What Are Keyloggers and How to Protect Against Them

Aviva Zacks
Posted: September 2, 2018

Keyloggers (short for keystroke loggers) are scary news. Imagine hackers lurking in your system, watching your every move…  that’s the reality of keylogging. They exist as both hardware and software, recording every button you press on your keyboard.

Using this method, cybercriminals can quickly intercept:

  • Passwords and Security Answers
  • Contact Details
  • Personal Information
  • Intimate Secrets

If you value your privacy and security, protect yourself from keyloggers by following this guide:

About Keyloggers

Keyloggers aren’t always illegal malware; they do have everyday uses. If you think your strokes are being recorded, ensure it’s not for the following reasons:

  • Hotkeys or “key commands” exist in lots of legitimate software. These programs require keyloggers to know when you’re using a specific command.
  • Keyboard toggles allow you to change your keyboard if you’re abroad or write in multiple languages.
  • Parental & spousal controls can use a keylogging to track your online activity.
  • Company security systems often log your keys to ensure you aren’t spreading sensitive information or accessing banned domains.

If you’re being recorded but not for those reasons, you might have a malware infection. This type of software gives cybercriminals direct access to your accounts. For hackers, they are the Holy Grail for financial gain, identity theft, and more.

Common Sources of Keylogger Infections

Keyloggers are usually Trojan infections. They hide within legitimate software and downloads, working in the background once the infection has taken hold. They often have the power to shield themselves from your antivirus software by using rootkit elements. The best way to avoid them is to avoid contracting an infection.

By knowing where the risk lies, you can act early and reduce the chance of a full-blown attack. The following are common sources of keylogger infection:

Phishing Scams

Phishing has become a universal tactic for spreading malware. Whether it’s emails, texts, or messages, anything from an unknown source that asks you to open a link, download a file, or respond with personal information deserves immediate deletion.

Infected Links

Bogus links exist everywhere. Try to avoid clicking on shortened URLs, banner ads, or suspicious hyperlinks. If a friend messages you to click, double check with them before taking action.

Trojan Apps

Third-party programs provide no security guarantees. Sometimes, they’re hiding malware infections and viruses in Trojans. Stick to trusted developers when choosing apps, and always read reviews before downloading.

Hardware Keyloggers

It’s also possible to introduce a keylogger by putting a converter between the USB keyboard plug and the slot where it attaches to your computer. While it’s unlikely a hacker could access your home PC this way, be on the lookout when using public devices or internet cafes.

Spotting a Keylogger

Unlike other malware, keyloggers don’t affect the host system. While it’s good that your files are safe from corruption, it also means it can be tricky to spot. With no obvious symptoms of infection, you have to be on the lookout for more subtle changes, such as:

  • A general reduction in device performance, including speed, bugs, lag, and total freezes
  • A delay when typing; either it takes a few seconds for the keystroke to show up, or they don’t register at all
  • Error screens or failure in loading graphics
  • Unknown processes appear when you check your Activity Monitor/Task Manager
  • Your security software flags an issue

Now that you know what keyloggers look like and where they come from, the next step is to equip yourself with the tools to stay safe.

Tips to Protect Yourself

Although keyloggers are one of the nastiest malware types, they require the same preventive measures as other viruses to significantly reduce your chance of infection.

Stringent Clicking

You should be able to tell the difference between a trusted domain and site filled with infections. Pop-up ads, URL diversions, and sudden download requests should send you running. You should also avoid opening emails and files from unknown senders.

Avoid High-Risk Domains

Certain types of sites are more likely to host infections than others. Domains you probably want to avoid include P2P file-sharing, porn, and gambling websites. If you choose to use these resources, stick to trusted and well-reviewed options.

Two-Factor Authentication

It’s tricky to identify keyloggers, but you can take steps to nullify them.  Enabling two-factor authentication on all your accounts means that your passwords are no longer enough to gain entry.

Onscreen Keyboards

Use software keyboards when you input your payment details if possible. If you do have a keylogger, it won’t be able to recognize your sensitive card information. Most computers come with an onscreen keyboard option already installed.

Use a Powerful Antivirus

Top-quality antiviruses are ideal for flagging infections. Premium services keep up-to-date on new threats, so they increase the chance of spotting keyloggers. It’s easy to see security suites as superfluous, but they’re powerful tools for protecting you.

Not only will these tactics keep you safe from keyloggers, but they will also protect you from most other malware types.

How to Remove Keyloggers

Fortunately, once you’ve detected a keylogger infection, removing it is relatively easy. You have two options, depending on how you located the infection.

Automatically

Using your antivirus, perform a full system scan. The program should identify and quarantine the infection. After this, you have the option to delete the file. By selecting this choice, you have eradicated the infection.

Manually

You can also find the location of malware with most high-quality antivirus programs. Once you’ve identified its location, simply drag and drop the file into your computer’s trash and wipe this folder completely.

Stay Safe & Type with Confidence

Keyloggers are a terrifying invasion of your privacy and could have disastrous consequences. If you’re lax about your online security, then you face a greater risk of infection.

Following the above suggestions requires very little work, but these simple steps could be the difference between online safety and a cybercriminal emptying your bank account.

About the Author

Aviva Zacks
Aviva Zacks

Aviva Zacks is a content manager, writer, editor, and really good baker. When she's not working, she enjoys reading on her porch swing with a cup of decaf.