Imagine that someone in your computer could see everything you write. Hackers have access to a specific kind of malware known as a keylogger. These pieces of software record and transmit everything you do with your keyboard and mouse. That means every word you type – even words you type and then subsequently delete. It means every email you send, every chat message, every Skype message, every Slack message, every tweet, every Facebook update, and every URL your type into your browser.
As far as malware goes, keyloggers are small, easy to install, and hard to detect. In general, keyloggers won’t affect your computer by slowing it down or creating noticeable changes to your user experience. How, then, will you be able to detect and remove these frightening and invasive programs?
Keyloggers are Everywhere
The problematic thing about keyloggers is that they are an extremely common piece of technology. The people using keyloggers aren’t just attackers out for your username and password. There are lots of semi-legitimate (albeit extremely creepy) uses for keyloggers.
- Employers use keyloggers to make sure that their workers are staying on task.
- Spouses use keyloggers to make sure that their partners are remaining faithful.
- Governments use keyloggers to build cases against criminals.
- Even Microsoft uses keyloggers – Windows 10 has a built-in keylogger that tracks usage metrics.
Every one of these semi-legitimate uses has an extremely obvious downside, of course. Employees could spy on workers who are planning to blow the whistle on unethical practices. Abusive or controlling partners could use keyloggers to harass their partners. Governments could spy on protest groups, and massive tech companies could use keyloggers to further infiltrate every aspect of our lives.
Here’s the thing: because there are plenty of “legitimate” uses for keyloggers – you can even purchase them online – they don’t represent illegal or unregulated software in the same way as, say, ransomware. As such, not every antivirus program is going to detect a keylogger as an illegitimate program.
How to Detect and Remove Keyloggers
You can get infected by a keylogger in the same way that you get infected by any other virus – you click on a link someone sends you or visit the wrong website by accident. You may also find one inside of a seemingly-legitimate software download. In addition, someone might try to infect your computer by plugging in a USB.
Once inside your computer, keyloggers are hard to detect – they’re tiny, lightweight programs after all. Some of them infect your browser by disguising themselves as ordinary browser extensions. Others hide deep inside your computer – sometimes inside your computer’s firmware. Because your computer’s firmware is outside of the regular operating system, many AV programs can’t detect them.
The best way to find and remove a keylogger on your computer is to look at what’s currently running on it. That means hitting ctrl + alt + delete on a Windows PC and opening the Task Manager. Carefully run down the list of programs that you see there and try googling the names of any running program that you don’t recognize. If any are known keyloggers, you should find instructions to remove them.
In addition, some keyloggers can hide from the task manager – but they must still persist on your computer by starting when the operating system boots up. Therefore, you should open your Task Manager and look at the “Startup” tab. This lists all the programs that start up at the same time as your operating system. Repeat the steps above for any programs that you don’t remember installing.
Finally, you should check your browser for malicious extensions. In Chrome, you can navigate to chrome://extensions in the URL bar. You’ll find a list there of every extension in your browser. Google the names and delete any malicious add-ons.
Find an AV Program that Detects Keyloggers
Not every AV program is designed to detect keyloggers – but we know the ones that can. Check out our list of the 10 Best Antivirus Programs to find a solution that will comprehensively protect your computer against keyloggers and other forms of spyware.