Keystroke Logging - How it Affects the Online Privacy of Internet Users

November 21, 2017  |  Kanika Sharma

Besides being a useful tool to study human-computer interaction, keystroke logging or keylogging is one of the most dangerous cyber threats for online users. Designed to covertly log everything a user types using the keyboard, keyloggers can silently steal and pass on your sensitive information to cybercriminals. Not just the websites you browse or the queries you google on, but your confidential details like online banking usernames and passwords can be recorded by a keylogger without your knowledge. The consequences? You might end up losing a fortune!

What do the stats say?

It is shocking to see that in July 2017, a data breach at Equifax led to the exposure of 145,500,000 consumer records, making it one of the largest data breaches in history.

Further, the target of hacking attacks are not just personal users, but many more. Take a look:

  • Businesses
  • Medical and Healthcare entities
  • Government or military targets
  • Educational institutions

From the above it is clearly evident that there is a strong need to understand and practice security measures to avoid online privacy intrusions.

How keystroke logging works

Keystroke logging can be achieved by both software and hardware. Let us see how these two methods work:

Hardware keylogger

A hardware keylogger is a device that resembles some part of the computer cabling and is connected in between the computer and keyboard. This resemblance makes it easy for the attacker to hide the device. Some examples include inline devices that are attached to the keyboard cable, keyboards with inbuilt keyloggers, etc. However, one drawback of using a hardware keylogger is that the attacker typically needs to return and uninstall the device in order to access the information that has been captured.

Software keylogger

Software keylogger is a computer program that needs to be downloaded and installed on the target computer. However, this software can also be a part of some malicious software downloaded unknowingly by the computer user or executed as a part of a rootkit that launches itself and works stealthily. The captured information is updated on the server periodically for the controller's access.

What types of information do keyloggers capture?

The capabilities of keyloggers vary according to their type and target. However, the following are some common actions done:

  • Capture passwords that are entered by users
  • Take screenshots of the device periodically
  • Capture URLs visited via web browsers and screenshots of the web pages that are viewed
  • Capture a list if all the applications that are running on the device
  • Capture copies of sent emails
  • Capture logs of all instant messaging (IM) sessions

The data captured by a keylogger is automatically sent in the form of reports to a remote computer or web server, as defined by the attacker. The report is either sent by email, FTP or HTTP.

How to avoid keylogger intrusions

Use an Antivirus with Anti-Keylogger capabilities

Go for an Antivirus Software with anti-keylogger capabilities, as it is a type of software specifically designed for the detection of keystroke logging software. Such software has the ability to delete or at least immobilize hidden keystroke logging software on a computer.

Say no to free software

Since keyloggers can easily attach themselves to freeware available over the Internet, it is wise not to install such software on your computer. For example, free screensavers can be tempting, but might be laced with malware. Therefore, you should resist downloading them and get software from recognized online vendors.

Always use a secure browser

For a safe browsing experience, you need to ensure that you are using a security-conscious web browser that can keep malware including keyloggers at bay. Those who are still using Microsoft’s Internet Explorer should consider switching to newer options such as Firefox, Google Chrome, etc.

Maintain physical security

In order to keep your information safe from keyloggers, it is crucial to ensure the security of the computer you are using. Avoid entering critical data on public computers. Further, you should always ensure that your personal computer or laptop is not accessed by anyone.

The bottom line

Keystroke logging can be dangerous to the online privacy of individuals and organizations. Ignorance towards your online safety can let a hacker get into your system and steal your confidential data. It’s important for everyone on the internet to take steps to protect themselves from keylogger attacks.

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