What Is a Keylogger? [Everything You Need to Know]

by Denis Metev

Ah, the internet!

An endless ocean of possibilities and knowledge. But don’t be fooled by how calm the water looks because danger lies ahead.

An experienced swimmer is always prepared to encounter something fishy. The web surfer should also be prepared.

Brute-forcing, cyberbullying, and keyloggers are some of the modern-day traps of the Internet. Today we’re focusing on the latter – keyloggers.

That’s right. Hop on your surfboard and follow me to learn more.

TechJury_keylogging_info

What Is a Keylogger?

Good question. Keylogging is a way to spy on a computer user. It’s generally used to gain access to passwords and other confidential information through fraud. It records every keystroke made on your computer.

Keylogger stats:

  • Over the past 10 years, IT security companies have recorded a steady increase in keylogger-based malware.
  • However, 80% of all keyloggers are not detectable by antivirus software or firewalls.
  • Hackers caught with keylogging software in the US face a 10-year prison sentence.

Have you seen the movie “The Truman Show”?

It’s the story of an ordinary man living a normal life. He is married, has a job, a nice house, good friends, and kind neighbors. Or that’s how it seems on the surface.

Actually, this man is living in his own reality show. He has been monitored ever since his birth, without having a clue about it.

Every step he takes is followed.

Every action he takes is recorded.

Sounds like fiction (and it is), but it can also be a reality.

Your whole life is practically stored on computers. You have your online banking, social media, conversations, downloads – you name it.

But You Are Well Informed and Secured, Right?

You know what phishing is, SSL is your best friend and you have the top antivirus installed. Then again, banks also have guards, safes, padlocks and code combinations, but robbers still manage to steal money.

To paraphrase Henry Ford: A reserve of knowledge, experience, and ability is the only real security a man can have in this world.

How Do Keyloggers Work?

Just like a hidden surveillance camera that tracks all your actions. A keylogger is a type of software that records keys as you strike them on your keyboard. Keystroke loggers arrive just as any other malware and are hard to discover if you don’t know what to look for. 

You can get infected by simply visiting a website. Furthermore, some keylogging software can take screenshots of your activity and record your microphone.

A certain action may trigger the keystroke logger too. For instance, the keylogger software may start recording only once you’ve opened the browser to access your online banking.

But you’re probably wondering:

How to Check for a Keylogger on Your PC

A keyboard logger can be tricky to detect. First signs of an infection could be:

  • Web page performance slowing down.
  • Your mouse or keystrokes pausing or not showing up onscreen what you’re actually typing.
  • Getting error screens when loading web pages or graphics.

Here are the steps you need to take:

  • Run an antivirus scan. In most cases, your antivirus will detect malware and keyloggers.
  • Open Task Manager and check for any suspicious applications.
  • Check your list of installed programs – run a google search if you have doubts about a program.

Types of Keyloggers

While keyboard loggers are mainly software-based, there are some hardware options as well. 

Here’s the deal:

Keylogging Software

Spyrix Free Keylogger

This is the free version of the paid Spyrix Personal Monitor. It can take screenshots, clipboards and capture keystrokes. However, advanced features like social network monitoring, log delivery and alerts are not available. Spyrix may appear to be hidden but can be easily spotted from the task manager. The program’s folder is visible, as well.

KidLogger

An absolutely free and open-source user activity monitoring tool. It can be used for logging keystrokes and clipboard, but also to record USB drives, files, and folder usage. On top of that, you can record sound from a microphone and take screenshots. KidLogger is available for most platforms, including Windows, Mac, Android, Blueberry, etc.

The program runs hidden in the background but is visible in the task manager and explorer. You can protect KidLogger with a password.

BlackBox Express

A free security monitoring software that can be used as a keylogger. BlackBox works slightly differently compared to the other software on the list. You can monitor 1 local PC and up to 200 remote computers in the network. Perfect for business means. And you can exclude a user you don’t want to monitor.

BlackBox Express can log keystrokes, web searches, ran programs, visited websites and much more. The program is hidden by default, but you can still see it in the task manager.

Revealer Keylogger Free

Very responsive and light on system usage. It can record keystroke and has automatic log cleanup. You can protect the program with a password. It’s invisible in the taskbar and in add/remove programs. To uninstall it, run the program, click on the question mark icon at the top right, go to Program end and select Uninstall.

Actual Keylogger

It used to be for free, but the current version has turned into shareware with the program renamed to Actual Spy. The last free version (2.4) is from 2006 but seems to work perfectly on Windows 7. It can only capture keystrokes, however.

This is the stealthiest option of all the above. You won’t be able to detect it in task manager, the program folder is hidden and doesn’t show up in the Windows uninstall list.

Hardware Keyloggers

Some keyboard loggers can be implemented entirely as hardware devices. A person puts a specialized USB device, which acts as an intermediary between the computer’s USB port and the keyboard’s USB connector.

The device stores signals from the keyboard, while everything appears to be working normally. If you keep your computer under a desk, the device would practically remain invisible.

Security software won’t be able to detect the keylogger since it’s pure hardware. The person can come back a couple of days later, grab the device and no evidence will remain. You won’t even realize what has happened. 

To prevent this, simply check the back of your computer to see if there’s any device between your PC and keyboard.

Mobile Device Keylogging

Good news is that there are no hardware keystroke loggers for mobiles, but both Androids and iPhones are vulnerable to keylogging software. Since modern phones use a touch screen, keyloggers adopt a specific approach. 

They eavesdrop on what you press on your screen. From there on, your camera, microphone, connected networks, devices, and all your messages are monitored.

Anyone who has temporary access to your phone can load a keylogger. Your device can also get infected in the same way as a computer – via phishing emails and malicious websites.

Keyloggers for Android and iPhone

As with computers, there’s an abundance of keylogging software for both Android and iPhone users to choose from.

Let’s narrow it down:

Spyzie Keylogger

One of the most popular keylogging software for mobiles at the moment. You can monitor up to four devices from one account with the option to remotely read text messages. It is hard to detect and provides notifications and data quickly. Spyzie costs $30 per month for Android and $40 for iOS. You can also try a free demo version of the tool.

EasySpy

This tool is easy to use, as the name suggests. It’s considered as one of the more sophisticated monitoring ways since it can provide all the data from a mobile, including text messages, GPS tracking, and a call log. EasySpy costs $70 per month.

Highster Mobile

This keylogger software does an excellent job of keeping call logs, browser history, social networking logs. The pricing starts from $30 a month for the basic package and $40 for the pro one. 

Captain Smiley is always on duty to protect your keyboard!
Captain Smiley protects you from keyloggers
But even he can have bad days at the office. For such days, he recommends reading on:

Keyloggers: Detection and Prevention

In general, you should be cautious when opening attachments. Keyloggers could be injected in files received through email, text messages, chats, networks, and even social media. Pay attention to fishy emails, asking for your personal information.

It’s crucial to have an antivirus program with the latest updates. Be cautious when you turn your antivirus off, because that’s the chance keyboard loggers are waiting for to creep in.

Virtual Keyboard also helps to avoid personal data interception by hackers. It is a software used to allow the user to input characters without the actual need for physical keys.

Enabling two-step authentication with a one time password would help protect you, too. Since the one time password is temporary, hackers cannot use the same password again.

Include your phone number for authentication and even if keyloggers crack the actual password, it will be useless to them.

How to Spot a Keylogger on Android and iPhone

Signs There Is a Key Logging Software on Your Mobile:

  • Your phone is hot. If you close all your apps and programs, but the phone still feels like a boiling piece of metal, there’s a big chance you are being monitored.
  • The battery is draining quickly. You’ve barely used your device, yet the battery is almost gone.
  • Strange text messages. Avoid clicking and immediately delete any strange text message you may receive.
  • Your phone is going nuts. Should your mobile start to turn off and on randomly, it’s likely infected by a keystroke logger.
  • Background noise. If you hear strange noises while talking on the phone, this may be an indicator that somebody just eavesdropped on your conversation.

Steps to Seek and Destroy the Malware:

  • Check the Downloads/My Files folder on your phone. The keylogger file may be a combination of random characters and end in APK.
  • Use antivirus software. It will find and quarantine the keylogger, essentially protecting your phone on a regular basis.
  • Reset your phone. Just make sure to back up any important data beforehand. This is a sure way of removing keystroke loggers.

Wanna Know the Best Part?

On top of these prevention measures, there are dedicated tools you can use to detect a keystroke logger.

Spybot – Search and Destroy

The program offers a powerful free version, compatible for Windows and Mac systems. You can utilize it to detect not only keyloggers but other types of malware too. It has a simple interface and will also monitor your passwords – warning you when there’s a breach and providing solutions.

Malwarebytes

One of the top tools for online protection. It offers both a free and premium version. The free download will remove infections that are already on your system. Going premium will also provide active protection against incoming attacks.

SpyShelter Free

A very handy program for all Windows users. It uses keystroke encryption to protect your computer and has a set of functions to detect and stop malware. SpyShelter is fast, has a great design and won’t affect your system’s performance.

I see you’ve spent the last five minutes reading through the article. No keylogger in use, honest!

Seriously, though – knowing what a keylogger is and how to combat keylogging will provide you with the ability to swim calmly in the vast ocean that is the internet. 

 

FAQ

Q: What Is a Keylogger and How Does It Work?

A: A keystroke logger is a method of spying on a computer user. It records every keystroke you make and can sometimes also capture screenshots and record audio from your device. Keylogging can be executed with the help of a software or specialized hardware device.

Q: How Can I Check If I Have a Keylogger?

A: First of all, check for any abnormalities – web page slow down, error screens, keystrokes not showing what you’re typing. Check your task manager for any strange applications.

Some software-based keyloggers are hard to detect, though, and remain hidden from the task manager and the add/remove programs app. Luckily, we have great software tools for detecting those, like Malwarebytes, SpyShelter Free, and others.

Q: How Can I Detect A Hardware Keystroke Logger?

A: Antivirus tools will not detect a hardware keylogger. The only solution is to visually inspect your computer if you want to discover it. Look for a strange USB connector between your computer and keyboard.

Q: What Is the Best Free Keylogger?

A: BlackBox Express, KidLogger, and Revealer Keylogger Free are some of the most popular free options.  

Q: Are Keyloggers Illegal?

A: Both yes and no. It is legal if you use it to monitor your child’s online activity. Using it for evil purposes like stealing credit card information is illegal. Law enforcement entities like the FBI and DEA use keystroke loggers to spy on criminals. 

Q: Can You Put a Keylogger on a Cell Phone?

A: Just like a computer, you can use software to install keyloggers to a cell phone. You have the option to listen to phone calls, read text messages and even GPS track the device.

Q: Can a Website Install a Keylogger?

A: A keyboard logger can be installed through the script of a webpage. Antivirus programs will usually detect infected files as malware, but there are some unknown to the antivirus database.   

Q: Can A Keylogger Be Installed Remotely?

A: A number of keyloggers have a remote install option. You still need to be baited into clicking a link or visiting a website for the keylogger to be activated, though. Thankfully, now that you know what a keylogger is – that’ll be less likely.

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