An important answer you need to understand.
How do you know your computer is free of keyloggers? You don’t.
That’s not the answer most people want to hear, but it’s the true bottom line.
There are a few reasons for it. I’ll talk about those, and what you and I need to do in the face of this rather grim reality.
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A quick note about keyloggers
Be it keyloggers or the ever-popular ransomware, some terms seem to get people’s attention more than others.
We need to be clear about something: there’s nothing special about keyloggers, and there’s nothing special about ransomware. The names describe what they do, not what they are. What they are is very simple: they’re just forms of malware.
What they do once they arrive might be interesting or severe, but it’s the fact that they are malware that warrants our attention. Like any form of malware, the most important thing to do is to prevent them from getting on our machines in the first place. The second most important? Detection and removal.
This applies to all malware.
Proving a negative
There’s no way to absolutely know your machine doesn’t have malware. Logically, you can’t prove a negative.1
Looking for malware and not finding it isn’t enough — there’s no guarantee your anti-malware tools know all the malware to look for or all the ways malware can hide.
No anti-malware tool is guaranteed to catch every possible malware. None. By definition, the creation of malware is always ahead of its detection. Even the very best anti-malware tools are always playing catch-up.
If you run a zillion different anti-malware tools and they all come up empty-handed, it doesn’t prove anything. All it says is that it’s highly unlikely you’re infected.
Making sure it’s highly unlikely you have malware is, pragmatically, the best we can hope for.
Staying safe without proof
The best you and I can do is to stack the deck in our favor.
- Make it difficult for malware to arrive. Don’t install untrusted software. Don’t open random attachments. Don’t fall for phishing attempts. Run good security software.
- Make it likely that any malware that does make it onto your machine will be caught. Run up-to-date security software and confirm it’s scanning appropriately.
- Make it possible to recover quickly with minimal impact if something goes wrong. That means backing up.
It all boils down to the set of rules and admonitions folks in my position have been preaching for years — rules and admonitions I’ve laid out in what I consider to be my most important article: Internet Safety: 7 Steps to Keeping Your Computer Safe on the Internet.
Even getting out of bed is risky
I wish I could offer you a 100% guarantee — a way you can be completely certain your machine is free of malware and all is well.
We can’t guarantee that we won’t get hit by a bus or fall down the stairs, either. All we can really do is stack the deck in favor of our safety. Look both ways before crossing, hold the handrail, and stay safe online.
There are no guarantees. While you should never reduce your vigilance, you can absolutely reduce your concern and carry on using your technology in all the wonderful ways it was intended.
How do I detect malware?
By far the best way to detect malware is to make sure you have a good anti-malware scanner installed and running on your computer, and that it and its database are kept as up to date as possible. Security software is your best first line of defense, and will give you the best chance of detecting malware before it does damage.
How do I manually remove malware?
In general, the best approach to removing malware is to let your security software do it for you once the malware is detected. Failing that, the steps to remove malware manually vary depending on the malware itself. Search online for the characteristics of the malware, or better yet, the name if you have it. Many security resources offer manual removal steps for specific malware and variants.
How do I get rid of malware?
In general, the best approach to removing malware is to let your security software do it. Most security software also removes the malware that it detects. Since these tools are updated regularly, they are the best first line of defense for both detection and removal of malware.
How do I disable spyware?
You do not “disable” spyware. The best — indeed the only — thing to do when you’ve discovered spyware or any other form of malware on your machine is to take steps to remove it. Removing it effectively disables it. Your security software and anti-malware tools should be your first approach to removing malware.
Can Windows Defender remove malware?
Yes, Windows Defender attempts to remove or quarantine any malware that it discovers in its scans. While no single malware tool will discover or remove all known malware, Windows Defender, now a component of Windows Security (included in every copy of Windows 10), is sufficient protection for most people.
How do I know if my computer has spyware?
There’s no guaranteed way to know that your computer does or does not have spyware. Just like malware in general, the most pragmatic approach you can take is to make sure your security solutions are running and up to date, and that you’re following best practices for online safety.
Footnotes & References
1: I’ve had some people point me at long, complex, detailed philosophical discussions/arguments claiming to prove there are scenarios where it’s possible. Fine. Whatever. When it comes to malware, you just can’t.