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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.

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