What Are Keyloggers And How Can You Protect Yourself From Them?

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Keyloggers are an increasingly common type of malware threatening consumers today. These programs record every keystroke the user makes, and hackers can use this data to decipher your passwords and other confidential information. Unfortunately, keyloggers are very difficult to detect. This means your information can be compromised for a long time without you knowing it. Read on for more information on what keyloggers are, how they work, and how you can prevent them from accessing your computer.

What Is Keylogging?

Keylogger Hacker LookingglassA keylogger, or keystroke logger, is a program that runs continuously on your computer and records every keystroke you make. Some parents or employers use them to monitor their children’s or employees’ online activities, but cybercriminals use them to steal people’s data. In other cases, hackers use keyloggers to spy on businesses and governments and access their data.

As the keylogger tracks your keystrokes, the information is sent to a hacker database online. Here hackers sort the data and can figure out your username and password for your financial and online shopping accounts.

Keyloggers don’t slow down users’ computers, which makes them difficult to detect. Some even embed themselves in the operating system. These types of keyloggers are called rootkit viruses. Other kinds of keyloggers affect browsers, apps, and web pages, putting anyone who uses them at risk.

There are several different kinds of keyloggers hackers can use. The hardware versions are tiny devices placed between the keyboard and computer to capture hundreds of keystrokes. However, it is unlikely that someone will plant one in your home. The software versions are much more of a threat to users. Software-based keyloggers embed themselves into your computer, apps, or browser.

How Common Are Keyloggers?

Malicious keyloggers like Zeus Trojan are becoming much more common. In fact, a report by Symantec revealed that nearly 50% of malware does not harm the computers, but is used to collect personal data.

Exact statistics are hard to come by, but SANS Institute researcher John Bambenek estimates that around 10 million computers in the United States are infected with keylogging malware. And Kaspersky Labs have identified over 300 types of keyloggers. These statistics suggest that keyloggers are an extremely common form of malware and are growing in popularity.

What Are The Risks?

Keyloggers are distinct from other kinds of malware since they don’t harm your computer or operating system. The main danger of keyloggers is hackers can use them to decipher passwords and other information entered using the keyboard.

This means that cybercriminals can figure out your PINs, account numbers, and login information for financial, gaming, and online shopping accounts. Once they have this information, they can transfer money from your bank, run up expensive credit card bills, or log onto your accounts.

Hackers also use keyloggers to spy on organizations and governments, which can result in devastating security and data breaches.

In addition, keyloggers are notoriously difficult to detect. This is because they don’t affect your computer in any obvious way. A keylogger may be at work for a long time before the user realizes something is wrong.

How Do Keyloggers Infect Your Computer?

Most commonly, keyloggers infect your computer via a Trojan virus. This is a type of software that claims to be a useful tool but is actually a means to deliver malware. When the user downloads the tool, it may or may not work. In either case, the program installs malware onto your computer.

Hackers commonly use phishing to get the Trojan virus on your computer. The keylogger gets installed when the user clicks on a link or opens an attachment from a phishing email. It can also be installed if a user visits a malicious website using a vulnerable browser. The keylogger activates when the user accesses the site. Installing malware-infected games on your computer may also serve as an entry point for keyloggers.

Even if you have an anti-malware program on your computer, it might not prevent keyloggers from getting on your system. This is because keylogging has some legitimate uses and security programs often overlook it. Other times the keylogger gets installed during an update. Unfortunately, it can be very difficult to protect your computer from keylogging software.

How Can You Protect Yourself From Keyloggers?

Your best defense against keyloggers is preventing them from getting onto your computer. Here are some of the most important steps you can take to protect yourself from keyloggers:

Use Anti-Virus Software

Anti-virus software is essential for protecting your computer against different kinds of malware. It can protect you from keyloggers, but you might have to take some extra steps for the software to do so. Most antivirus companies have a record of keyloggers on their database, but they tend to categorize keyloggers as potentially malicious. You should check to see whether the anti-malware’s default setting will detect them. If not, configure the software so that it will at least protect you from common keyloggers.

Keep Your Computer Updated

It’s essential to keep your computer and software up-to-date to provide extra protection from malware. This is because keyloggers and other kinds of malware often detect and exploit vulnerabilities in your system to infect your computer. To reduce your chances of this happening, update your operating system, applications, programs, and software frequently.

Change Your Passwords Regularly

It’s a good practice is to update your passwords regularly, such as every few weeks. Even if your password is stolen, the hacker will probably not use it immediately. If you change it soon enough, it will no longer be useful to the hacker. By changing your password frequently, you can help to protect your accounts from keyloggers. Since it might be overwhelming to keep track of all these passwords, consider installing a password manager to assist you.

Use Your On-Screen Keyboard

Though it is not very well-known, Windows has an on-screen keyboard that you can use when typing passwords and other confidential information. Keyloggers don’t usually record clicks that you make on the on-screen keyboard. For this reason, using the on-screen keyboard to enter account numbers, passwords, and other sensitive information is a good way to help protect your information.

How Do You Remove Keyloggers?

While anti-malware or anti-spyware software can help detect and remove keyloggers, your best option is using anti-keylogger software. This type of software checks all of the processes that are running on your computer. This includes the operating systems, background services and apps, the BIOS, network settings, and browsers. Another type of software that can remove keyloggers is an anti-rootkit program, which targets viruses that install keyloggers.

In addition to using anti-keylogging software, another way to check for it is to open your Task Manager and see what programs are running. If you see unfamiliar programs, do an online search to see if there are any keyloggers with those names. This can help you figure out if there are keyloggers on your system.

Here are some of the best software options that can help you remove keyloggers:


SpyShelter performs a variety of functions to defend you against keyloggers. If you keep it running continuously, it identifies keyloggers that try to enter your system and prevent them from infecting your computer. It also scans your computer to identify existing keyloggers and remove them. Finally, this software will encrypt your keystrokes so they will be useless to keyloggers. This software is currently only available for Windows operating systems.


In addition to anti-malware programs, Zemana also has an anti-keylogger system. This program runs constantly, tracks your activity, and scans your downloads. It also runs regular system scans to check for malicious activity. In addition, Zemana has an encryption feature for when you transmit data online, a malware scanner, and ransomware protection. It has more functions then SpyScanner, though it can’t detect nearly as many keyloggers as SpyScanner. Zemana is currently only available to Windows users.

Malwarebytes Anti-Rootkit

If anti-keylogging programs can’t remove the keyloggers, try an anti-rootkit program. Malwarebytes Anti-Rootkit is an excellent free program that scans your entire operating system for keyloggers and the rootkit viruses used to install them. You need to command the program to perform these scans as they do not run constantly. If you opt to run a full scan, the program will perform a system reboot as well. The Anti-Rootkit program is only available for Windows. Malwarebytes offers more anti-malware solutions, as you can read about in our full antivirus review here.

Kaspersky Security Scan

Kaspersky Security Scan is a superior antivirus program that identifies rootkit programs and keyloggers as well as other types of malware. There is a free version of the program that runs in-depth security scans, as well as paid versions that include online identity protection modules. Kaspersky Security Scan is available for Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android.

Final Thoughts

Keyloggers are a type of malware that can run for months or years on your computer without your knowledge. Hackers can then use them to decipher your information, access your accounts, transfer money, or run up major expenses.

To protect yourself and your accounts against keyloggers, a multi-faceted approach is best. Using an effective anti-malware program that scans for keyloggers, regularly changing your passwords, and keeping your system updated are all important actions to take. In addition, taking steps to educate yourself on safe browsing and how to identify malicious programs are important ways to defend yourself and your computer from keyloggers.

Tech journalist
Tove has been working for VPNoverview since 2017 as a journalist covering cybersecurity and privacy developments. She has broad experience developing rigorous VPN testing procedures and protocols for our VPN review section and has tested dozens of VPNs over the years.