Simply stated, a keylogger records every single keystroke you make on your computer keyboard. It records every secret password you enter, every account number, every login identity, every word in your documents and every stroke you make in an email. Have you typed in your credit card number to purchase something on the Internet lately?
Once your sensitive information has been stolen, it's a simple matter for thieves to open credit card accounts in your name and rack up thousands in buying sprees. Numerous crimes and forgeries can be committed if a criminal gains access to your Social Security number.
Estimates cited in a survey by National Mutual Insurance state that thieves who get their hands on your credit card numbers through the use of keyloggers will generally run up about $4,000 in damages per victim. Sometimes the victims of this fraud end up having to pay some of the costs they did not incur, and the amount of time it takes to straighten out the mess is astronomical. The rest of your life ends up on hold.
How does a computer become infected?
Numerous crimes and forgeries can be committed if a criminal gains access to your Social Security number.
One way keyloggers sneak in is through Internet Explorer vulnerabilities. Yes, Internet Explorer, largely because it is the most popular browser in America, is also the main target for spyware and keyloggers.
Another way is through spyware that has managed to download itself onto your computer, either through nefarious means or by you unwittingly giving it permission.
Trojan Horses often carry along not only spyware, but keyloggers as well. As you may or may not know, a Trojan is a malware or malicious computer program that masquerades as a desirable program, thus tricking the user into downloading it. Freeware and shareware are famous for carrying Trojans and spyware.
The important thing to realize is that keyloggers usually download in a completely secret manner, without your knowledge or consent.
The second most important thing to realize is that spyware and keyloggers are always evolving. Anti-spyware programs can only detect those items that have been added to their library. So many new ones are being developed that there's a good chance your anti-spyware program will miss some. Once they have downloaded, they are extremely difficult to find and delete. Anti-virus and anti-spyware programs cannot keep up. While you may think you're safe if you run your security programs and they tell you your system is clean, you very well may not be.
Keylogging programs have exploded from an early estimate of about 300 at the beginning of the year 2000 to the more than 6,000 that released last year. These programs are for sale to anyone. They can be bought on the Internet and in computer gadget stores. Some are actually offered at no cost. There is no law against them as of now.
The New York Times ran an article detailing a recent fraud bust by police in Brazil. A ring of criminals managed to steal nearly five million dollars from various accounts simply through the use of keyloggers. A similar event occurred in Russia.
You might wonder how such programs can be sold legitimately. Often they are marketed as tools to "help concerned parents" know what their children are doing online. They are also suggested for use as tools for employers in tracking what their employees are doing online.
HOW TO KEEP KEYLOGGERS OFF YOUR COMPUTER
Unfortunately, there is no sure way at this time to protect yourself from these dangerous programs. Their whole purpose is to install themselves without your knowledge, to be invisible to you and to run secretly.
All we can do right now is the following:
- Acquire, run, and consistently update a personal firewall program. Use a good one, which prevents outgoing as well as incoming messages or attacks that have not been added to your "safe" list.
- The second item, of course, is a good anti-virus program, which also needs to be run and updated regularly.
- If you use Windows, set your security center to automatically download and install Windows updates. These contain important patches to help seal your computer against attacks and vulnerabilities.
- More and more, the experts advise that you switch from Internet Explorer to another browser, like Firefox, Opera, or Apple's Safari.
- Pop up ads must never, ever tempt you. They are notorious for downloading spyware the moment you click on the box. If one pops up and forces you to do something, click on the X in upper right corner.
- If you want to use Internet Explorer, set security levels to the highest protection. In your privacy choices, block third party cookies or at least set the command to prompt you when they try to download. Pop ups can also be managed as well as Active X, which can be used to download spyware.
TRUST NOTHING ON THE WORLDWIDE WEB
Always be suspicious of anything on your computer that seems wrong or different. Run your security programs religiously. Most importantly, be careful when you surf the net. Be very selective about what you choose to view or click on. Lastly, read the EULA's, or End-User License Agreements, which you often have to agree to. You might find, hidden in the endless double-talk, a warning that spyware or keyloggers will be installed on your computer if you click on "yes." If this is the case, it would be a good idea to forget whatever it is you were planning to download. It's just not worth it.