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What Is Keylogging?

Software that tracks your keystrokes can pose a major security threat to your data, but there are several ways to detect and remove them.

Hey, did you notice that guy standing near the window of the ATM? If you did, you probably put your guard up to make sure that guy couldn’t see your PIN or credit card numbers. When you use your computer for online transactions, you may think no one is looking through a window at you, but if you haven’t secured your computer, there could be someone watching every keystroke you make.

This is known as keylogging, and though it can be used for good purposes, such as monitoring an employee’s or child’s use of the computer, it’s more commonly used for the devious purpose of stealing personal information.

How Keyloggers Infect Your PC

Keylogging is accomplished through software or hardware that is secretly added to your computer. For instance, while web browsing you may get a pop-up window claiming your computer is infected with a virus, and to fix it you must download a free program. The best thing to do is close the window or quit your browser without clicking on any buttons, including Cancel. Any other actions you do can initiate a sneaky download to your computer.

Once the program is running in the background, everything you type is recorded and sent periodically over the Web to evildoers. When they locate a financial or commercial site you joined, they can find your login and payment information and exploit it as they wish. Keyloggers are also hidden in other types of “Trojan Horse” software, such as free arcade games, infected Web sites and phony updates you receive for legitimate programs that you use.

Protection from Software Keyloggers

The good news is, software keylogger programs typically leave a footprint on your hard drive, so most antivirus software, such as Norton 360, can detect them. If you don’t have an antivirus program running (and you really should!), Windows 7 has a way to manually detect and stop keylogging:

  • Right-click on the desktop task bar and choose Start Task Manager.
  • Click on the Processes tab. This is a list of all programs running in the background and foreground of your computer.
  • Each process has an image name. Go to Liutilities for a list of all Windows 7 processes, and compare your image names to the list.
  • If you find a process on your PC that is noted as a security risk on Liutilities, click on the process in Task Manager and click on End Process.

This stops the process during the rest of your computer session, but the keylogger will reload when you start your computer again. To remove the keylogger completely, you must install antivirus software, or Staples can do this for you.

If you suspect a keylogger is present but you must use your computer, you can use the on-screen keyboard in Windows 7 to type. (Accessed via Start > All Programs > Accessories > Ease of Access > On-Screen Keyboard.) Keyloggers don’t track clicks, but clicking gets tiresome fast!

How to Identify a Hardware Keylogger

Antivirus software cannot detect hardware keyloggers. This is a physical device attached between your computer keyboard and the computer itself.

Once this hardware is plugged into your computer, everything you type is captured and stored in a mini-hard-drive in the device. When evildoers retrieve the device and plug it into their computers, they have everything you typed. Check your connections, and if you see odd hardware between your keyboard and the computer, ask questions.

Use good judgment whenever you go online, and always keep an eye out for “that guy standing outside the window.”

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