How to detect keyloggers in Windows PCs
A keylogger is a piece of software or hardware that monitors the keystrokes entered on the keyboard of a computer/laptop or mobile device. Hardware keyloggers are inserted via USB or an unauthorized driver – they are easier to detect and remove. The keylogger software instead is more subtle and sometimes it’s really hard to detect in an infected system.
Unlike regular viruses and trojans, remote keyloggers do not affect system performance but do much more damage by exposing your private information to third parties. Think financial information, passwords, and anonymous online posts and comments.
The most sophisticated of these keyloggers are able to profile users based on the analysis of keystrokes, the rhythm and pattern of their entries. If this possibility scares you, you still need to know that for a keylogger to be effective, it must be installed correctly on your computer. There are various categories of keyloggers, depending on the severity.
Browser-based keyloggers: Some malicious websites can use CSS scripts, Man-In-the-Browser (MITB) attacks, or web form-based keyloggers. Fortunately, if you have an up-to-date Windows 10 system and have Windows Defender and other elements enabled essential to Windows security, these threats will be blocked immediately. The main ones are:
- General spyware keyloggers: These are traditional keyloggers that are placed on a computer using a suspicious email attachment or a social media/torrent download. It is very likely that they are blocked by Windows Defender or an anti-malware program.
- Kernel-level keyloggers: they are the most dangerous. They run under the Windows operating system as a rootkit and can go unnoticed.
- Hypervisor-based keyloggers: Using virtualization, these sophisticated keyloggers can establish themselves as replicas of the operating system and scan all keystrokes. Although they are very dangerous, they are also extremely rare.
If you suspect your Windows system has been attacked by a keylogger, follow these steps to make sure your data is safe.
Use the Task Manager to detect keyloggers
Open the task manager with a simple right-click in the taskbar. Go to background processes and see a “Windows logon application”. If it has a duplicate entry that seems unusual to you (such as “Log in to Windows”) it means that someone else is logged on to your Windows system. This is the first sign of a potential keylogger. Right-click and terminate the program.
That’s not all: check the “Startup” tab. If there are any suspicious programs on this menu, please disable them.
Detect suspicious internet connections using the command line
After making sure that no one else has logged into your computer, you need to check if there are any suspicious internet connections to your device. To do this, open the Windows command line in administrator mode and enter the following:
All websites and software linked online to your Windows computer are now visible. Entries related to Windows Store, Edge browser, or other system apps such as “svchost.exe” are harmless. Check the IP addresses online for any possible remote location.
Use anti-rootkit malware solutions
If you think you are the victim of a kernel-level keylogger, you must use an effective anti-rootkit malware solution. Among the lightweight solutions, McAfee has a free rootkit removal tool. After installing it, this program will check for updates and kernel-mode threats, including rootkit keyloggers. The process is very fast and reliable and does not damage the Windows operating system in any way. There are currently effective means of detecting keyloggers at the hypervisor level as this virtual system can remain invisible and undetected by the user. However, if you suspect that you are the victim of such an attack, there is a technique that allows you to prevent the keyboard from sending your data to third parties.
Advanced technique: key encryption
Keystroke encryption is an excellent way to prevent keylogging by encrypting all keystrokes before they are sent online. If you are the victim of a hypervisor-level keylogger attack, the malware will only be able to detect encrypted random characters. KeyScrambler is one of the popular key encryption solutions. It is virus-free and safe: over a million users use it. The personal edition of the software is free and can protect keystroke data on over 60 browsers. The software can be downloaded from its official website.
After installation, you can enable KeyScrambler from the right taskbar. By accessing the settings, you can protect yourself from key profiling by using a feature that moderates your typing pace – this way you can protect your anonymity from websites that try to profile you based on the way you type. As soon as you enter the keystrokes in any browser such as Google Chrome or Firefox, KeyScrambler will encrypt all the keystrokes that you can see live on the screen.
Despite the serious threat it poses, protecting yourself from keylogging is not that difficult. You can also increase your defenses using Windows Defender.
We conclude this article with some good safety practices. Always keep an eye out for what may be the first warning signs, which may be:
- Your system is much slower than usual
- You notice pop-ups and unwanted advertisements
- You notice a change in the settings of the browser or search engine you use
If any of these conditions occur then your system may have been compromised. You can use the techniques in this guide to solve the problem at the root.