Data Doctors: Tips for keeping your laptop activity safe

Q: Is there a simple way to see if someone has installed a keylogger on my MacBook?

A: The nefarious use of keyloggers can allow a third party to record every keystroke you make and are generally used to gain access to your accounts and private information.

Depending on the type of keylogger, it can be complicated and very time-intensive to track down and remove this type of software.

Hardware vs. software Keyloggers

Keyloggers can be used via a physical device (hardware) or through a hidden program (software).

Since you have a laptop, an in-line keyboard device isn’t possible and if something strange was plugged into one of your ports, you probably would have noticed it already.

Software keyloggers can be more difficult to detect and may require a bit of time and technical know-how to track down.

Security software

If you have a security suite installed on your computer, check that company’s support website to see if it specifically scans for keyloggers.

If your security software doesn’t have this capability or you aren’t sure, a free download is available from a former NSA hacker who started a nonprofit foundation to help users.

The tool is called ‘ReiKey’ and the instructions for downloading and using the tool are located at the Objective-See website.

This utility can scan your MacBook and monitor any future installations of software that may appear to be nefarious.

Activity monitor

Another method of tracking down suspicious processes that may be running on your computer is through a utility called “Activity Monitor.”

This detection method is best used by those with a technical background that are familiar with the macOS, as you’ll have to weed through and research a large number of items that will appear in this utility.

The specific steps for launching and using the tool (based on your version of macOS) are located on their website.

When you find a process that you aren’t familiar with, you’ll need to do a Google search for it to determine what it’s associated with, which is why this approach is often very time-consuming.

The Nuclear option

Another method to ensure no software keyloggers are installed is by wiping the drive and reinstalling the operating system from scratch.

This is often referred to as the “nuclear option” because it can be painful for the user. You’ll have to make sure you have all your critical data backed up and that you have all the programs that you’ll need to reinstall everything from scratch and reconfigure all your devices and network settings.

This includes printer drivers, bookmarks, placement of desktop icons and all the other little details that make the computer usable.

If this is something you aren’t comfortable doing, you should seek professional assistance.

Additional security steps

If you think you might have a keylogger on your computer, it’s best to disconnect it from the internet and stop using it until you are sure that it’s clean.

You should also make sure that you have two-factor authentication setup on all your critical accounts and use a computer that isn’t part of your network to change all your passwords.

Ken Colburn is founder and CEO of Data Doctors Computer Services. Ask any tech question on Facebook or Twitter.

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