What are the different types of keyloggers?
Some keyloggers live online; others live directly in hardware and are installed and removed by a hacker. Despite the differences, all malicious keyloggers share a common element — they can observe, track and report on activity without the device user knowing about it.
API keyloggers work by monitoring keystrokes from application programming interfaces (APIs). It basically creates a communication link between two computers. The API allows the devices to “speak” with each other, which lets a hacker’s device receive all keystrokes recorded from the user’s device.
A form-grabbing keylogger is primarily used to record data entered into online web forms. Whenever users enter their personal information into a website’s form, the keylogger records the data.
Form-grabbing keyloggers often don’t exist on a user’s device. Instead, they are typically hidden inside a website’s code. When a user visits the unsecured website, the form-grabbing keylogger program records keystrokes and delivers the information to the hacker who implemented the malicious code.
Kernel-based keyloggers work in multiple stages. First, the program will achieve root access — the authority in a device to carry out any command or access any file on the device’s hard drive. With this, a kernel-based keylogger will begin tracking a user’s keystrokes.
These programs remain hidden while extracting information. Even when running, they often don’t appear in the device’s task manager application. They’re also difficult to find and remove since they appear to have full, administrator-level permissions.
A hardware keylogger is a physical device capable of tracking a user’s keystrokes. Sometimes it looks like a camera that can visually register keystrokes. In other cases, it might be built into the keyboard or connected to the computer via USB.
Hardware keyloggers begin work soon after they are connected to a computer. Tracked keystrokes are saved to a device, often without the user knowing. To retrieve the saved keystroke files, the hacker usually has to retrieve the hardware from the computer. Although this isn’t common, it is important to be aware of.
An acoustic keylogger program records the sound that each key makes when pressed. Since each key makes a slightly distinct sound, it can track which key is pressed based on the noise it makes.
After acquiring the sound files of the keys, hackers will then translate the sounds to identify which keys a user has pressed. Acoustic keyloggers are used less often than other forms of keyloggers since the sounds recorded are sometimes muffled or inaccurate.
What are the dangers of keyloggers?
Keyloggers can be dangerous when used by cybercriminals. If the program is not identified and eliminated, a hacker can steal a lot of sensitive information. While keystroke logging spyware won’t negatively affect the state of a hard drive, it can easily steal and exploit data before a user knows what’s happening.
Cybercriminals with access to a user’s keystrokes also have access to sensitive information, including passwords and bank details. Armed with this information, they can steal a person’s identity, which can result in financial loss, compromised Social Security accounts and emotional stress.
Keylogger-based fraud can affect a person’s identity, finances and even friends and family members. Some hackers use a person’s keystrokes to send messages to the victim’s personal contacts, often as part of a phishing scam. Other hackers use saved social media passwords to impersonate the victim and create fraudulent posts. With the right bank information, some scammers might go straight for finances.
Cybercriminals can also mine information from keystrokes, which results in cyberstalking — when cybercriminals use the internet to harass, intimidate or bully others. An estimated 40% of Americans have experienced some form of online harassment.
Cyberstalking can often begin through an email or a message that feels harmless. The conversation quickly becomes less friendly, though, as cybercriminals continually contact a person even after the individual has asked for interactions to stop. Some cybercriminals will contact the same person through multiple accounts.