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What Is A Keylogger?

Comedy movies always have that one computer scene, an elderly older person slowly types with one pointed finger, desperately analyzing the mysterious keyboard for the correct key. With computers being such an important part of our lives, many of us can type at a rapid pace without even having to look down. It’s not exaggerating to say the keyboard is one of the most important parts of the computer, where you transmit your thoughts and desires, where we punch passwords to access our important accounts. If someone had a program that records every keystroke, that person would have access to much of our sensitive information. What is a keylogger? And how does it work? 

What Is A KeyLogger?

A keylogger is anything that records keystrokes. If someone were to place or install a keylogger onto your computer or device, they would be able to see everything you typed into it. There are different types of keyloggers. Keylogging software records keystrokes through the operating system.  Actual components placed on the computer are keystroke logging devices. The Soviet Union developed the technology in the 1970s in order to spy on electronic typewriters used in American Embassies. The technology is still part of the spy world. Many spy programs available have the public keylogger recording as a feature. While there are some legitimate uses for keylogging, it’s very often used maliciously by people who want to access your personal information.

What Threats Do Keyloggers Pose?

It should be obvious how much of a threat it is for someone to record everything we punch into a keyboard. We password protect everything that we don’t want other people to access. This gives them a way to record the very thing you’re using to protect yourself. On top of access to sensitive accounts, knowing everything you type can have an impact on your personal and professional life as well. 

  • Financial: A keylogger is something identity thieves deploy in order to gather your information. If they steal the password to your online financial accounts, the result could be disastrous. They could access your bank account and transfer money. They could order checks. The potential for disaster is high.
  • Identity Theft: Once they have access to your bank account, stealing your identity won’t be much of a stretch. Once someone has your credit card number, they could potentially run up expensive charges before you have time to notice.  
  • Occupation: Do you sometimes work at home on your personal computer? Is your big presentation stored on your personal laptop. Someone with access to your computer could tamper with or destroy something work related. On the other hand, it could be a jealous coworker looking to see why you get all the success.
  • Personal Life: It’s hard to measure this kind of damage in dollars and cents. However, damage to your character or reputation can have a negative effect on your life. Social Media is password protected because it’s a way we personally interact with friends, family, and associates. It’s part of our voice. You wouldn’t want someone knowing what you send privately to other people, or to see images that are not meant for them.

Types Of Keyloggers

Not all keyloggers operate in the same fashion. Keyloggers can be software, which is the most common, or an actual piece of hardware.

Keylogging Hardware

When was the last time you looked at the back of your computer tower. For most of us, it was when we first set the computer up and plugged everything in. Keylogging hardware is a component or device physically placed on the computer to record keystrokes. Most often, it will be a small component placed into a USB drive in the back of the computer. The keyboard’s USB connection is then placed into the keylogging device, which is in the computer. The person using the computer will not know the situation because the keylogger will allow the keyboard to continue to function while it remotely records keystrokes. If you notice any unfamiliar components on your computer, it’s best to remove them immediately.

Keylogging Software

Software based keyloggers are much more common than hardware. They’re also much harder to detect, since they’re installed as a program. The perpetrator is usually a remote hacker trying to gain access to user data. Getting rid of keylogging software is more complicated than getting rid of a hard device that you can simply remove.

Are Small Devices Immune To Keyloggers?

The short answer: No. Currently, there are no hardware based, small device keyloggers available to the public. Such devices would be highly impractical for a device like a mobile phone. However, both iPhones and Android devices are both susceptible to keylogging software. What’s worse is that most smartphone keyloggers offer more than just keystroke monitoring. Many are full-fledged spy apps that can view everything from visited web pages, to text messages sent to family.

Countermeasures Against Keyloggers

There are certain precautions you can take to protect yourself from a keystroke logger.

  1. Auto-Fill Programs – If you’re using a trusted device or PC, say the one in your home, you can use programs that will fill in password fields automatically for you so you won’t need to type them every time.
  2. One-Time Passwords – These passwords grant you access one time, then expire right after. This is the disappearing ink of the online security world.
  3. On-Screen Keyboards – You’re right. They are painfully slow to use. But very secure against malicious keyloggers.
  4. Speech Recognition –  Eliminate the need to type completely. There are many talk-to-text programs out there that can help with this problem.
  5. Updated Antivirus – Keeping an updated antivirus program will protect your computer from all kinds of outside harm.
  6. Take A Look – Look at the back of your computer for unfamiliar or suspicious components. Pay special attention to the USB ports where you plug in your keyboard.
  7. Deceptive Typing – This is the most hands-on countermeasure to keyloggers. When typing a password, type the first letter. Then type randomly. Highlight the random type. Delete it by pressing the next letter of the actual password. 

Are There Legitimate Uses For Keyloggers?

There are many who don’t consider keystroke loggers to be legitimate programs since they’re used maliciously so often. However, there are legitimate uses to being able to monitor keystrokes.

  • Data Collection: Scientists will used keystroke loggers as a way to collect data. They’re most often employed to measure how fast a person can type in a given timeframe. For anyone who studies or collects this type of data, a keystroke logger would be an important tool.
  • Typist Training: Like the scientists who collect similar data, typists use keyloggers to measure the rate of speed at which they type. Some colleges that offer typing classes employ keyloggers as a way to teach and test their students.
  • Concerned Parents: A child’s life today is much more digitized than it was years ago. Parents sometimes need an edge in this complicated, tech-heavy world. Some use keystroke loggers as a way to monitor their children.
  • Businesses: Many businesses issue computers, laptops, and other devices. Keystroke loggers are used to monitor employee productivity. Companies want to know their equipment is being put to good use. Note that businesses legally must inform employees about keyloggers installed on their work devices.

Keyloggers can be either hardware, or software, and our supposedly secure smartphones are not immune. Take the necessary precautions to protect yourself and your sensitive information. While there are some legitimate uses, keystroke loggers are a potential hazard to anyone worried about someone invading their privacy.

You May Also Like: How To Detect A Keylogger On An Android Phone

About Pat S.
Blogger, writer, yoga enthusiast, and cell phone monitoring software expert.

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