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How to clean up and reset Mozilla Firefox

When it comes to computer repair, the most common problem I find is browser corruption. Malicious web sites with infected flash ads are the most common way a browser can get corrupted. So here's how to clean up and reset Mozilla Firefox.

How to clean up and reset Mozilla Firefox

In the past I've shown how to clean up and reset Google Chrome (#1 browser) and Internet Explorer (#2 browser), so this article shouldn't be any surprise. What might surprise you is that I actually have all three browsers installed on my personal computer and Firefox is my default browser. Each as their pros and cons, but the Mozilla Foundation is a non-profit organization and I've always been a supporter of the open-source community.

I've always thought of Mozilla Firefox as a cross between Internet Explorer and Google Chrome, having the best elements from both. Case in point is the way you can access the options in Firefox. You can either use the Menu button in the upper right-hand corner (the button with three (3) horizontal bars) or enable the Menu Bar on top of the browser window (similar to Internet Explorer).
The Firefox Menu Bar and Menu Button locations
To get the Menu Bar, just right-click the blank area above the Address Bar and select Menu Bar. And there are options that can only be accessed by using the Menu Bar, but I'll talk about that later in this article.

Let's start off with the basic options. If you're using the Menu Button, select Options; if you're using the Menu Bar, select the Tools pull-down menu and then Options. This will bring up the Firefox preferences. On the left-hand side is a menu with several selections; General Search, Content, Applications, Privacy, Sync and Advanced.

When you click on General, you are presented with the most basic settings. If Firefox is been modified by a malicious piece of malware / adware, you'll want to check the When Firefox starts settings to make sure that it's not opening up malicious web pages when it starts up. You can reset it back to the default settings by clicking on the Restore to Default button right below the Home Page box. One of the default settings on this page that I always change is the Downloads option. I prefer to be prompted on where to save a download, as I don't always want them just dumped into my default downloads folder.

The next selection on the left side menu is Search. This is where you can add or remove the search engines that Firefox uses.
The Search options inside of Firefox
You can change the default search engine here or you can change it on the fly by clicking on the magnifying glass on the left side of the Search box. At the bottom of this page you'll find a button called Restore Default Search Engines that does just that.

The next selection on the left side menu is Content. You want to make sure that the Block pop-up windows box is checked. And you may want to click on the Exceptions button and see if there are any websites that you do not recognize. If there are, just highlight the entry and select Remove Site. If you want to get rid of all of them, click on Remove All Sites.

The next selection on the left side menu is Applications. Here you can choose what happens when you choose different actions, like when you click on a mailto: link. Nothing really out of the ordinary here. I would just review them to make sure everything looked good. If you think something is questionable, just change the action. You can always change it back if doesn't work the way you want it to.

The next selection on the left side menu is Privacy. On the top of this page you can select whether to allow tracking cookies or not, it's your choice. One setting I modify on this page is under History. If you pull down the selections under Firefox will: and select Use custom settings for history, you get a few more options. I recommend that you check Clear history when Firefox closes box and then click on the Settings button.
Settings for clearing the history inside of Firefox
In the window that appears, you can choose what items you want Firefox to delete when it is closed. I personally deselect everything but Cache. But this is strictly a personal preference.

The next selection on the left side menu is Security. Here you want to make sure that Warn me when sites try to install add-ons, Block reported attack site and Block reported web forgeries are selected. You can also change whether passwords are saved and change them if you allow Firefox to save them. You can also add another layer of security for your saved passwords by using a master password.

The next selection on the left side menu is Sync. This a pretty cool feature if you have Firefox installed on multiple devices. I use this feature with a couple of computer and a smartphone. I love the way it will sync saved password across all of my devices. Enough said.

The last selection on the left side menu is Advanced. Here you'll find five (5) tabs; General, Data Choices, Network, Update and Certificates. There isn't much here that needs to be reconfigured, since the defaults are fairly 'run of the mill' kind of stuff. The one exception might be under the Network tab, where you can clear the current web page cache. If you use the clear history setting mentioned earlier in this article, the cache will be deleted when you close Firefox. But if you really need it cleaned immediately, this is where you go to do it.

Now that we've checked and reset and/or changed the preferences, let's take a look at the add-ons page. To get there just click on the Menu Button and select Add-ons. If you're using the Menu Bar, left-click on Tools and select Add-ons from the drop down menu. Once you have the Add-ons page up, you will find five (5) selections on the left side menu; Get Add-ons, Extensions, Appearance, Plugins and Services.

The first selection is Get Add-ons and as the name implies, this is where you can search for and install add-ons for Firefox. Pretty simple.

The second selection on the left side is Extensions. This is where you look for malicious apps that like to run inside of Firefox. Go through the list here and if you find one that you don't remember installing, just click the Disable button on the right hand side.
The Extensions options inside of Firefox
You be prompted the restart Firefox to completely disable it. Remember that even if you disable an extension, you can always enable it at a later date. Or if you find you don't need it at all, you can always delete it. But remember that if you delete an extension and then realize you really did want it, you will have to reinstall it.

The next selection on the left side menu is Appearance and this is where you change the look of Firefox. If you don't like the default theme, you can always download a new theme under Get add-ons.

The fourth selection down the left side menu is Plugins. Plugins add support for different types of Internet content, like PDF files and Flash content.
The Plugins options inside of Firefox
One thing you can do here for security is change Shockware Flash from Always Activate to Ask to Activate. In fact, you can do that with any plugin that you're not sure you want to automatically run.

The last selection on the left side menu is Services. These are usually service add-ons, like Facebook or Twitter and they require personal information like usernames and password to use them. If you have any services installed, double check the information you used to set them up.

Now if after going through the previous steps and Firefox is still not working the way it did when you installed it, there are two (2) things you can do. You can either do a reset or uninstall / reinstall. Normally a reset will fix about 90% of problems with Firefox, but there are times when only an uninstall/reinstall will work. I always try a reset first.

To reset Firefox, you will need to have access to the Menu Bar. To get the Menu Bar to appear, just right-click the blank area above the Address bar and select Menu Bar from the context menu. Once you have the Menu Bar, left-click on Help and then Troubleshooting Information.
Accessing the Troubleshooting Information inside of Firefox
When the Troubleshooting Information page appears, click on the Refresh Firefox button on the right side of the page. You will be prompted on how you're about to reset Firefox back to its default settings. Click on Refresh Firefox and Firefox will be reset back to its original default settings. It also creates a folder on your desktop called Old Firefox Data just in case you need to restore anything, like your bookmarks.

Now if that doesn't get Firefox back to normal, then the last resort is to do an uninstall / reinstall. This may take a little time to perform, but if you really want Firefox back to pristine condition, this is what it might take. First thing is to go into the Control Panel and select Uninstall a program (if viewing by category) or Programs and Features (if viewing by icons). Highlight Mozilla Firefox and then select Uninstall.

Once Mozilla Firefox is uninstalled, restart your computer. When your computer is restarted and you are logged back in, you will need to remove any traces of Firefox prior to reinstalling it. There are two places that you will need to look for any leftover files, inside your user profile and inside of the Program Files directory. The files inside your user profile are hidden by default, but you can get there quickly by bringing up a Run dialog box (Windows Logo key Windows logo key + R) and typing or copy / paste the following code:

%userprofile%/AppData/Local/Mozilla

This will open the File Explorer to the location of your Firefox user profile settings. If there is a folder named Firefox, go ahead and delete it. Next you will have to navigate to the location of the Program Files directory and check under the folder named Mozilla Firefox. Its location is usually C:\Program Files (x86)\Mozilla Firefox, but may be different if your version of Windows is 32-bit (C:\Program Files\Mozilla Firefox) or if you installed Firefox on a different drive. Once you get there, if you find a folder named Mozilla Firefox, go ahead and delete it. Now you can download and reinstall Mozilla Firefox.

How to clean up and reset Google Chrome

Internet browsers are prone to getting compromised. It can happen by opening an infected e-mail to viewing a malicious ad on a web page. But knowing how to get your browser back to normal is the key. Here's how to clean up and reset Google Chrome.

How to clean up and reset Google Chrome

Of the top three (3) browsers out there, Google Chrome is by far the most popular. One of the main reasons is that it needs to be installed to use some of Google features, like Google Earth. And since it is the most popular, it is also the biggest target for adware and malware. In fact, in the past the Chrome web store has gotten compromised with infected apps. Google is now scrutinizing the Chrome extensions harder than ever because of it. So knowing how to clean up and reset Chrome comes in really handy.

Cleaning up and resetting Chrome

Google has made resetting the Chrome browser fairly simple. Just open Chrome and click on the Customize button in the upper right-hand corner (it looks like three (3) horizontal bars).
The Customize button inside of Google Chrome
Go down and left-click on Settings, which will bring up a new tab with all of the user configurable settings. On the left-hand column you will find four (4) links; History, Extensions, Settings and About.

The History page inside of Google Chrome
The History page inside of Google Chrome

Clicking on the History link brings up the History page where you can clear the browsing data. You have two (2) options on this page; you can remove all of the browsing data by clicking on the Clear browsing data ... button or you can select the individually items on the list that appears and then click on the Remove selected items button.

The clear browsing data windows inside of Google Chrome
The clear browsing data windows inside of Google Chrome

When you click on the Clear browsing data ... button, a window appears with the different items that you can remove. On top of the window is an option to choose the time frame in which you want to delete the data, from the past hour to when you first installed Chrome. These items include browsing and download history, cookies, cached images / files, passwords, autofill form data, hosted app data and content licenses. Remember that once an item has been deleted, you cannot get it or them back (like passwords), so choose wisely. When it doubt, just remove the default items (browsing and download history, cookies, cached images / files).

The second link down is Extensions. This where you will find all of the installed apps that run inside of Chrome. These extend the functionality and usefulness of Chrome. This also where you'll normally find malicious apps have installed themselves without your knowledge (usually in kiosk mode). It's here that you can either enable, disable or remove them from Chrome. If you're not sure about an extension, you can always disable it to find out what it did or didn't do inside of Chrome. And when you're sure you don't need it or you don't remember installing it, just select the little trash can on the right of the extension to permanently remove it. If you accidentally remove an extension and want it back, you will have to go through the process of reinstalling it, so be careful.

One of the extension options is Allow in incognito for private browsing. Chrome has the ability to run is what is called Incognito mode, where it does not save any record of where you have been or what you may have downloaded. If an extension has the option to select Allow in incognito mode, it can be enabled for it. If you use incognito mode, I would defiantly recommend enabling any type of virus, adware or malware application extension.

The third link down is Settings. When you click on it, it brings up almost all of the user configurable settings. If you have used a program like AdwCleaner to clean up your system, there may be a warning about your user data being corrupted by another program and that Chrome has had to reset your user settings back to default. This is normal behavior when you use a browser cleaning program outside of Chrome to clean up an infection. What I do when this happens is just scroll down the tab and click Advanced settings, then go all the way down to the bottom and click on Reset settings and do a full reset.

The second section down is titled On startup, and is the first place I look for evidence of browser hijacking. Allot of malicious apps will try and get your browser to automatically open up their website(s) when you start up Chrome. They will also try and take advantage off another setting further down this tab that allows apps to be run even without Chrome being open (more on this one later in this article). If Open a specific page or set of pages is selected, click on Set pages to view these pages. If there are any page(s) you didn't add yourself, hover your cursor over it and click on the X that appears on the right hand side of it. You can also add any page you would like to automatically when you start up Chrome here too.

As you scroll down this tab you will a section titled Search. If you click on Manage search engines ...
The default search engine setting inside of Google Chrome
you can add or remove the search engines that Chrome uses. This is one place to check and see if your default search engine in Chrome has been hijacked. If you're not getting the search results you are expecting from the address bar,
The Google Chrome address bar
more than likely your default search engine has been changed without your knowledge.

At the bottom of this tab is a link titled Show advanced settings. When you click on it, the Settings tab expands down to reveal even more user configurable options. Under the section tilted Privacy you'll find two (2) buttons; Content settings ... and Clear browsing data .... If you click on the Content settings ... button, it brings up a window with various advanced options. The preset defaults on this page are recommended and should only be modified by advanced users, because these settings can and will change the behavior of Chrome. Remember that if you use the Reset settings button at the very bottom of the advanced settings, these will all be reset to their default settings.

Further down is a section titled Passwords and forms. Here is where you can actually manage the autofill information and passwords that Chrome retains, if you have that option selected. Remember that if you remove them from the Clear browsing data ... under the Privacy section or History tab, they will be removed from here as well.

Second to the last section is titled System. Remember how I told you Chrome can be run without it actually having to be started? This is where you'll find the setting to disable this feature. Now, if you are using any Google apps that require Chrome, like Google Docs Offline, you will need to leave the Continue running background apps when Google Chrome is closed
Enable or disable Chrome from running after being closed
selected. If not, I recommend that you turn this feature off. I've seen adware / malware use this setting to start Chrome up when the computer starts up and then control it remotely. If in doubt, turn it off until you are prompted by a Google app to turn it back on.

At the bottom of the advanced settings is the section titled Reset settings. The button labeled Reset settings will do just that, reset Chrome back to its default, 'out-of-the-box' setup. I'll be just like when you first installed it.

The last option to get Chrome back to default and working correctly is to uninstall and then reinstall it. I only use this option when all else fails to get it back to full functionality. It can take a little time to do, but if you really need to get Chrome fully reset, this may be the only option. To do it, go into the Control Panel and select Uninstall a program (if viewing by category) or Programs and Features (if viewing by icons). Highlight Google Chrome and then select Uninstall.

Once Google Chrome is uninstalled, restart your computer. When your computer has restarted and you are logged back in, you will need to remove any traces of Google Chrome prior to reinstalling it. There are two (2) places that you will need to look for any leftover files; inside your user profile and inside of the program files directory. The files inside your user profile are hidden by default, but you can get there quickly by bringing up a Run dialog box (Windows Logo key Windows logo key + R) typing or copy / paste the following code:

%userprofile%/AppData/Local/Google

This will open the File Explorer to the location of your Google user settings. If there is a folder named Chrome, go ahead and delete. Next you will have to navigate to the location of the Program Files directory and check under the folder named Google. Its location is usually C:\Program Files (x86)\Google, but may be different if your version of Windows is 32-bit (C:\Program Files\Google) or if you installed Google Chrome on a different drive. Once you get there, if you find a folder named Chrome, go ahead and delete it. Now you can download and reinstall Google Chrome.

How to clean up and reset the Internet Explorer

In repairing computers for a living, the one thing I find myself doing constantly is cleaning up and resetting web browsers. Removing adware, malware and viruses can really screw up the Internet Explorer. So here is how to clean up and reset the Internet Explorer.

How to clean up and reset the Internet Explorer

Internet Explorer (IE) has been included every version of Windows since Windows 98. Microsoft has made cleaning IE fairly easy, but there can be some tricky items. All of IE's settings are accessible from either inside of IE or from the Control Panel. The best way is to go through the Control Panel because that is when IE is not technically running. If you use Outlook or Windows Mail, you will need to close these programs too before attempting to clean up IE, as they actually use IE to rendered HTML formatted e-mails.

When it comes to resetting the IE, you have to first get into the Control Panel. With Windows Vista and Windows 7, the easiest way to do it is to type Control Panel into the search box above the Start button and select Control Panel from the search results. The easiest and fastest way in Windows 8 and Windows 10 is to use the Power Users menu (Windows logo key Windows logo key + X) and then select Control Panel. Once you have the Control Panel up, select Network and Internet then Internet Options (if viewing by category) or just Internet Options (if viewing by icons).

The Internet Properties General tab inside of Windows 10
The Internet Properties General tab inside of Windows 10

The Internet Options haven't changed much over the years, so the tabs on the Internet Properties will look similar in Windows Vista as they do in Windows 10. When you first open Internet Properties, the General tab appears by default. From here you can go down to Browsing history and delete everything from temporary Internet files and cookies to form data and passwords. Remember that once you delete something like passwords you cannot get it back, so choose carefully.

The Internet Properties Programs tab inside of Windows 10
The Internet Properties Programs tab inside of Windows 10

Once you're done with the General tab, go over to the Programs tab and select Manage add-ons. Here is where you enable, disable and sometimes delete add-ons that have been installed into the IE. There are times when all you can do is disable an add-on, so that is when you'll need a third-party program like CCleaner from Piriform. In fact, CCleaner can cleanup all of the major browsers, but the only one I've had issues with getting rid of third-party programs is IE.

The Internet Properties Advanced tab inside of Windows 10
The Internet Properties Advanced tab inside of Windows 10

The last tab in Internet Properties is Advanced and it is the most powerful. It has only two buttons, Restore advanced settings and Reset. The first one you click is Restore advanced settings then click on Apply in the lower right-hand corner. Then to completely reset IE click on Reset. You will get a screen warning you that you are about to reset IE back to its original defaults settings. Windows 7, Windows 8 and Windows 10 users will also have the option of deleting personal settings. Remember that these cannot be undone, so choose carefully. If in doubt, leave the personal files check box empty. You can always come back and remove them if need be.

Now if after you have reset IE you find you cannot get into some secure sites, like bank websites, go back into Internet Properties and select the Security tab and deselect Enable Protected Mode. When you click Apply you will get a prompt telling you that your current security setting might put you at risk. Then try the website you were having problems with. If you can now get into it, you are all set.

The Windows features menu inside of Windows 10
The Windows features menu inside of Windows 10

There is one option that is not available to IE and that is to uninstall and reinstall. As I stated earlier in this article, IE is integrated into the operating system as a feature and is used by other programs like Outlook and Windows Mail. The only thing you can do is turn off the IE feature in the Control panel, restart your computer and then turn it back on. To do this go to the Control Panel and select Programs and Features, then Uninstall or change a program. In the left-hand column left-click on Turn Windows features on or off.

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