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What Is a Keylogger? | How to Detect and Remove a Keystroke Logger?

Imagine losing money from your bank account or any other sensitive data because a malicious hacker monitors every stroke on your computer?

Key Takeaways

  • A keylogger, sometimes called a keystroke logger or keyboard capture, is a type of surveillance technology used to monitor and record each keystroke on a specific computer.
  • Keyloggers are often used as a spyware tool by cybercriminals to steal personally identifiable information, login credentials and sensitive data.
  • Keyloggers install when you click on a file attachment that you’ve been duped into opening, most commonly because you fell for a social engineering scheme or a cleverly designed phishing expedition.
  • The best way to protect yourself and your equipment from falling victim to keyloggers is to scan your system regularly with a quality internet security software.

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 like keylogger records everything you type with your device on a website or app and then sends it back to a third party. Your goal is to put a stop to it with top anti-viruses, or by using the best anti-malware protection.

Hackers and other cybercriminals often used keylogger software to steal personal data such as your bank details or financial accounts 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.

History of Keylogging

The history of the use of keyloggers for surveillance purposes dates to the early days of computers. Wikipedia details sundry uses of keyloggers in the 1970s and early 1980s for various purposes, including government clandestine operations.

While various forms of keystroke logging have been occurring for quite some time, the boom in the creation and use of commercial keyloggers grew to significant numbers in the mid to late 1990s with a all kinds of products quickly coming to market during that time. 

Since then, the number of commercial keyloggers available for purchase has exploded to thousands of different products with varying target audiences and in many languages.

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 legal 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 legal keyloggers as they can also be used to steal your personal information such as passwords.

A keyboard and a locker

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 analyze and track incidents linked 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 or malicious 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 a hardware keylogger.

Even legal software-based keyloggers can be used with malicious intentions. It will help if you have an antivirus software in your computer to track all types of malware, 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 them are completely safe from these, so depending on your operating system, you can install a Linux antivirus or an antivirus software for Mac.

But keyloggers are not a serious threat to your computer system, but they threaten the user and your personal information. They can be used to intercept sensitive personal information such as passwords and other data using the keyboard. 

As such, cybercriminals can get hold of your user's account numbers for e-payment systems, passwords for your online gaming accounts, pin codes, email addresses, email passwords, and usernames.

On top of that, you don't want to splash out on a more robust internet security software, if you opt for a free anti-virus, some of which are quite good at eliminating online threats.

random words

Two Types of Keyloggers

Hardware keyloggers are hardware devices embedded within your internal PC hardware. They also come as a form of a plug placed between the CPU box and keyboard cable in an inconspicuous manner. In either case, someone will have to physically plant the hardware keyloggers into your PC or its peripherals. This will require a  degree of secrecy if it needs to be achieved clandestinely.

The second, more common type of keyloggers are software keyloggers that can be easily installed on victims’ devices. It doesn’t harm its host and its sole job is to snoop into the keystrokes and not impact the computer.

There are two main types of software keyloggers: user mode keyloggers and kernel mode keyloggers . A user mode keylogger uses a Windows API to intercept keyboard and mouse movements. On the other hand, kernel mode keyloggers are the most common type of keylogging software and they're also the hardest to detect. Kernel keyloggers use filter drivers to intercept privileged access credentials .

How Do Software 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 confidential 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 an internal PC hardware keylogger or software-based keylogger. You can do software-based keyboard logging using apps you knowingly install on your computer, or it can be keylogger malware that you unknowingly download.

The data from a keystroke logger is sent to third parties via email. It can also be uploaded on predetermined websites, FTP servers, or databases.

click on security

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 gadget. 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 gadget.

For instance, you can install a keylogger by opening an attachment to a file. The file attached can be from unknown phishing emails with malicious links. In the recent past, some keyloggers have found their way past internet security software such as an antivirus software.

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 may originate from a web page script that takes advantage of a browser vulnerability.. The keylogger is launched when the user visits an infected website. It can also come from another malicious program that is already installed.

Hackers will use a Keylogger Trojans virus to deliver a keylogger to your gadget. They can use phishing emails which are fake emails that seem to come from legal companies. The email will phish for your credit card numbers and passwords.

3Determining Your Use

How to Detect a Keylogger and Protect Yourself From a Keylogger 

Today, anti keylogger protection is no longer a difficult task. Most antiviruses have added anti keylogger software in their database, which makes it effortless to detect keyloggers.

You can also use the following effective steps that will help you in preventing your gadget from keyloggers infection:

Use One Time Passwords

Having a strong password will help you in protecting your private data.

It will also help if you can use a one-time password to secure your private 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 devices text messages 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.

one time password

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 threats. An updated anti keylogger software will protect your device from viruses. You can also run a scan to detect and eliminate all types of malware, including keylogger malware.

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 legal, 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 anti-virus to ensure even the legal keyloggers are not messed up with.

antivirus apps in app store

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.

blue website

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.


Hardware keyloggers or software keyloggers are 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.


1. What is a keylogger and how does it work?

Keyloggers, or keystroke loggers malware, monitor a keyboard's activity (keys pressed). Typically, keylogger software saves your keystrokes to a small file that can be accessed later or is automatically emailed to the person monitoring your activities.

2. Is a keylogger illegal?

A keylogger may be illegal if it is used for criminal purposes such as data theft and financial information theft. Additionally, it is illegal if you install malware on a person's computer without their knowledge.

3. Is a keylogger a virus?

Yes, it is a virus. Keyloggers infiltrate PCs (as well as Macs, Androids, and iPhones) in the same manner as other malware does. The same Trojan that installs the keylogger has the ability to install additional malware on your systems, such as adware, spyware, ransomware, or even a legacy virus.

4. How are keyloggers detected?

You can install an anti-virus program on your device to assist you in detecting a keylogger program. Anti-virus software detects and removes malware from your device. A keylogger is a significant security risk for personal computers and Android smartphones. If you suspect your computer or phone has been compromised by a keylogger.

5. How do I know if I have a keylogger?

If your computer appears to lag when you type, this could be a sign of a keylogger, although many other scenarios could also cause this symptom. Another straightforward test is to look for a small hardware based keyloggers device connected between the end of the keyboard cable and the computer's keyboard input.

6. Can my employer use a keylogger?

Employers are increasingly adopting keyloggers to monitor employees without their knowledge. While keyloggers enable a significant breach of privacy, they are are perfectly legal in few states. At the moment, no federal legislation has been construed to ban their covert use.

About Dusan Stanar

I'm the founder of VSS Monitoring. I have been both writing and working in technology in a number of roles for dozens of years and wanted to bring my experience online to make it publicly available. Visit https://www.vssmonitoring.com/about-us/ to read more about myself and the rest of the team.

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