INTRODUCTION

Although many sophisticated hacking methods have evolved over the years, the keylogger is one of the first hacking methods primarily used for extracting critical information like login credentials, is still in use, sometimes even part of large cyber-attacks. Keyboard input is one of the primary ways to enter information, including credentials in today’s world. 

Keyloggers are small programs that sit in the background, making a note of every keystroke while also not interrupting the normal processing of the keystrokes. In this small writeup about keyloggers, we shall try to understand what is a keylogger, type of keyloggers, how to detect keyloggers, how keylogger works and how to use keyloggers if you need to use one.

  1. keylogger definition
  2. How do keyloggers work?
  3. How hackers use keyloggers?
  4. Keyloggers in the workplace
  5. How keyloggers infect devices?
  6. 6 best practices for detecting and removing keyloggers

1.keylogger definition

Keyloggers are primarily a type of surveillance or monitoring s/w used to record every keystroke affected at the physical keyboard, in some cases even keystrokes affected by an on-screen keyboard. Thus, the key log is regularly transmitted over the internet to a server or directly to a cyber attacker. The attacker can then either use them to extract vital credentials like banking or sell this information on the darknet.

While we mostly identify keyloggers with malicious code, they are also used for legitimate purposes like troubleshooting, testing, user experience improvement, or even monitoring the workforce. Law enforcement also uses keyloggers as part of their covert operations.

2.How do keyloggers work?

The basic principle behind keyloggers is to intercept the keystroke messages before they are sent on their way to the intended applications. This can be achieved by either software or through a more hands-on process involving hardware equipment. The software keyloggers are like any other processes running in the background, sometimes hiding from detection and other times camouflaging as system software.

If the attacker has physical access to the device, a hardware keylogger can be attacked to capture all keystrokes.

Software keyloggers are the obvious choice for surveillance, given its ease of setup and, if designed well, the negligible chances of the software getting detected. Keystrokes are sometimes stored in a small file on the hard drive for sending to the attacker in batches. If it is a hardware keylogger, it has to store keystrokes in its memory until retrieved or have to have some software installed on the victim machine to access the stored keystrokes.

3.How hackers use keyloggers?

Hackers can use Keyloggers to steal almost all information you enter through the keyboard, from the URL of websites to personal information entered on a legitimate website to important credentials like banking and workplace logins. All this information is like gold for the hacker. The hacker can either use this information for financial gains by either impersonating the victim or selling this information to buyers on the darknet.

4.Keyloggers in the workplace

Some legal keyloggers offer the application for monitoring and surveillance purposes. Software tools like mSpy offer to monitor employee productivity by monitory not only the keystrokes but also mouse movements, applications used, and more. There are other uses that surveillance apps like mSpy try to sell that might lead to downright stalking. Any individual can use these apps to keep an eye on near and dear ones, even spouses, in some cases. The use of such software to record activity is not legally ethical. Many others like Spyrix keylogger offer the same, along with screenshots of the system in use for free.

5.How keyloggers infect devices?

To keep your devices free of keyloggers, you need first to understand how these invading tools might infect your devices. There are several ways, some seemingly harmless ones like an Excel macro. There are millions of free software on the internet that offer many services, but any one of them could be malware that can record your keystrokes. There have been apps found on Google Playstore that potentially contained keylogging malware. Often, keylogging software comes bundled with ransomware or cryptocurrency mining, or botnet codes and can easily be activated by the attacker at any time.

As far as hardware keyloggers go, it takes an attacker to gain physical access to a victim device to install keylogging hardware, and it is quite rare.

6.6 best practices for detecting and removing keyloggers

In most cases, keylogging software is a privacy-invading piece of code and found on the wrong side of ethics. There are a few ways you could ensure your machine is keylogger free and if you are infected, a few ways to remove them satisfactorily.

  • If you are a more hands-on user of computing resources, you might know how normal resource allocation, background processes, and movement of data packets on the network look like. If you are already in the know of your machine’s technical performance parameters, it is very less likely that you will miss a keylogger.
  • One of the first steps to ensure your machine is malware-free is to have an updated anti-virus and malware protection. Since key-loggers are usually bundled with other serious threats, an anti-malware or anti-virus might be able to sniff these out even if active, based on intelligence gathered from around the world.
  • There is anti-keylogging software in the market that ensures no malware can hijack your keystrokes. Some even help you completely remove such malware.
  • For really sensitive information and rarely used credentials, you might want to use a convenient tool called On-Screen-Keyboard or OSK in windows. It is a software version of the keyboard and can be used to input keys using the mouse. This is not a foolproof method but will let you fly below the radar as far as most keylogging applications are concerned.
  • Since key-loggers typically work on the keystrokes gathered very recently. It is a good idea to keep changing your credentials and the above steps to ensure any past data leaks do not continue to impact you.

CONCLUSION

Keyloggers are potentially catastrophic if allowed to carry on unchecked. Although today’s operating systems help detect some basic malware, they are bound to miss the sophisticated and constantly evolving ones. It is a good practice to have your anti-virus and anti-malware subscribed and updated for an eventuality.

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