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Some attacks on web browsers consist simply of advertising, so the default homepage of the browser is changed (which is just a small aspect of browser-hijacking).

My question: is installing (malicious) add-ons (via drive-by download attack) the only way to modifiy the browser's homepage?

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Unfortunately, installing addons is not the only way. There have been a number of javascript methods over the years, many of which are no longer supported by most browsers.

However there is at least 1 method still possible that works on modern IE browsers: http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/subscriptions/ms531418(v=vs.85).aspx

There are probably others.

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