Fixing intercepted address bar searches in IE9

When I try to perform a search by typing my search text in the address bar in Internet Explorer 9, my search request is hijacked (“as a courtesy”—huh?) and redirected to a site that allows me to search on Ask.com, as shown here.

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This is aggravating not just because it requires an extra click to initiate the search I requested, but more important, because it ignores the default search engine I’ve configured in IE9. (Believe me, when I have a choice, Ask.com is not my preferred provider!)

I’ve done lots of Googling and Binging (but no Asking) to find a solution, but all the fixes revolve around the Search Providers tab in the Manage Add-ons dialog box—which has no effect on this problem created by my ISP. (FWIW, this occurs on my office T1 service from XO, but I’ve seen similar hijacking on other ISPs, including Charter Cable, which I use at home.)

Although the symptoms are similar to a browser that has been hijacked by malware, the problem is external to my machine; no add-on, other software, or cookie is installed here. It’s simply the DNS service at the ISP that is doing me this wonderful favor.

Read on for two workarounds and a solution…

imageWORKAROUND: You can click one of the search provider icons that appears at the bottom of the address bar drop-down instead of pressing Enter. (If it’s not showing, you can click the arrow next to the search icon in the address bar.) Although it’s effective, this isn’t as convenient because you must either reach for the mouse or press Tab several times.

The good news is that, after you do this once, IE remembers your choice for the rest of the session. Thereafter you can press Enter and IE passes your search text to the provider you last clicked. However, you must repeat the process the next time you open IE.

WORKAROUND: Other ISPs hijack address bar searches in different ways, but I found a way to improve—but not disable altogether—this “courtesy” that XO applies to my connection. They don’t make the solution obvious, however:

  1. On the landing page, click About This Page.
  2. On the About page, click the opt-out link.
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  3. Choose your preferred search provider in the Opt-Out box.

Unfortunately, this ties you into a single search provider. I tend to use different providers for different types of searches. And alas, the None option doesn’t just disable the feature and let IE9 take over, as you might hope. Instead, just as it says, it shows an error page when you type something other than a legitimately formed URL in the address bar. Thanks for nothing.

 

But there is a way to solve the problem once and for all:

SOLUTION: Change DNS providers. Instead of using the one recommended by your ISP and used by default, configure your network to use an alternative, such as Google DNS or OpenDNS. (Using one of these private DNS services can have other advantages as well, such as improved speed and security.) This can be done at your router–which means you have to have permission to manage the router and knowledge of how its settings are made–or at individual computers. Here I’ll explain the simpler method, configuring a computer.

To use Google DNS with Windows 7, follow these steps:

  1. Open Network And Sharing Center. (Among the myriad ways to do that: right-click the Network icon in the notification area and click Open Network And Sharing Center; or open the Start menu, type network, and click Network And Sharing Center.)
  2. In Network And Sharing Center, click Change Adapter Settings, double-click the icon for your Internet-facing adapter, and click Properties.
  3. In the adapter’s properties dialog box, select Internet Protocol Version 4 (TCP/IP v4), and then click Properties.
  4. In the Internet Protocol Version 4 (TCP/IP v4) Properties dialog box, shown below, record the current settings by writing them down or capturing and saving a screen image. (That way you can undo your change if things don’t work as expected.) Then select Use the Following DNS Server Addresses and then enter the IP addresses of Google’s two public DNS servers: 8.8.8.8 and 8.8.4.4

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Click OK and Close a few times, restart IE, and you’ll finally be able to enter search terms in the address bar and get decent results.

Want to know more? This page explains how to configure other operating systems to use Google Public DNS, how to test your settings, and how to diagnose and resolve DNS problems. And, of course, we discuss DNS issues in Windows 7 Inside Out and the just-released Windows 7 Inside Out Deluxe Edition.

UPDATE: Within Windows rock star Rafael Rivera (@WithinRafael) points out that Cox and Comcast provide information and instructions about their search hijacking, er, enhancement features.

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