Imagine losing money from your bank account or any other sensitive data because a malicious hacker monitors every stroke on your computer?
Well, that is what can happen if a keylogger or keystroke logger is installed on your device. A keylogger is one of the cyber threats that date back. The use of keyloggers is to monitor every stroke you do with your computer and try to capture sensitive information like passwords, bank pin codes, and account numbers. The malicious software records everything you type with your device on a website or app and then sends it back to a third party. So check out how to put a stop to it with top anti-viruses here, or by using the best anti-malware protection we reviewed, too.
Hackers and other cybercriminals often used keylogger software to steal personal data such as your bank details and other private data and then sell it to third parties. Therefore, you better learn how to recognize and deal with the hackers threat.
The keylogger software also has legitimate uses where they can be used by intelligence agencies and law enforcement for surveillance. They can also be used in business to monitor employees, among other uses. While here, read about other cyber threats in our spyware guide and our 'What is a worm?' article, too boot.
Are Keyloggers Legitimate?
Not all keyloggers are malicious software.
Some legitimate programs have keylogging functions such as the use of hotkeys. The functions make it seamless and effortless to use your computer.
Administrators can also use legitimate keyloggers to track their computers' activities to know what employees do with their time at work. This helps to boost productivity.
However, a thin line that separates the ethical boundary of legitimate keyloggers as they can also be used to steal your personal information such as passwords.
What would be the ethical, legal, and appropriate uses of keyloggers?
- If you suspect your lover or spouse of cheating, you can use a keylogger to track their actions on the internet
- Company security can also use keyloggers to track the use of company computers for non-work purposes or their use after work
- Law enforcement can use the software to track and analyze incidences related to computer use
- Keyloggers are also effective for parental controls. Parents can monitor what their children do on the internet, and you can also be notified if a child tries to access websites with inappropriate content
- Companies can also track the use of phrases and keywords of financial information that would be detrimental to the company if exposed
Note, there is a misconception that there only exists software keyloggers. But you can also come across hardware keyloggers.
Even legitimate software-based keyloggers can be used with malicious intentions. It will help if you have an antivirus in your computer to track all types of malware, which we helped explain in this dedicated article, including keyloggers.
Why Are Keyloggers a Threat?
Most malicious programs are a threat to your computer as they target your operating system and other applications. None of the operating systems are completely safe from these, so check out these Linux antiviruses, as well.
But keyloggers are not a threat to your computer system, but they threaten the user and your personal information. They can be used to intercept sensitive information such as passwords and other data using the keyboard. Also, are they similar to or quite unlike a trojan virus?
As such, cybercriminals can get hold of your account numbers for e-payment systems, passwords for your online gaming accounts, pin codes, email addresses, email passwords, and usernames. And if you don't want to splash out on a more robust internet security software, check out these free anti-viruses we recommend.
How Do Software-based Keyloggers Work?
A keylogger's idea is to come in-between the link of two events between when you press a key and when the action is displayed on the monitor. The events' intercepting can be done using a hardware bug on the keyboard, the computer itself, or video surveillance.
The intercepting is also done using intercepting the DLL functions in user-mode, substituting the keyboard drivers.
The amount of information that you can collect using keylogging software can vary. At the very basic, you can collect information types on a single website or app.
The more complex types of keyloggers can record everything you type, including all the information you copy and paste. Other types of keyloggers, especially those used on mobile devices, collect information including your call history and audio. They also get information regarding your GPS location, messaging, camera, and microphone capture.
Keyloggers can be hardware or software-based. You can do software-based keystroke logging using apps you knowingly install on your computer, or it can be malware, which we thoroughly explained here, that you unknowingly download.
The data from keystroke logging is sent to third parties via email. It can also be uploaded on predetermined websites, FTP servers, or databases.
How Keystroke Logging Spreads
Keyloggers spread across devices in several ways.
For instance, some keyloggers require a person to be physically present to work on a device. Thus, such keystroke logging can be more challenging than having monitoring software.
Keylogging software is a more common type of keyloggers, and they have several routes that they can get to your device.
For instance, you can install a keylogger by opening an attachment to a file. The file can be from unknown phishing emails with malicious links. In the recent past, some keyloggers have found their way past cybersecurity software such as an antivirus.
For example, hackers will load the keylogging techniques into adware which are mostly not whitelisted. The adware is not flagged as it meets the detection criteria of most cybersecurity programs.
The keylogger can also come from a web script that takes advantage of browser vulnerabilities. The keylogger is launched when you visit an infected website. It can also come from another malicious program that is already installed.
Hackers will use a Trojan virus to deliver a keylogger to your device. They can use phishing emails which are fake emails that seem to come from legitimate companies. The email will phish for your credit card numbers and passwords.
How to Detect a Keylogger and Protect Yourself From a Keylogger
Today, protecting yourself from keyloggers is no longer a difficult task. Most antiviruses have added anti-keylogger in their database, which makes it effortless to detect and remove keyloggers.
You can also use the following effective steps that will help you in preventing your device from keyloggers infection:
Use One Time Passwords
Having a strong password will help you in protecting your data.
It will also help if you can use a one-time password to secure your data, including credit card numbers.
The one-time password will come in handy in minimizing losses if the hackers intercept your password. The password can only be used at a single time over a limited period. As such, it's impossible for cybercriminals to reuse it even if they intercept it. You can use various ways of generating a one-time password, including using mobile phone text messaging systems to register with the banking system. You will then receive a one-time pin code as a reply which you can use for logging in.
Apart from using a one-time password, it will also help a lot if you can use a multi-password. You can combine that with a two-steps authentication to ensure it is not easy for everybody to access your devices.
Use a Virtual Keyboard
On-screen keyboards are at a better place for minimizing keylogging as they work differently from physical keyboards.
The method doesn't get rid of all causes of the problem, and it isn't full proof against all types of keyloggers.
Note, the use of a virtual keyboard instead of a physical keyboard can affect your productivity.
Have an Updated Antivirus and Anti-rootkit
As mentioned earlier keyloggers come bundled with other types of malicious software. An updated antivirus will protect your device from viruses. You can also run a scan to detect and eliminate all types of malware, including keystroke logging programs.
Also, ensure that you install all the available updates on your device programs. Updates come with the latest security features to protect your device from harm. They also seal all the possible loopholes that help to keep all types of malware at bay.
Not all types of keyloggers are harmful as some are legitimate, and they can help in different circumstances. For instance, you can use a keylogger to track the content that your kids get involved with while surfing the internet.
Thus, it is best to have an updated antivirus to ensure even the legitimate keyloggers are not messed up with.
Disable Automatic-running Files on External Devices
The malicious keylogging programs can get to your device through external devices such as USBs.
As such, it will help a lot if you disable the self-running on external devices to minimize the chances of infections. You can also disable the automatic copying of files from the devices to your computer to reduce infection chances.
Be Cautious With Email Attachments
As mentioned earlier, keyloggers can get to your device through emails with malicious links or attachments. Thus, it will help a lot if you avoid opening links and attachments from unauthorized emails, especially from unknown addresses.
Monitoring the Allocation of Resources, Processes, and Data
You can detect the presence of keyloggers in your computer by monitoring resource allocation and background processes. You can also identify a keylogger presence by observing the data being transmitted from the device.
The malicious software usually needs root access which can be a sign of keylogger infection.
A keylogger is a hardware or software used to incept the link between what you type and what is displayed on the screen. Hackers and other cybercriminals can use the information they get through keylogging to commit various cybercrime. They also sell your sensitive data to third-parties, including advertising agencies.