How to Prevent Keylogging Attacks

We do all kinds of things on our computers and mobile devices—composing emails, browsing through social media, checking our bank accounts, shopping online, among several other tasks. Some are trivial, some more sensitive in nature.

Now how would you feel finding out some unknown malicious agent—a keylogger—has been watching every single key you click on your device?

Keyloggers can lurk in your device and quietly steal your most sensitive information like passwords, bank details, and ID information, without you ever knowing. That’s why keylogging is one of the most feared threats to data security. 

As scary as this sounds, your situation isn’t hopeless. You can prevent keylogging from happening before it starts.

This Nira guide will discuss keylogging in more detail, as well as give you helpful tips to enhance your defenses against keylogging attacks. 

What Is a Keylogger and How Does It Work?

A keylogger is an insidious monitoring software or hardware designed to log all your keystrokes to capture everything you type. 

The keylogger will then send a record of your keystrokes to the malicious agent who deployed the attack in the first place. This record could contain your social media passwords, banking login credentials, credit card and debit card details, and everything else in between, giving them all the necessary information to commit identity or financial fraud.

The amount of information collected by the keylogger will vary. For instance, most basic software formats can only collect information type into a specific application or website. But sophisticated keyloggers can record everything you type—every character, word, or button you press on your keyboard—even the information you copy and paste on your device.

That said, keyloggers also have legitimate uses, which is why law enforcement and intelligence agencies use the software for surveillance purposes. Businesses use keyloggers as well, to troubleshoot issues, monitor employees, and improve user experiences. But in the wrong hands, keyloggers can be a big problem.  

How Can Keyloggers Get On Your Device? 

Keyloggers can be software-based or hardware-based. Regardless of the type, both serve the same purpose: to record all your keystrokes and capture information.

Software-based keyloggers can be tools or applications you may unknowingly use or download. They usually come as malware and infect computers through malicious clickable links or downloaded files. Software-based variations run silently in the background without you ever knowing that someone is seeing everything you do on your keyboard.

On the other hand, hardware-based keyloggers are compact physical devices plugged between the keyboard connector and the computer port. These devices store your keystrokes in their internal memory. While they cannot be detected by an operating system, you can easily see these devices by looking at your USB or PS/2 port.

7 Effective Steps to Prevent Keylogging Attacks

Below are a few effective steps you can take to protect your devices from keyloggers. Let’s take a quick look.

1. Update Your System

Being proactive about device security is always a good idea, and one of the best ways to start is to regularly update your system (and keep it that way).

When we say system, we mean your operating system, applications, and programs you run on it. This is because keyloggers, as well as other forms of malware, take advantage of vulnerabilities in outdated software and gain unauthorized access to your devices, sometimes without you even realizing something is amiss. 

Never skip software updates. Developers regularly issue security patches to eliminate critical software vulnerabilities. If you keep hitting the Skip button, know that you are exposing yourself to potential data theft. 

Updating software may not always be convenient, but it’ll save you and your system from data loss down the line.

2. Install a Password Manager

The good news is keyloggers cannot log what you don’t type. That’s why using tools that auto-fill forms will keep your passwords and personal information safe and secure.

Notice how we’ve specifically mentioned “tools” instead of the “remember password” built-in feature many browsers offer. This is because letting your browser remember your passwords can be riskier than you might think.

Think about it: a malicious intruder can get access to every single account you have ever kept logged in if they get access to your device. For example, they can type in chrome://settings/password in the URL field, and Google Chrome will display all your listed passwords. 

Keeping this in mind, we recommend installing a third-party app manager. This tool will have an auto-fill functionality, which means keyloggers won’t be able to record your passwords or credentials. 

The only exception here will be when your device is already infected with a keylogger. If it is, everything you type, including your password when setting up the third-party password manager, will be logged.

3. Set Up a Firewall

The keylogger will transmit all stored information back to the malicious agent to do any real damage. 

To do this, the keylogger will send the data out from your computer via the internet. When you use a firewall, it’ll realize something isn’t quite right as your internet passes through it and notify you about the same. 

That said, it’s also likely that your firewall won’t detect an issue—but in case it does, it’ll save you from having your information stolen.

4. Get Antivirus Software 

Software-based keyloggers are always lurking on websites or hiding in downloadable files. The moment you click on any one of them, you fall into the trap.

Using a reliable antivirus program is an excellent tactic to protect yourself against insidious cyber threats from the web, and malicious keyloggers are no exception. Keep in mind that most antivirus programs can only detect and fight the threats they are designed to recognize, so there is a chance that newer types of malware may go undetected. 

Nevertheless, installing a good antivirus is critical to preventing keylogging attacks.

5. Routinely Change Your Passwords

Another way to minimize the harm of possible keylogging is to change your passwords frequently. Not only is this a recommended data security practice, but it may render the stolen information by a keylogger useless.

Yes, setting up a new password involves hitting keystrokes that will be logged, but it’s unlikely the logged information will be used immediately. So if you change your passwords, say, every 15 days, the stolen information will no longer be useful to an attacker by the time they receive it.

6. Implement Multifactor Authentication

The whole point of enabling multi-factor authentication (MFA) is to strengthen and enhance user logins. Doing this will add multiple steps within the login process, increasing security and making it difficult for any malicious agent to gain entry to your accounts without your permission. 

Generally, MFA requires two of the following identifiers before granting access:

  • Something you know (e.g., username and password) 
  • Something you have (e.g., hardware, phone, computer)
  • Something from you (e.g., biometrics)

There is a chance that the password may be recorded with a keylogger. But, otherwise, MSA will require the malicious agent trying to access your accounts to have that same hardware or be you. This is something that they will not be able to get past because there is no keystroke to be tracked.

7. Always Be Cautious

The only way you’ll become a victim of keylogging is when you either download something you shouldn’t or click on a malicious link — or when you leave your device unattended (in the case of hardware-based keyloggers). 

In both cases, this is you being neglectful. 

Always be vigilant and stay cautious to protect yourself. Don’t leave your device unattended or let anyone use it when you’re not around. Only download applications and files from trusted sources and think twice before opening suspicious emails (especially ones with shady links) — even better to delete them right away.

How To Detect and Remove Keyloggers?

Detecting keyloggers can be difficult, but not impossible. Here’s how you can detect and remove keyloggers from your device:

Step 1: Open Task Manager to Look For Keyloggers in Your Running Processes

The task manager allows you to see the active applications on your computer. Open it (or press Ctrl + Alt + Del). Go through all your running processes and try to find anything suspicious. Immediately disable any malicious applications.

Step 2: Carefully Monitor Your Firewall’s Activity Log

Use your firewall to check and control what enters and exits your computer. As a keylogger will send your data to a remote location, it will need an internet connection — and everything that goes out of your computer will show up in your firewall’s activity log. As mentioned, this may not always work but is a good step to identify anything suspicious.

Step 3: Go Through All Programs or Apps Installed on Your Device

Go through all apps and programs installed on your device. If you find any suspicious-looking app from an unverified publisher, Google it. If it’s unnecessary, it’s better to uninstall it since it may have been installed without your knowledge and can be potentially dangerous.

Step 4: Use an Antivirus to Scan and Remove Keyloggers

If the above step sounds tedious, you can use an antivirus — or a reliable keylogger detection app — to scan your computer. Find and remove any suspicious programs.

The above steps will work for detecting and removing software-based keyloggers. For hardware-based keyloggers, you will have to manually check your keyboard and remove any suspicious-looking knickknacks. Generally, these gadgets look like little adapters that are a part of a normal hardware setup.

Final Thoughts

In the wrong hands, keyloggers can do a lot of damage. 

If you have the habit of leaving your personal computer unattended at home, at a cafe, or in the office, malicious hackers can quickly install a keylogger in your device when you’re not looking and steal your data. Likewise, clicking on malicious links or unwittingly installing Trojans (programs disguised as helpful tools) can also put you at risk.

Follow our tips above and become more vigilant with your devices to protect your information.

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Bryan Wise
Bryan Wise,
Former VP of IT at GitLab

Incredible companies use Nira