Help! My Browser Just Barfed!

Browser? That application, known by many names… Firefox, Edge, Internet Explorer, Google Chrome. An application from different vendors created to do essentially a single task: make the internet accessible to computer users.

But what happens when they ingest something that makes them sick? I.e. the user goes to a questionable website, or is duped into following a seemingly innocent link, or gets fooled into clicking on something they later wished they hadn’t clicked on.  Suddenly it’s as if your internet browser has been taken over by the forces of hell itself and windows are appearing warning you of one thing or another and that bad things are about to happen if you don’t call the number being displayed on the screen for technical support immediately. I’ve even seen a few that stated Microsoft itself has found the PC to be infected and was about to be blocked from the internet until it was fixed. Really?

Sadly, these exploits are designed specifically to get the user to a state of panic in a very short period of time in the hopes that the user will act on the information being displayed in front of them. I’ll admit, the stuff looks real in the moment, however, if you take a moment and a deep breath it doesn’t take too long to realize that it’s all smoke and mirrors.  And the scariest part is that no matter how you try clicking the X at the top right corner of the browser either doesn’t work, or is not there because they’ve forced the browser window into full-screen mode. This is all done by overloading the browser process thereby making it unresponsive to user input.

There are two methods to deal with this scenario:

  1. hold down the power button until the computer shuts down, count to 5 and then power it back on. (counting to five serves two purposes: it gives you a moment to catch your breath, and allows power to drain from the capacitors and thereby ensuring there isn’t anything left in memory).
  2. This is the recommended method: right-click on the task bar, choose task manager from the context menu that appears, click on the details tab, locate the browser you were using when the crap-storm started, right-click on each instance of the browser (if google chrome the browser instance is displayed as chrome.exe) and choose end task from the menu. You may have to do this several times to kill all instances of the running browser, but usually it only takes a few of them till they’re all gone. Then,  simply reboot your system normally and go on about your day. Also, make a note to yourself about the web site you were visiting when this happened and then promise yourself a reward if you never go back to that site again.

Obviously, the second method above is the recommended method of dealing with this issue, however there are times when this is difficult; especially when the browser window is in full-screen mode, which is usually the case. If you’re unable to gain access to the task manager from right-clicking on the task bar, then forcing the computer down using method one isn’t likely to cause you a lot of trouble. The important thing to understand here is that in almost all instances of this happening this is designed to cause the user to panic and move the user on to the next step which usually involves them actually getting infected or taken to the cleaners by someone looking for a pay-day.

However, if you’re patient and at least try, you can usually get to the task manager to kill the process. If you absolutely can’t get to the taskbar to access the task manager that way, there is another method you can try: CTRL+ALT+DELETE. Those three keys, the same ones you use to bring up a login screen on your computer, when you’re already logged in, will take you to a screen with four or five choices on it not counting the cancel button. One of those choices is the task manager. Clicking on the task manager will take you back to where you just came from but the task manager application will be sitting front and center on your screen. From there you can kill all your browser instances and clear the mess from your screen.

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