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