What is a Keylogger: How Attackers Can Monitor Everything You Type

  • By Bree Ann Russ
  • Jan 27, 2022

‍Keyloggers are spyware applications that record and monitor user keystrokes, capturing every website URL, log-in name, password, social media username, and more that you type. It is sold under several commercial names, but the purpose is to track another person's activities, whether that's an employee, child, or spouse.

In other words, a keystroke logger is a software application that tracks every keystroke, often for nefarious purposes. A keylogger monitors the user’s activities on their device by tracking the keys they press.

One positive example is an antivirus program monitoring your browsing history to protect you from any malicious websites or software. A keylogger can also be a piece of malware that the user unknowingly installs on their own computer.

Unfortunately, this is much more common than most people realize. It is one of the primary ways that hackers can access personal user information such as bank account log-ins and operating system passwords.

What is a Keylogger?

A keylogger records each keystroke on your computer and saves it. These keyloggers usually function as spyware, malware, or antivirus software. If you have one of these keyloggers installed on your computer, it will record everything you type, including:

  • Usernames
  • Passwords
  • Credit card information
  • Bank account numbers
  • Social media profiles

If you type your email address and password into a website and then go to another site, that website will not have access to that information because it isn't on the page anymore. Keyloggers record everything you type, including things not on the page.

Hackers may also launch keyloggers through malware, including phishing techniques (an email that tricks the user into clicking on a link). There is no question that this kind of keylogger use is illegal because it is designed to steal a person's data, including PINs, passwords, and other personal information.

How Do Keyloggers Work?

Keyloggers work by installing a program onto a victim's computer without their knowledge. The program is usually disguised as a legitimate application. It may appear as an update for a popular website like Facebook or Twitter, or it could be a software update for an operating system like Windows or macOS.

Keyloggers can be installed onto your computer in various ways, including phishing emails that trick victims into downloading the malicious software. Another method is to hack into a website you often visit, like Facebook or Gmail, and install the keylogger onto your computer.

What Does a Keylogger Track?

Every keystroke that a user types on their keyboard is logged. Hackers can also use a keylogger to install additional software onto a computer without the owner's knowledge.

Some keyloggers are installed to steal credentials used to access business computers and networks. Others are installed by hackers who want to access your financial information.

How to Detect a Keylogger on Android Devices

Android devices are vulnerable to keyloggers, so they must be detected and removed if they are present. Here are some steps you can take to detect a keylogger on an Android device:

  • Scan the device for malicious files: Malwarebytes for Android can scan your device for malicious files, including a keylogger. If there is a malicious file on the device, it will find it and remove it from the device.
  • Check your text messages: If a keylogger is present on your Android device, you may receive suspicious text messages. These texts may be about various apps but may also be designed to trick you into clicking on malicious links.
  • Check your call logs: If a keylogger is present on your Android device, you may see strange numbers in your call logs. These numbers may not be numbers you recognize and may be part of a bigger scheme.
  • Check your app permissions: Android users can look at the permissions of apps they have installed on their devices. If a malicious app has been installed, it may request permissions to access sensitive data like text messages, call logs, and more.

How to Detect a Keylogger on iOS Devices

While the malicious apps that log keystrokes are less prevalent on the iOS platform, they still exist and can threaten iOS users. Here are some steps you can take to detect a keylogger on a device:

  • Check your call logs: If a keylogger is present on your iOS device, you may see strange numbers in your call logs. These numbers may not be numbers you recognize and may be part of a larger plan.
  • Check your app permissions: iOS users can look at the permissions of apps they have installed. If keylogger apps are found, they often attempt to change permissions within the device to access data like contacts, calls, texts, and more.

How to Prevent Keylogging Attacks

Keeping virus software updated and checking your Task Manager for unknown programs are fantastic ways to protect against keyloggers. Also, knowing the characteristics of phishing attacks and avoiding clicking on unknown links may prevent users from keylogger attacks.

Unfortunately, some keyloggers work around encryption defenses because these are either implanted in the computer's hard drive or are designed to grab forms that computer users fill out online. That allows the keylogger to get many kinds of personal information, from credit card numbers to phone numbers and CSC codes.

In brief, to avoid keyloggers:

  • Do not install crack or cracked software that has the user verification disabled because it could harbor keyloggers or other malware.
  • Use two-factor authentication on accounts to frustrate keyloggers who may have your stolen log-in credentials.
  • Install critical encryption software that prevents keyloggers from grabbing your account and log-in data.
  • Reboot the entire system to see if it unlocks the keylogger's hold on your device. Disconnect from the internet and contact an IT specialist to fix it.
  • Use a malware detection scanner as part of your computer start-up sequence.

History of Keylogger Software: What was it Developed for?

The Soviet Union allegedly developed keylogger software in the 1970s to spy on computers used in embassies in Moscow. It was inserted in electric typewriters to record every keystroke and transmit it back to a central base, thereby allowing the country to spy on others.

The technology has since been developed on mobile phones and laptops, using their built-in GPS and other functions to capture and transmit the requested data. That allows the individual with the keylogger access to track the device user's every interaction and movement.

Some companies may use keylogger software to monitor employees using company equipment. Employees may not reasonably expect privacy on a company's computers, phones, or network equipment. Three states: Delaware, Connecticut, and California, require employers to inform employees about monitoring via keylogger or other means.

Parents may use keyloggers to monitor their minor children's use of connected devices. However, spouses monitoring each other or third parties are typically illegal.

Issues With Keylogger Software

There are legal issues with keylogger software. It is illegal in many American states to record another person without their informed consent, and that pertains to more than verbal utterances or video recordings in private places. Thirty-eight states require one party to consent to record a conversation. Eleven states require all parties in a conversation to agree to record, including:

  • Massachusetts
  • Nevada
  • Montana
  • Illinois
  • Florida
  • California
  • Delaware
  • Pennsylvania
  • New Hampshire
  • Washington

Federal wiretapping laws may apply to keylogger use in some cases. Wiretapping is defined as covertly listening to phone conversations, which keylogging allows in some circumstances.

It's illegal anytime that keylogger software or hardware is installed on an adult's personal mobile device or computer without their knowledge or consent. American legislators have called on Apple and Google to remove from the app stores for iPhones and Androids a keylogger app that men in countries with repressive cultures use to track their wives and female members of their families. These apps have been used to limit a woman's ability to travel and communicate freely.

Famous Keylogger Attacks

A group of hackers successfully ran a keylogger attack on small businesses that ran for over a decade and netted them $4 million before authorities discovered it in 2015. The keylogger software was sent via email phishing, appearing to look like an email from a business associate.

A British college student was caught and convicted of putting keyloggers on the administrative computers in his university. After recovering the information about people's passwords and log-in information, the student hacked into the computer system and changed his own grades. 

Protect Yourself Against Keyloggers

Keyloggers are malicious pieces of software. They can be remotely installed onto computers through suspicious emails, fake website updates, and hidden software. Keyloggers track everything you type, including passwords and sensitive financial information.

They can also be used to install additional malicious software onto computers without the owner's knowledge. Android and iOS devices are vulnerable to keyloggers. Hackers can install malicious apps, suspicious texts, and hidden software onto devices.

If you ever think that you have a keylogger installed on your computer or mobile device, you should take action to remove it as soon as possible. Identity monitoring services are an excellent option for anyone looking to make their information more secure. They can keep your data safer while also sending notifications if any of your data is found on the dark web.

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