1. Introduction

Keyloggers are spy programs that record all the keystrokes the user makes, so they can see what websites one visits, what documents the user opens, and even personal information such as email address and password. Keyloggers are considered one of the most dangerous computer viruses because of their spying capabilities.

In this tutorial, we’ll elaborate on keyloggers, how they work and how to stay protected from them.

2. What Is a Keylogger?

A keylogger is a software that’s designed to record everything the user types on the computer. Keyloggers are usually delivered on a system via a sneaky email attachment or software that one may download. Once installed, the keylogger will start recording everything the user types on the computer, including website URLs, passwords, chat messages, and emails. The information recorded by a keylogger can also include what one enters on the smartphone, tablet, or any other connected device.

Keyloggers are one of the most dangerous types of computer viruses because they can record almost everything we do online. They allow attackers to obtain confidential data about the user. They could know everything from confidential company documents to the login details for social media sites – essentially every piece of information that would let someone steal someone’s identity completely. That’s why understanding how a keylogger works is important if we want to protect ourselves from one spying on us.

2.1. Applications

Keyloggers are so dangerous because they can record all users’ online activity. For example, let’s say someone uses their online banking account to pay bills and transfer money between accounts. If a keylogger records the login details, the person who planted the keylogger can gain access to the bank account and make changes to its settings. They can also transfer money out of the account and into their own.

Keyloggers can also be used to record social media activity. If one uses the same account details for multiple websites, a keylogger can also log into their social media account and change the settings so attackers can use the account. Keyloggers can also record online shopping activity, letting someone steal the victim’s identity by purchasing items and having them delivered to another address.

3. How Do Keyloggers Work?

Keyloggers are often disguised as something else, making them hard to detect and easy to install on a device. Some keyloggers are stand-alone applications, while others are embedded in other malicious software. If a keylogger is installed on the system, it will start recording everything the owner types.

There are two main types of keyloggers:

  • software-based – a keylogger is installed in the system as an application. It could be a standalone application or it can be attached to another piece of software. That way, the keylogger could be installed secretly while the users are installing software that they need, e.g., a web browser.
  • hardware-based – it’s a small device, a physical element that connects to the machine via the keyboard. The device usually looks like a standard USB adaptor, keyboard connector, or computer cabling:
Keylogger hardware PS2 example connected

The keyloggers work in a pretty simple way. They monitor and persist what the user types and then periodically send it to the attacker usually by email or a dedicated server. Advanced keyloggers are able to do more:

  • making screenshots of the user’s activity
  • recording the user’s screen
  • saving audio input and output
  • collecting information about active windows and applications
  • saving a clipboard content

It must be said, that keyloggers could be also used for legitimate purposes:

  • monitoring servers – to detect unapproved user activity
  • product development – to collect user feedback
  • IT assessment and support – to investigate user issues and fix them, especially nowadays as remote work popularity is growing
  • employee surveillance – to monitor employees’ activity during work time and appropriate use of business of company’s property
  • law enforcement investigation – during the investigation of criminal conduct, law enforcement agencies are allowed to use keyloggers if they have the warrant

4. How to Prevent Keylogger Threats?

There’s no way to altogether avoid keyloggers, but we can take steps to protect ourselves from one that’s spying on us. These tips will help to reduce the risk of infection and help to clean a keylogger off of the infected device.

  • Using antiviruses and antimalware software – regularly scanning the system using popular antiviruses and antimalware software can protect the system and remove accidentally installed keyloggers
  • Regularly checking for new software updates – it’s important to update any software installed on the computer with the recent, authorized patches. It happens that software contains bugs and vulnerabilities that are immediately fixed after they’re discovered. The fixes often come with updates and patches.
  • Avoid using public computers or networks – publicity available computers or WIFI can’t be infected or monitored by attackers. It’s better to not use those for any purposes that require confidential data. Connecting our own computer to a public network could also be dangerous. In such a scenario, using VPN (Virtual Private Network) can protect from leaks of confidential data.
  • Using two-factor authentication – multi-factor authentication is one of the best tools that can limit attackers’ possibilities to sign into a user’s account on a specific website.

5. Conclusion

In this article, we discussed keyloggers which are very dangerous tools. They can record everything from passwords to chat messages, emails, and social media posts. Keyloggers can be installed on the user’s system through email attachments or malicious websites, or as part of a more complex virus. Keyloggers are sometimes used for commercial purposes, e.g., monitoring employees’ activity during work time.

The best way to protect the system from keyloggers is to avoid installing software from non-authorized providers, opening suspect emails, and using antivirus software.

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