how to remove adware from your mac
Despite removing MacKeeper, I occasionally get reports from DetectX users who find that when they open their browser, MacKeeper is still haunting them. If your browser is popping open with images like the ones above, then like those users, you’ve got an adware infection.
It sounds nasty, but it’s more annoying and intrusive. It also may signal that your mac has been compromised in other ways by malware such as Pirrit, which has the capability to do more than just harrass you through your browser.
The easy solution to adware is to run my free app DetectX. If you find the problem isn’t solved, you can also send me the DetectX report and I’ll solve it for you, for free.
If you like rolling your sleeves up yourself, then follow this procedure:
As you should always be running with a recent backup anyway (right, folks?) be sure to do a TM backup or clone before you start in case anything goes wrong. Do not ignore the necessity for a backup. If you don’t have one, stop now and get one.
You’re going to want to hunt down the adware in a few places. Be careful not to delete anything, but instead move suspicious items to a folder on your Desktop so that you can return them to where they came from if they are innocent. Create a new folder on your Desktop called ‘Quarantine’ for this purpose.
You’re going to want to keep a note of what you find and where you found it, so have a text editor like BBEdit or TextEdit open while you work. Save this file in your Quarantine folder, too.
When you find a suspicious item, an easy trick is to drag the suspect first into the editor to copy its path, and then drag it into your makeshift ‘Quarantine’ folder to move it. To copy the path in this way, use a plain text format in TextEdit. If you’re using BBEdit, command-drag the item. For moving to your Quarantine folder, you’re going to need to use ‘Command’-drag and supply an Admin password for the move if the item is outside of your Home folder.
2. Local and User Domain Libraries
Note these are two different libraries, but I’m assuming that if you’ve elected to follow this “roll your sleeves up” procedure, you already knew that. If you didn’t, I strongly suggest you reconsider trying to do this yourself. Messing under the hood requires a certain minimum level of experience and knowledge to avoid borking your entire system.
Assuming that all warnings and caveats so far have been heeded, you’re ready to inspect the /Library and ~/Library folders. Treat as suspicious anything at the root of /Library that begins with a lower case letter, particularly if it is an executable. Aside from the hidden .localized file, Apple don’t put anything at the root of /Library that begins with a lower case letter, and responsible 3rd party developers don’t either. If you find anything like that and you don’t know what it is, make a note of it (don’t move it yet).
At this point I’d love to be able to give you a list of file names to look out for, but I’m afraid we’re talking in the thousands if not more. A lot of this adware creates its own unique names on install by randomly choosing words from the
/usr/share/dict/words file. Some of them disguise themselves as Apple files, like
com.apple.morkim.plist and others disguise themselves by hiding themselves from the Finder (so ideally you want to be doing this on the command line, or at the very least use the Finder with invisible files showing).
The good news is that a lot of this adware is fairly obvious when you look at it. Move into the local (not user) Library’s LaunchAgents and LaunchDaemons folders and inspect the items in there. Move items that have random dictionary word names like ‘Bolshevik-remindful’ or gibberish concatenations of consonants and vowels like ‘com.xpbbptejonfy.plist’. If you’re not sure, open the plist (you can
sudo cat it if you’re in the Terminal) and see what executable it refers to. If that refers to a path to some similarly named binary you’ve never heard of, go check it out and see what it is. If in doubt, use
After that, you’ll want to move on to your ~/Library/LaunchAgents folder, and follow the same procedure. Any items in here should refer to an app that you recognize and regularly use. Items with names that mispell words like ‘update’ and ‘download’ are dead giveaways as adware.
Adware plist files in here will typically refer to something funny sounding in your ~/Library/Application Support/ folder. Any apps found in the Application Support folder or subfolders should be treated as suspicious. Again, check the name through an internet search if you’re in any doubt, but since this is stuff in your user domain, really anything you don’t recognize shouldn’t be there anyway.
3. Browser Extensions
While you’re in the user Library, go check on what is in Safari/Extensions folder. You should see an Extensions.plist and only the safariextz files that refer to Extensions you use, if any. Fire up Safari, and check in the Preferences’ Extensions tab to uninstall any that you don’t use. If you use other browsers, use the Tools menu to inspect Extension or Add-ons, again removing any that you don’t use.
4. Restart and test
It’s time to restart your mac. After restarting, you’ll need to reset your browser to its default state. First, hold down the shift key while launching the browser from the Dock.
If you get redirected to an adware page or still get a pop up, clear your browser’s default settings. Although adware can no longer easily alter Safari’s defaults, you can check that your home page is correct in Safari’s Preferences. You can empty history and caches from the Safari menu and the Develop menu, respectively. For the latter, click ‘Advanced’ in Safari’s Preferences and check the ‘Show Develop menu in menu bar’ box at the bottom to enable the menu.
To reset Chrome and chromium based browsers to default settings, see:
For Firefox, see
Fixed it or not?
If you correctly identified and moved the adware, you should be all good. Depending on what you moved and from where, you might want to hang on to the items in your ‘Quarantine’ folder until you’re sure everything is working correctly. If you accidentally moved something you shouldn’t have, you’ll likely soon notice something isn’t working like it used to. Use your notes or your backup to undo the damage. When you’re sufficiently confident that everything in your Quarantine folder is definitely badware, move your notes to somewhere else if you wish to keep them for reference (I’d appreciate a copy of them, too :)) and delete your Quarantine folder.
If things didn’t work out, don’t despair or feel bad. Adware is complex, and the simple DIY guide above won’t cover all the cases. There are other places adware can hide, but it takes a lot of experience to track it all down. If you can’t solve the problem yourself, you can always check your mac with DetectX or contact me through DetectX’s Help menu item ‘Report a Problem to Sqwarq’ and have me do it for you (and no, I don’t charge for this service).
Good luck! 🙂
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