- 1. What is a Keylogger?
- 2. How to Detect Keyloggers on Your Computer
- 3. How to Remove a Keylogger
- 4. Preventing Future Keylogging Attacks
Reliable and up-to-date antivirus software is your best defense against keyloggers. You can also use tools like Windows Task Manager to look for unusual or unexpected apps and processes that could be hiding the spyware.
Keyloggers can get onto your computer and mobile device in a variety of ways and for several different reasons. Knowing how to detect and remove keylogging software is important for retaining your digital privacy and protecting your sensitive data from being stolen and misused.
What is a Keylogger?
A keylogger, also known as a keystroke logger, is a type of spyware that can be installed on a computer, phone, or tablet to monitor and record keystrokes and touches. Some keylogging software can also record mouse movements, screen images, clicked website links, and other user input actions.
When a keylogger is active, everything from typed passwords and account information to personal emails and website searches you make is recorded in a log file, which can then be retrieved and read by whoever has backend access to the keylogger.
Keyloggers are often associated with infection by other types of malware, but not always. A keylogger could also be deployed by parents, suspicious husbands/wives, a rival business, or just about anyone who wants to sneakily track what is being typed or input on a particular device.
Keylogging software is not illegal, but how they are used can be. Some corporations use keyloggers openly to ensure employees are not using company time and equipment for personal tasks such as browsing social media or chatting with friends.
Keylogging Software vs. Hardware
There are two main types of keyloggers: software and hardware. Outside the corporate world, you are much more likely to encounter a software keylogger than a hardware version.
Software keyloggers are installed invisibly on the device to be monitored, often alongside other malware. You won’t see any app icon or settings to show that it is installed, although some keylogging software hides in plain sight by using another seemingly innocuous app icon. Keystroke logs can then be automatically sent over the network or emailed without you knowing. This can happen on almost any schedule, perhaps several times a day.
Hardware keyloggers need to be physically attached to the computer. This sometimes means a specialized USB device is connected to a spare USB port, but often between the wired keyboard and the computer. A hardware keylogging device could quite easily go undetected if you don’t check the back of the PC regularly (and who does?)
Hardware keyloggers usually use onboard storage. This means that the keylogging device will need to be retrieved by whoever placed it there before the logged data can be downloaded and read.
How to Detect Keyloggers on Your Computer
Hardware keyloggers are usually easy to detect. Just look at the back of your computer and check for any unusual devices in your USB ports or connected to your keyboard cable. Just be sure that you aren’t removing a legitimate USB adapter by mistake.
Detecting a software keylogger can take more time and effort, but it can be done if you know what to look for.
Look for Unusual Processes in Task Manager
For Windows users, the first place to look for keylogging software is in the Task Manager. Expand the Task Manager to show details, and add columns to show publisher names. You can then scroll through the list of processes to find any unusual entries.
Do a web search for any suspicious process names to learn if they are associated with keyloggers. You can also try typing in a text document while watching the activity in the Task Manager. If the activity of an unknown process spikes when typing, investigate it.
Check Your Software List for Unexpected Apps
Check your installed software list for any apps or programs that look out of place. It is extremely unlikely that a keylogger will be named as such, so look for apps that you don’t remember installing.
If you are unsure about the legitimacy of an app, do some online research to find out if it could be a keylogger in disguise.
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4 Common Signs Your PC Has a Keylogger
Few of us randomly check the back of our computers or scan through the Task Manager for unexpected processes, but thankfully there are several common signs that a keylogger is at work on your computer.
- A slow or strangely behaving browser, such as delays when you click a link or use the search function.
- Input lag when you type or click your mouse/trackpad.
- The mouse pointer disappears for a few moments during use.
- Unexpected or more frequent app and system crashes.
While it is true that some or all of these can also be a sign of different computer problems, they should at least be a prompt to investigate further, particularly if you are experiencing them all at the same time.
How to Remove a Keylogger
If you find the keylogging software during the inspection of your running processes or apps you should be able to delete or uninstall it manually. Unfortunately, keyloggers are often disguised as legitimate software, which can make identifying and removing them more difficult.
The most reliable way to remove a keylogger is by using your antivirus software. Run a full or deep scan using up-to-date software, and if the software includes a dedicated keylogger scanner, use it. When a keylogger is found, you will be given the option to remove it.
Your Temporary Files folder is often a cluttered and easily forgotten place, ideal for keylogging software to hide. Clearing your Temporary Files, and then repeating the process regularly, will mean one less place for the spyware to lurk.
If all else fails, resetting your computer should remove even the most stubborn keylogging software. This is clearly quite a drastic solution, but as long as you back up your files properly, a full reset isn’t as time-consuming and difficult as it used to be.
Preventing Future Keylogging Attacks
The best ways to prevent keylogging attacks in the future are choosing reliable antivirus software and keeping it updated, along with your system software. Most well-known antivirus software will give you at least some protection from software keyloggers.
If your current antivirus doesn’t offer real-time protection, consider switching to something that does, like BitDefender Total Security or Norton 360.
Being vigilant and knowing the tell-tale signs of active keylogging will also help to keep your device safe from this type of spyware. Be wary of offers to install “bonus” apps or browser extensions when installing seemingly safe software. And avoid the usual actions that can lead to malware infection, such as clicking links in emails from unknown senders or browsing unsecured websites.