How To Spot A Keylogger

There are a number of cyber threats that exist in the digital age today. Many of them are preventable with the use of a reliable and effective antivirus program. On top of that, being vigilant and observing the signs of potential threats can protect your computer or mobile device.

One such cyber threat is the keylogger. If you don’t know how to spot one of these, don’t worry. You’ll learn how in this guide including the signs that indicate that there is one present. Whether one already exists or if you just want to prevent one from invading your computer, we’ll give you the goods on everything you need to know.

The sooner you know about this cyber attack, the better prepared you should be to eradicate it. Ready to go? Let’s get started with this guide on how to spot a keylogger.

What is a keylogger?

A keylogger or keystroke logger is a form of spyware that is designed to record keystrokes. Which means they will keep track of what you type – whether it’s an email address, website URL, you name it. Hackers use a type of software that will log all that keyboard activity (hence the name).

Think that’s enough activity for this kind of spyware? Absolutely not. In fact, cyberattackers who use keyloggers can even eavesdrop on conversations by way of listening to your smartphone microphone or even watch you through your computer’s built-in webcam.

Talk about a scary experience. Imagine just minding your own business not knowing someone is watching you through your own webcam. Or even listening to what could be a serious conversation between friends or loved ones. You may think you two might be telling secrets but someone might be in the middle of it all and the both of you may not know it.

As mentioned, a keylogger is designed to record keystrokes. But what exactly are they looking for? One thing for sure is they’re not looking to be entertained by mundane, boring conversations. And while gossip may seem juicy, cyberattackers may not find it valuable (unless they find it enough to create some kind of extortion plot – which we won’t put it past them to do so).

What they’re looking for is sensitive information in the form of financial information. These include credit card, PIN, and account numbers. Like any other cybercriminal, they’ll intercept that data and spread it across criminal networks – leading to victims of identity theft that will be spending time, money, and effort trying to fix everything.

What are the different types of keyloggers?

There are two types of keyloggers that exist: hardware and software. How are they distinguished between the two? Let’s explain right here:

Software keyloggers

Most of the time, many keylogger incidents are associated with this type. The reason is that it’s easier to install and distribute over target computer systems and mobile phones. These keyloggers will often be found in apps and programs that need to be installed on the system itself (i.e – an EXE file on a computer).

After the program is installed, that’s when the keylogger goes to work. It will monitor your operating system and the paths of every keystroke you make. Whatever you type in, it records – simple as that.

Every bit of data recorded by the keylogger will be sent to the hacker by way of a remote server. From there, they decode it for any sensitive information including passwords, bank account information like credit card numbers, or anything else that may be of interest to them. For a hacker, they have plenty of opportunities obtaining information from keyloggers.

One, they can steal the sensitive data directly. Otherwise, if they are successful in finding passwords, they are able to use them to create more opportunities for theft and scams. Either way, they are successful in their attacks. Software keyloggers are much easier since all it requires is an installation of an app or software on the target’s end and nothing else.

Hardware keyloggers

In the case of hardware keyloggers, you need to physically connect it to your target’s computer. Once it’s installed, it can function in a similar fashion to its software counterpart. This is why authorized users and knowing who they are is so important.

Keeping track of who logged on to what and the devices used can be a challenge. However, if you’re vigilant and keep a close eye on things, you’ll have a good idea of who is authorized to use your computer system and who isn’t. If the need for using hardware that connects to a computer arises, it must be approved by the proper authority before it is ever plugged in.

To prevent hardware keyloggers, it takes authorizing people you trust. An unauthorized user will more than likely launch a hardware keylogger attack. However, thanks to stringent monitoring and measures that distinguish authorized users from unauthorized ones, pulling this off can be more challenging. 

Yet, carelessness and social engineering are two things that will be enough to make one phase of the attack a success. The hardware keylogger is installed and the rest is history. Here’s where this kind of attack gets interesting. The unauthorized user or hacker won’t return to the scene of the crime to obtain the data.

Instead, they will use Wi-Fi to access the keylogging device. Once they have installed the hardware keylogger, the hard part for them is done. From there, they’ll operate the rest of the attack from almost anywhere they please.

How are keyloggers successfully added to a system?

Most of the time, keyloggers will be installed by way of the software method. That is unless the hacker has observed enough behavior and activity to confirm that doing it using the hardware approach is possible. Otherwise, the software approach will be less of a challenge.

With this in mind, there are a few different approaches for an attacker when taking the software keylogger route. Here’s how they go about installing the keylogger:

Trojan horse

One of the age-old methods of viruses can carry a keylogger, ransomware or different types of malware amongst its package of “bad stuff”. If the user opens up a file that contains the trojan, that’s when the keylogger can be installed and gets right to work. Do not install any programs that appear suspicious. For mobile devices, always download apps from Apple’s App Store or Google Play if you use an Android phone. Avoid downloading apps from anywhere other than those two marketplaces.


Phishing requires a link that can be sent via phishing email, direct message, social media post or comment, and even a text message on your phone. To the untrained eye, the link will look like the real deal. However, there may be subtle differences like the typography of a letter (some Latin and Cyrillic letters will look similar to one another).

Even more daunting is the link could be from a trusted source like a friend or family member. Once you click on the link, the keylogger will be installed.

Malicious websites

If you visit a malicious website, there’s a good chance that a drive-by download may occur. In this instance, it could be a keylogger or other malware being installed without your knowledge. Even worse, the keylogger will work silently in the background and do its usual work.

What are the signs that a keylogger is present?

Knowing the signs that a keylogger is present could signal “too little, too late”. However, the moment you notice any of these signs, it’s important to handle the issue as soon as possible. Let’s take a look at the following signs of possible keylogger presence:

  1. Malfunctioning keyboard and mouse

Do you notice your keyboard cursor moving around without you ever touching a single key? Is your mouse pointer disappearing and showing up somewhere else? This could be a sign that a keylogger has already infected your system.

Such strange activity from either of these devices will trigger concerns. That’s when you need to take the necessary precautions (which we will list later on in this guide). This may be one sign, but spotting the subsequent ones on this list may give you an easier chance to confirm.

  1. You’re dealing with system performance issues

Is your computer appearing slow when running apps or loading websites you frequently visit? Do you notice that it’s less responsive? Keyloggers have the ability to suck up as much resources as possible to the point where your computer’s overall performance will be worse than ever before.

This can be absolutely frustrating for both individuals and business owners. Especially the latter who rely on computers to address their critical business needs. Such slow performance can be costly both in time and money.

  1. An unknown process

One of the daunting things about keyloggers is they have the ability to blend in with other applications and processes on your computer. You’ll want to access your task manager and check the “processes” tab to identify which of the processes are easy to verify.

Of course, if you notice one that seems out of place, this signals a problem. It could be a keylogger infection. From there, taking quick action to get rid of it is a must.

  1. Your antivirus alerts you

It’s one thing to have an antivirus protect you. Another is letting you know that there are keyloggers present by way of alerting you. At this point, they offer you the option to get rid of the problem while performing a system scan for any other threats. 

You can also take further steps to get rid of any suspicious software and files. Act soon rather than later. Otherwise, things will get much worse.

Are these signs the same if it’s your mobile device?

If you are using a mobile device, you may notice similar symptoms if it has been infected with a keylogger. They include delayed typing, high use of resources, and even program errors. An alarming sign to be aware of is how much heat it generates.

This could be due to the fact that it’s operating at a higher capacity. Subsequently, the battery performance may even be affected. Power down the device as soon as possible to ensure that it cools down for a period of time.

How do you detect keyloggers?

One way to detect keyloggers is being able to positively identify and confirm the listed signs above. Scanning your computer with your antivirus will be another. The better quality a keylogger is, the more challenging it can be to detect it.

For example, a well-designed keylogger may not exhibit certain symptoms like poor system performance. They even have the ability to mask itself as normal traffic or files (hence their ability to blend in with the digital environment). Even more frustrating is some of these keyloggers have the ability to reinstall themselves even after they are removed.

Regularly scanning your system with a reliable and effective anti-virus system for both your computer and smartphone will be one of your best detection solutions. These programs can automatically scan your system on a regular basis and remove any threats that may exist. Others may also scan files and programs in real time before they are even downloaded and installed.

Using your computer’s task manager will be one way to check for keyloggers. That’s where you’ll find the list of apps and processes that are active. If you spot one that appears suspicious, end the task immediately. It might not hurt to check the “Startup” list to determine which programs can be activated automatically upon startup.

What are the methods to remove programs/apps containing keyloggers?

If they are on a computer, it’s important to remove it by accessing the control panel’s list of programs. So in Windows, you do this by going to “Control Panel” followed by “Programs” then “Programs and Features”. From there, search for any programs that may be unknown or suspicious and uninstall them accordingly.

If your operating system is iOS or Mac, you’ll want to either use the “Trash” or “Third-Party Apps” option. If you’re using the “Trash” option, open the Finder and click on Applications. Choose the program you want to get rid of, press Command + Delete, followed by emptying the trash itself.

However, one of the challenges of removing such apps will require going through certain folders. You can find out what those are using this guide as an example.

Keep in mind that this is another way to scan for keyloggers and remove them. Yet, this is done manually as opposed to using antivirus software. Nevertheless, it won’t hurt to perform a system scan to double check once you’ve performed manual removal methods.

Another recommended measure is to clear out any temporary files. There’s a good chance that keyloggers (and some other “bad cyber attack tools”) might reside inside there. Once everything is complete, you will need to reset your PC and perform a recovery method.

More specifically, you’re going to perform a fresh install of your operating system (also known as a factory reset). Unfortunately, you will lose everything including personal files, apps, and more. All the more reasons why regularly backing up your computer system and the files and sensitive data you need to keep around.

How to protect yourself from keyloggers?

They say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. As is the case with protecting your computer and smartphone from keyloggers and all kinds of cyberattacks. So how can you be able to stay one step ahead of this sneaky malicious thing? Let’s take a look at a few things you can consider:

Install a virtual keyboard

Keyloggers will target the keystrokes done on a physical keyboard. However, virtual keyboards won’t be affected in the slightest. The cool thing about this is that it operates with the help of its own operating system that is a branch of your main one.

Consider a password manager

These have the ability to generate passwords that are complex. You’ll be able to see and manage those passwords. Others may even have the ability to auto-fill them (but auto-filling passwords could be a risk of themselves). However, they reduce keyboard activity in situations where a keylogger could capture such sensitive information.

Use multi-factor authentication (MFA)

While an antivirus software can do so much within its capabilities, it may not be enough. So adding on as many layers of protection is more than possible (if not recommended). As such, you want to consider using an MFA method. It will be used to confirm if an authorized user is actually logging into the site.

You will receive notifications via email or text letting you know of the attempt. This gives you the option to review the information such as the geolocation, operating system used, and more. Plus, you have full control over the access by granting or denying it to the user.

Educate yourself on identifying possible cyber attacks

Did you know that 90 percent of cyberattacks are triggered by human error? To be more specific, a user who may not have a sharp enough skill of observing things that look out of place may click on what looks like a real link or legitimate program that carries dangerous cyber attacks. Needless to say, cybercriminals want nothing more than to take advantage of someone who will assume such things are the real deal.

However, you (and your business team) can learn to know better. Find resources on how you can identify various cyber attacks and how to avoid them. Learn the difference between legitimate texts, emails, messages, and links from those that look suspicious and dangerous.

Of course, you can always abide by the old adage of “when in doubt, don’t”. Meaning don’t click on the link or download the file. Double check with the appropriate people to confirm if something is the real deal.

For example, let’s take a look at something that may come from your bank. If the message appears to be unexpected and out of place, call them to verify. They’ll give you a direct answer and remind you not to respond to any links or messages. Financial institutions and trusted organizations will always tell you upfront what they will do and never do when it comes to communications with you.

You don’t need to become a cybersecurity expert to understand cyber attacks. Just enough to know what could go wrong with your iPhone or Mac computer if you unknowingly download something and notice your device going crazy. Or if you want to stay a step ahead of the game and stop the attack from ever happening.

Use an antivirus/anti-malware tool that provides real-time protection

An antivirus that can run in the background and stop threats in real time will be one of your best shots at preventing keyloggers. Furthermore, it needs to be on at all times in order for it to do its job properly. Install these programs on your computer or mobile device – even if it means purchasing a paid antivirus program where you’ll need to pay on either a monthly or annual basis.

It may also help to invest in a tool that has additional features like a firewall to keep out any unauthorized traffic. There’s no such thing as having too much protection when it comes to the devices you use.

Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

Can a VPN stop keyloggers?

While VPNs can protect you even from certain cyberattacks, keyloggers can still operate even if you are using one. For this reason, it is important to make sure you use an antivirus program while exercising caution when it comes to installing programs or clicking on links. 

What are the best keylogger blockers?

This may depend on your user experience. However, many users have found that PC Matic is amongst some of the best brands on the market when it comes to a keylogger blocking feature. Keep in mind that the one you choose should not only fit your budget, but also should be enough to address your most critical needs.

What is the difference between spyware and keyloggers?

Spyware is installed without the user ever knowing. It will gather information about your computer use including your browser history. Keyloggers is a different kind of spyware of its own. Either way, both of which must be eradicated if detected by your antivirus.

Are keyloggers actually legal?

Yes and no. As for the yes, there are organizations that use keyloggers to monitor employees and their computer use. The no may fall under the purview of utilizing such tools for nefarious purposes such as data theft. It all depends on how it can be used.


Keyloggers are a dangerous cyber attack that can camouflage itself with the rest of your computer processes. Some of them may be easy to spot because of how poorly designed they are. Others may be harder to detect and can be more of a challenge to remove.

You can take things a step further by protecting yourself from keyloggers by installing a reliable antivirus software. In addition, keeping an eye out for any suspicious files, software, and other items will do the trick. Finally, be mindful of who your authorized users are – especially when it comes to computer systems within a business or organization.      

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