What Is a Keylogger?
Keylogging software keeps track of every keystroke and can be used by criminals to get your passwords.
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Keylogging software is a hidden application that identifies which keys a user presses on a keyboard. The application then relays that information to a Web browser, word processor or other application.
Some companies install keyloggers to track computer usage by staff and ensure company resources are being used properly.
At home, parents can monitor their children's activity with keyloggers. Such software isn't necessarily able to prevent inappropriate activity, but it enables parents to see what activity is taking place. The same application applies in the context of spouses identifying any potential unfaithful activities.
While those are some legitimate and legal reasons for keylogging, the act of recording keystrokes and transmitting results to a remote location typically falls into the realm of malicious software, or malware.
Keylogging software, a type of spyware, is designed to be invisible when active, which increases its potential as a subversive method of data theft.
Keyloggers not only record and store keystrokes on text files, but they can also send these files to a remote host and even take screenshots of the computer's desktop at regular intervals. Transferring this data can be done in a secretive fashion or even through more secure means, such as quietly using your email account.
The legality of keylogging
Monitoring software, such as keyloggers, is available commercially and is perfectly legal for use on the stipulation that such applications are installed on a computer or device you yourself own. Regardless of whether any individuals using the application are aware of the software's presence, it's legal to do since it’s your computer.
However, when such software is installed on a computer not under your ownership, this practice becomes quite illicit.
Some keyloggers come disguised or as part of a software bundle that, when installed, will begin covertly tracking all keyboard activity and transmit it to a remote location at regular intervals.
The theft of login credentials or personal information is one of malicious attributes associated with keylogging, as criminals can obtain information ranging from Social Security numbers to bank account access to credit card information.
Protecting against malicious keylogging
While there aren't necessarily any protective measures you can take against employer-installed keyloggers on work computers or software installed by spouses or parents, malicious keylogging can be prevented. Having the most up-to-date antivirus software is one of the best advantages available.
In addition, while keyloggers may be designed to run invisibly, they will still appear on the list of application processes from your computer's task manager, which means you can identify and shut down any illicit or unwanted tracking.