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What is a keylogger?

Man looking upset with his hands on his head, looking at computer that has been compromised by a virus

At a glance

  • A keylogger program is a hidden form of spyware that monitors a device by tracking keystrokes to collect sensitive information.
  • There are several types of keyloggers including API, form-grabbing, kernel-based, hardware and acoustic.
  • To protect yourself from keyloggers, ensure your antivirus protection is always up to date. If a keylogging program is detected, ensure you have it removed by a professional as soon as possible.
  • If you’re eager to learn how to combat spyware and malicious code, consider cybersecurity programs at University of Phoenix!

A keylogger is a program that monitors device activity by recording every key that is pressed and saving that data to a file.

Sometimes keyloggers can be used for legitimate purposes. For example, high-security employers might use keylogging programs to monitor employee activity around sensitive files. In other cases, organizations might use a keylogger to decrease the risk of data theft.

When used illegally or without the user’s knowledge, a keylogger is a form of spyware. Covert keyloggers maliciously monitor a user’s activity to steal personal information, including payment details, passwords and login credentials.

Learn how to stop cyber threats with a Cybersecurity degree. 

 

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

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.

Form-grabbing

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

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.

Hardware

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.

Acoustic

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.

Identity theft

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.

Fraud

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.

Cyberstalking

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.

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Cybersecurity tips for remote workers

How can I protect myself from keyloggers?

It’s important to give your devices the best chance possible against keylogger programs. This means following the best preventive practices:

  • Keep all antivirus and anti-malware software up to date.
  • Same goes for your device. When your device protection programs release a new update, take the time to upgrade and eliminate any potential vulnerabilities.
  • Stay away from suspicious emails or email attachments. These emails and attachments might contain keylogger programs, sent from cybercriminals who want access to your keystrokes.
  • Store important files in the cloud and regularly back up your files to a secure location.
  • Update firewalls that regularly block keylogger programs and hackers.

How do I remove a keylogger from my device?

If you’ve identified a malicious keylogger program on your device, remove the program as quickly as possible. This is critical to do before the keylogger begins sending your information to one or more cybercriminals.

Start by checking for antivirus or anti-malware software when removing a keylogger from your device. Run your device protection program to determine if your device is infected with any spyware, including a keylogger. Only use trusted sources to download an anti-malware program since some spyware can hide within malicious programs posing as legitimate security programs.

Make sure to uninstall or delete untrusted programs you find. You may also need to remove hardware — including your affected hard drive — to fully eradicate the keylogger.

Exercise caution while completing any of the above steps. Keylogger programs can easily hide within other programs and may still be present even if you think you have fully removed them. If necessary, consult an IT expert for advice while attempting to remove a keylogger.

What are the benefits of keylogging?

Keylogging isn’t always a bad thing. In some cases, it can be used to create transparency and healthy levels of accountability.

Here are some of the benefits of proper keylogging:

  • Monitoring daily commitments — The amount of time spent on a device’s application can be tracked to ensure time is managed properly.
  • Reducing theft risks — Corruption can be caught at the source and minimize the risk that an employee will steal company property.
  • Controlling internet activity — Parents or guardians can monitor their child’s internet browsing habits. Employers can also block access to sites that might waste their employees’ time.
  • Creating productivity insight — Some keylogging programs can create reports based on device user habits to help employers make decisions based on where time was spent during a day, week or month.

When used in a business environment, many employers choose to notify their employees of the keylogger so they are aware of tracking programs in place.

How can keylogging be used in a career?

You might use keylogging in several ways, depending on your role. You might, for example, use it in a cybersecurity position or in a career in information technology (IT), particularly in a role that oversees employee security or productivity.

You’ll likely need to obtain a degree in technology for either of these positions. Many aspiring cybersecurity and IT professionals pursue a degree in cybersecurity to improve skills in risk management, cloud security, systems administration and other fields.

Cybersecurity and IT education at University of Phoenix

Whether you’re seeking to gain a basic understanding of cybersecurity and other IT skills, or you’re a working professional looking to expand your knowledge, University of Phoenix offers online course collections, certificates and degrees.

  • CYB/110 Foundations of Security course — This single course aligns to a Certified Secure Computer User (CSCU) exam with EC-Council. Anyone who passes this class is eligible for a free exam voucher for the EC-Council Certified Secure Computer User industry certification exam. Passing the exam increases your reputation as an ethical and responsible IT professional.
  • Certified Ethical Hacker Course Collection — This course collection can help you prepare to sit for the EC-Council Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) exam. Topics include the phases of ethical hacking, recognizing weaknesses and vulnerabilities of a system, social engineering, IoT threats, risk mitigation and more.
  • Computer Hacking Forensics Investigator Course Collection — This course collection can help prepare you to sit for the EC-Council Computer Hacking Forensics Investigator (CHFI) certification exam. You’ll learn about the latest technologies, tools and methodologies in digital forensics, including dark web, IoT, malware, cloud and data forensics.
  • Cybersecurity Digital Forensics Certificate — Ideal for students with a cybersecurity background, this certificate program covers methods for planning, implementing and monitoring security measures.
  • Associate of Science in Cybersecurity — The EC-Council and University of Phoenix teamed up to launch the Associate of Science in Cybersecurity degree and elective courses that align with three EC-Council certification exams: Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH), Certified Network Defender (CND) and Certified Secure Computer User (CSCU).
  • Bachelor of Science in Cybersecurity — This online program teaches skills such as security policies, network security, cybersecurity and more. This degree is also aligned to certifications such as CEH, CND and CSCU.
  • Bachelor of Science in Information Technology — Learn skills pertaining to information systems, system analysis, operations and cybersecurity.

 

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