijacked...by my ISP!! I did some investigating and found that they rationalized their browser hijacking by calling it an opt in "feature". The problem is that they opted everyone in by default and never gave users the opportunity to choose. I also discovered that this "service" only seems to apply if you use Microsoft's search engine. If you are a Google or Yahoo user, apparently you don't need to be forced to opt in to Charter's new "feature". Check out my walk-through of my investigation into this browser hijacking, complete with screen shots to illustrate the story. Charter Communications Hijacks Windows Live Search Engine
Comments
January 28, 2007 at 2:11 pm
(1) Tony Bradley says:

For more commentary on this subject and a more in depth technical investigation, check out this blog post http://www.computerdefense.org/?p=217

January 29, 2007 at 2:45 pm
(2) lamontalfred says:

i think you was given a hard blow of injustice and i hop you stick it to the crooks this seeems to be the norm in america now but stick to your guns

January 29, 2007 at 7:55 pm
(3) mlharr163 says:

It does seem like there’s a war going on between Google & Yahoo. It’s very sly of your browser to perform such an act. Did you try reinstalling it on another computer to test your theory (does it give you the option upon installation?). Everyone should be aware of this. Thanks for the info.

January 29, 2007 at 9:56 pm
(4) anthony says:

do a survey on your site of all charter users n file a class action suit against them! why is browser hijacking illegal for some n legal (?) for others? does the law specifically allow ISPs to hijack clients’ browsers? mayb because they signed a lucrative contract with u-know-who to use their search engine, n therefore forced all their clients onto the new engine with a spurious opt-in feature n an equally spurious n nasty (“accept my cookie or else!”) opt-out feature.
whack them until their pockets hurt. that is the only language white-collar criminals understand.

February 12, 2007 at 8:04 pm
(5) Earl says:

I just had the same problem. I luckily run my own DNS server here at home but it was set to look at charter before the roots (forwarders). I removed the forwarder and I do not have the charter search/hijack page. The funny thing is their optout puts a cookie on your computer that expires in 2 months so you really are not opting out. So basically Charter is hijacking DNS like Verisign tried to do months ago. Charter support just told me they are re-evaluating the situation and will probably remove the “feature”.

February 26, 2007 at 6:27 am
(6) Joey says:

Hi Tony,

Good investigation ;) It also turns out if you do “opt-out”, as they call it, subsequent visits to the redirect page no longer take you to www11.charter.net, rather, to search.msn.com — so you aren’t even technically opting out (or in) of anything because the underlying DNS wildcard is still in effect.

DNS wildcard is the root of the problem and Verisign pulled the same thing a few years ago. But when Verisign did it, the entire world went to task to correct it. Charter rolled out the new “service” last weekend here in Bay City, MI and I’ve been looking around for others to help write an Open Letter to Charter.

There is discussion of the problem over at dslreports.com and Network Computing wrote an news story on it. Some links:

http://www.dslreports.com/forum/remark,17871432

http://www.dslreports.com/shownews/81791

http://www.networkcomputing.com/blog/dailyblog/archives/2007/02/breaking_dns_wi.html

Very Best,

Joey Bickel

August 26, 2007 at 9:32 am
(7) Jeanne says:

I have charter and use Google — thank goodness — but charter keeps sending me a ‘Live it with Charter’ thing that ‘offers perks’ when you sign up – I asked exactly WHAT the ‘perks’ were, and the round-about answers I got were LESS than satisfying, Then I went to Google looking up ‘Live it with Charter’ and got — nothing ….
That’s hint enough for me… NO WAY…

May 11, 2008 at 2:04 am
(8) Barb R says:

Aha, that would explain why I’m on a web page or in the middle of an e-mail and zap – I’m taken to Charter’s main page, just out of the blue. I’ve even called and they blamed Microsoft and suggested calling them – for a fee, of course.

June 3, 2008 at 8:41 pm
(9) Stephanie Brown says:

This is still going on and it’s not just a Windows thing any more. I’m on a Mac using Firefox and it’s hijacked the “I’m feeling lucky” feature where you type something in the address bar and Firefox takes you to Google’s first result for it. Instead I get that dreadful page of completely useless Yahoo results and sponsored links.

I’ve had it with Charter. Did you get the letter that talked about how they were going to start hijacking ads on other sites? Lovely.

June 3, 2008 at 8:46 pm
(10) netsecurity says:

Even better! I moved very far away to an area that Charter does not even service. Of course, I have to deal with other issues like Comcast’s arbitrary throttling of user bandwidth. But, Charter is no longer my issue. I have to say though- I am amazed still that this hasn’t been a bigger deal or resulted in either a suit from Microsoft or a class action suit from the customers.

June 25, 2008 at 12:57 pm
(11) Stephanie Brown says:

Tony, did you see this on Charter’s jacking with user info?

Lucky you moved away from Charter… I wish I could. My only other choice for ISP here is the NSA AT&T, unfortunately. Ha.

January 23, 2009 at 6:13 pm
(12) Chris Bradley says:

Hey Tony, Found you doing a search for charter hijacking my dang browser search, grrr… is there anything else we can do, like BBB, FTC complaints, this is ridiculous.

Btw, gotta like your last name!

Chris

January 24, 2009 at 9:47 am
(13) netsecurity says:

Well Chris- my solution was perhaps a little more extreme that you will be comfortable with or willing to commit to…I moved out of state where Charter doesn’t even exist. :-)

Aside from that- I can’t really say. I reported this every way I could think of, made a big deal of the news, tried to contact Charter, escalated the issue with Microsoft. If it still continues all I can say is switch. Don’t give Charter any of your money.

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