The following tutorial demonstrates how to remove the Cactus Search malware from your computer.
EXAMPLE: Cactus Search Browser Hijacker
Contents of This Tutorial
- How to Remove Cactus Search Browser Hijacker by Resetting Browser to Default Settings and Cleaning Up Browser
- How to Remove Cactus Search Browser Hijacker Using Microsoft Defender via Windows Security
- How to Remove Cactus Search Browser Hijacker Using SpyBot Search & Destroy
Method One: How to Remove Cactus Search Browser Hijacker by Resetting Browser to Default Settings and Cleaning Up Browser
If you see some of these problems, you might have malware installed on your computer. If the malware is secluded to the browser, you should be able to remove it by resetting the browser’s settings.
- Pop-up ads continuously interrupting your web browsing experience
- New browser tabs loading websites which differentiate from your defaults selected
- Unwanted web browser extensions and toolbars keep coming back
- The web browser redirects to webpages or ads that you did not request
- Fake alerts regarding a virus or an infected device
You can avoid this unwanted software in the future by only downloading files from secure sites.
1. Do step 2, step 3, or step 4 depending on what it is that you would like to do.
2. To Reset Google Chrome
Here is how you can reset the browser settings from the Settings and more menu in Google Chrome:
a. Click on the Settings and more (Alt+F) three-dotted menu icon, and then click on the Settings link from the menu. (Click to enlarge the screenshot below.)
b. Scroll down and then click on Advanced at the bottom of the page. (Click to enlarge the screenshot below.)
c. Under the Reset and clean up heading, click on the Restore settings to their original defaults link. (Click to enlarge the screenshot below.)
d. From the Reset settings overlay, click on the Reset settings button. (Click to enlarge the screenshot below.)
e. Under the Reset and clean up heading once again, click on the Clean up computer link. (Click to enlarge the screenshot below.)
f. Next to where it says Find and remove harmful software, click on the Find button. (Click to enlarge the screenshot below.)
You can now close the Google Chrome web browser and continue using your computer if you like.
3. To Reset Mozilla Firefox
Here is how you can reset the browser settings from the Settings and more menu in Firefox:
a. Click on the Settings and more three-lined menu icon, and then click on the Help link. (Click to enlarge the screenshot below.)
b. Click on the Troubleshooting Information link. (Click to enlarge the screenshot below.)
c. Click on the Refresh Firefox button. (Click to enlarge the screenshot below.)
d. Click on the Refresh Firefox button when you get the confirmation dialog box.
You can now close the Mozilla Firefox browser and continue using your computer if you like.
4. To Reset Microsoft Edge
Here is how you can reset the browser settings from the Settings and more menu in Microsoft Edge:
- As of January 2020, the new Chromium-powered Microsoft Edge browser has been made generally available, and it comes with a built-in Potentially Unwanted Program (PUP) blocker. It will not have helped you in preventing any malware yet because Microsoft has the Potentially Unwanted Program blocker turned off by default. The reason for this is because it’s still debated whether a PUP is indeed malware since some PUPs can prove useful to some people, hence the term “potentially” in Potentially Unwanted Program.
- In times past, you would have had to reset the Microsoft Edge browser from the Settings application in Windows 10. That did not make much sense if Microsoft wanted people who use other operating systems to use their web browser. And since alternative operating systems are gaining additional market share, it meant that many Mac users, in particular, could not reset Edge. In the updated Chromium-powered version of Edge, Microsoft has made a change so you can now reset the browser from its settings, similar to what you would find with Google Chrome. They have also removed the option to reset the browser from the Settings app.
a. Click on the Settings and more (Alt+F) three-dotted menu icon, and then click on the Settings link from the menu. (Click to enlarge the screenshot below.)
b. From the Settings menu, click on the Reset Settings link. (Click to enlarge the screenshot below.)
Note: You only see the left Settings menu that you need if you have expanded the browser window so that it is large enough to show up.
c. Under the Reset settings heading, click on the Restore settings to their default values link. (Click to enlarge the screenshot below.)
d. From the Reset settings overlay, click on the Reset button. (Click to enlarge the screenshot below.)
You can now close the Microsoft Edge browser and continue using your computer if you like.
While resetting and cleaning up your web browser may remove the malware from the browser directly, it is possible, depending on the malware, that there are still associated malicious files leftover on the Windows operating system. These leftover files can cause malware to change the browser’s settings again. If you need to take further action because you suspect malware is continuing to change your browser’s settings, you ought to continue with another method below that either removes the malware via a built-in antivirus like Microsoft Defender or a third-party antimalware program.
Method Two: How to Remove Cactus Search Browser Hijacker Using Microsoft Defender in Windows 10/11
Windows 10/11’s default antivirus program, Microsoft Defender, (known as Windows Defender before the Windows 10 November 2019 Update), provides first-rate antivirus and antimalware protection. The term “antimalware” is a fresh take on “antivirus” which had become a cliche because scores of malicious programs that make up 11 common types of malware exist today rather than computer viruses alone. Microsoft Defender finds all sorts of malware and is an antimalware program that keeps the traditional antivirus name to avoid confusion. That said, due to differences of opinion surrounding what the term means, Microsoft Defender still might not remove what you deem a Potentially Unwanted Program (PUP) on your computer until you enable the PUP protection first. If you tried an antivirus/antimalware scan with Microsoft Defender and the malware was not found, you can try enabling the PUP protection and try again before installing third-party software on your computer.
See also: How to Use Malicious Software Removal Tool in Windows 10
Note: The terms “Potentially Unwanted Programs” (PUPs) and “Potentially Unwanted Applications” (PUAs) are interchangeable. When referring to misleading software installed as a bundle or without users’ consent, common antimalware programs use the term “PUP;” however, Microsoft prefers “PUA” in Windows 10.
The Windows Security app currently has seven areas that work together to keep your computers protected from harmful threats. They are as follows:
- Virus & Threat Protection is where you can run scans, view the threat history, set up ransomware protection, and access other settings and notifications such as the Controlled Folder Access that comes with Microsoft Defender Exploit Guard and when you sign in to Microsoft OneDrive.
- Account Protection helps users protect their identity when they sign in to Windows with the new Account Protection pillar in the Microsoft Security app. Account Protection offers some additional chances to secure an account outside of the traditional password, including Windows Hello facial and fingerprint recognition of a PIN for faster sign-in.
- Firewall & Network Protection manages the Microsoft Defender firewall settings and allows you to monitor networks and internet connections.
- App & Browser Control shows Microsoft Defender SmartScreen settings and exploit protection mitigations.
- Device Security gives greater insight and access to device security settings.
- Device Performance & Health shows drivers, storage space, and other issues with Windows Update, plus keeps the device clean and up to date by installing the latest version of Windows 10.
- Family Options offers parental controls and tips to manage your children’s online experience and how to keep kids safe online.
Note: Windows 10 allows you to create system restore points, perform a system restore, change the system restore point creation frequency, and delete system restore points. This collection of tutorials details everything you need for creating, performing, and managing restore points. A restore point is a Windows recovery option that lets you load the operating system at a previous time, which is helpful for when you are unable to proceed due to unsuccessful troubleshooting attempts. Windows’ System Restore is not always turned on by default in Windows 10, so if you haven’t heard of the feature before today, you may not have any restore points created that can help you.
How to Scan with Microsoft Defender in Windows Security
Windows 10/11 provides the latest antivirus protection with Windows Security. Your device will be actively protected from the moment you start Windows 10/11. Windows Security continually scans for malware (all types of malicious software), viruses, and security threats. In addition to this real-time protection, updates are downloaded automatically to help keep your device safe and protected from threats.
Some features differ if you are running Windows 10 in S mode. Because this mode is streamlined for tighter security, the Virus & threat protection area has fewer options. However, that does not mean it is less secure—the built-in security of this mode automatically prevents viruses and other threats from running on your device, and you will receive security updates automatically.
Microsoft Defender automatically scans your system periodically, so it should pick up and remove any malware on your computer by itself over time. If you need a quick solution, Microsoft Defender also allows for manual scans so that you can scan any location on the operating system immediately.
Note: The Microsoft Defender antivirus application shown below comes out of the box on all versions of Windows 10/11, the latest version of the Windows operating system. If you are running an older version of Windows, such as Windows 7 or 8, then you can skip to one of the next parts that shows you how to install a third-party antimalware application instead.
Here is how you can run an antivirus scan with the built-in Microsoft Defender antivirus program from the Windows Security app:
1. Open Windows Security. See this tutorial to read all the different ways in which you can open Windows Security in Windows 10: How to Open Windows Security in Windows 10
2. Click on the Virus & threat protection icon in Windows Security’s Security at a glance page. (Click to enlarge the screenshot below.)
3. Click on the Scan options link.
4. Do step 5, step 6, step 7, or step 8 depending on what it is that you would like to do.
5. To Run a Quick Scan with Microsoft Defender
a. Click on the Scan now button. (Click to enlarge the screenshot below.)
6. To Run a Full Scan with Microsoft Defender
a. Select Full scan and then click on the Scan now button. (Click to enlarge the screenshot below.)
7. To Run a Custom Scan with Microsoft Defender
a. Select Custom scan and then click on the Scan now button. (Click to enlarge the screenshot below.)
8. To Run an Offline Scan with Microsoft Defender
a. Select Windows Defender Offline scan and then click on the Scan now button. (Click to enlarge the screenshot below.)
You can now close the Windows Security app and continue using your computer if you like.
Method Three: How to Remove Cactus Search Browser Hijacker Using SpyBot Search & Destroy
If scanning with the Windows Security antimalware protection does not remove the Cactus Search browser hijacker, you can try installing third-party antimalware tools, such as SpyBot Search & Destroy, and see if that removes the threat instead. You can also use an antimalware program such as Malwarebytes to remove the extensions and all other related files remaining on your computer, so you do not have to do any of it manually.
- Installing SpyBot Search & Destroy may override Microsoft Defender as the default option from any context menu. Thus some of the other parts of the tutorial above may not be available while SpyBot Search & Destroy is installed on your PC. Windows does this because it can only run one antivirus at any one given time. As soon as you remove SpyBot Search & Destroy from the computer, it will automatically begin showing Microsoft Defender once again.
- Installing SpyBot Search & Destroy means you will have the SpyBot Search & Destroy app/program on your computer until you remove it. If you wish to uninstall it after you are done with it, you can follow this tutorial: How to Uninstall Desktop Apps and Windows Apps in Windows 10
1. Download Spybot Search and Destroy from the following link:
- Spybot Search and Destroy is only available at the moment for the Windows operating system. If you have malware on a smartphone, you need to use the Malwarebytes tool above.
- Spybot Search and Destroy has two separate files: one for Windows 10, Windows 8, and Windows 7; and another for Windows Vista and Windows XP. So just make sure you download the right file for your operating system.
2. Click on I want to be protected without having to attend to it myself checkbox and then click on the Next button.
3. Read through the terms and conditions by scrolling down to the bottom, click on the I accept the agreement checkbox, and then click on the Next button.
5. Choose to accept or decline the special offer by Spybot by clicking on the Decline or Accept buttons.
Note: This is likely an advertisement, either because Spybot is directly associated with the Waterfox browser or because Waterfox was willing to pay to be featured during the installation of Spybot. Watefox is in no way relevant to Spybot software, and you do not need to install it.
6. If you want to use the free antimalware by Spybot, click on Spybot (without antivirus), and then click on the Next button.
7. If you like, you can scroll through everything Spybot will add itself to on your computer, and then click on the Next button.
8. Wait for Spybot to download and install on your computer.
9. Once the Spybot setup wizard is complete, check or uncheck the options next to where it says Check for new malware signatures and Open Start Center, and then click on the Next button.
10. From the first Spybot interface you see, click on Associated Tasks from the menu.
11. From the Associated Tasks menu, click on the System Scan link to take you through to where you can run the manual antimalware scan immediately.
12. Here you have two options. Click on the Start a scan button under the Last system scan heading. Or, if you prefer, click on the Start a scan link under the System Scan heading in the left menu.
13. Wait for the scan to complete. You get a Progress section to monitor if you like, located just beneath where you clicked to begin the scan. Here Spybot lets you know roughly how long you can expect to wait. A scan for the average computer can take a full 30 minutes.
14. In the Description column, uncheck any of the “threats” that you deem to be safe because you are familiar with them.
Note: Not all of these “threats” listed are actually threats necessarily. For instance, after our scan, Spybot had picked up countless tracking cookies that are associated with websites we have chosen to sign up to and know about; thus, we are satisfied with not only leaving them but choosing to leave them because we may need them. This part of the tool makes it a little less user-friendly than some other tools that will not go to as much detail in the scan. However, if you are a more advanced computer user who is familiar with his or her computer, then you will appreciate the detail of the scan that Spybot has completed.
15. When you are happy with your selections, click on the Fix Selected button.
If your version of Spybot requests for you to restart your computer for the changes it has made to take effect, then go ahead and do that to remove the malware as soon as possible.
You can now close the Spybot application and continue using your computer if you like.