How to protect yourself from keyloggers

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Did you know that your own keyboard can be exposing your identity and accounts online? Keylogging, also known as keystroke logging and keyboard capturing, has a history dating back to typewriters. Today, it’s one of the most common forms of malware used in identity theft schemes. 

What is a keylogger?

A keylogger is a type of platform that records every keystroke on your keyboard, including when you sign into personal accounts or enter payment information online. Keylogger systems can also access your camera or your device’s microphone on your computer, tablet or mobile device. So, in theory, the platform could see your screen, see you and hear you. 

The keylogger platform actually has its roots in a perfectly legal function. Corporations often use keylogger systems so IT can help employees troubleshoot device issues. Additionally, some parents install a keylogger system to monitor their children’s online activity. 

Some other uses of keylogger platforms include:

  • Employers that want to monitor their employees’ level of activity
  • Employers tracking the use of work devices during non-working hours 
  • Organizations that want to monitor if employees share confidential company information 
  • Spouses who want to monitor their partners

Illegal uses of keylogger platforms are when the system is secretly installed on a person’s device. The individual’s information is then collected and either sold or used to commit identity theft or fraud. 

Keylogger platforms come in hardware and software formats. If it’s a hardware platform, it will be installed into the very device itself. That would require the installer to have access to the physical device at some point. For example, an employer that sends you a working computer can install a keylogger system beforehand. If you took your device to a repair shop, they could install a keylogger platform without you knowing. 

The more common form is the software version. A software keylogger platform doesn’t need physical access to your computer or device. Instead, it can latch on without you knowing, usually as a Trojan horse. A Trojan horse is a type of malware, or malicious computer program, that masquerades as a desirable program, effectively tricking the user into downloading it. 

It’s important to note that, unlike most malware programs, keylogger systems don’t typically impact a device’s usability. That’s because the entire point of the system is to get the user to continue using the computer so it can steal the data. This can make keyloggers more challenging to detect as your computer won’t show any signs of change. 

Keylogging and cyber fraud

Keylogging is something to be concerned about. Everything from WordPress sites to phone apps to Word documents can contain and spread keylogging malware. And what’s worse, these keyloggers are getting more sophisticated and more difficult to detect as time goes on. 

Keyloggers can steal any information you type into your device. This includes your computer activity, login information for accounts, payment information and personal data. Virtually anything you type can be susceptible to a keylogger platform. 

Of course, if keyloggers collect your information, the consequences could be devastating. They could access all your financial accounts and drain your savings, steal your identity and commit fraud or blackmail you. The keylogger will often put your information for sale on the dark web for others to purchase. 

A survey by the National Mutual Insurance Co. found that a victim of a successful keylogging attack will end up incurring costs of around $4,000. 

How do keyloggers infect devices?

Keyloggers can infect your device in a variety of ways, including:

  • An employer installing the platform on your work computer
  • A spouse installing the platform without telling you
  • A user opening a malware attachment on an email
  • Via web page script if you visit an infected site
  • Malware already on your device 
  • Through infected USBs
  • Through infected apps

Can you detect keyloggers?

You can sometimes detect a keylogger infection, but it’s typically quite challenging. A keylogger platform wants to run in the background and collect your data, so it’s usually not noticeable when it’s attached itself. If your keylogger system is sending reports to a third party, it often disguises these files as routine traffic. Additionally, even if you find the keylogger system and uninstall it, some platforms can reinstall themselves. 

Some of the less sophisticated keylogger systems may show obvious signs, such as a slow degradation of your operating system. While most technology tends to slow down with time, if a new device starts to slow down, it could be a warning sign of a malware infection such as keylogging software. 

It’s also important to note that keylogger platforms and all types of malware are continually evolving, so you always have to stay vigilant. 

How to protect yourself from keyloggers

The best thing you can do is to be proactive and protect yourself from keyloggers. Some common tips include:

  • Install anti-malware software. Most of these systems automatically include anti-keylogger software. Ideally, your protection software should be made of antivirus, anti-rootkit and anti-keylogger software. When you use these programs, always monitor upgrades so you stay fully protected. 
  • Always opt for two-factor authentication passwords when you can. It’s less likely that the keylogger will have access to both your devices, making it more challenging to gain access to accounts. 
  • Consider using a virtual keyboard. However, note that virtual keyboards don’t always protect against keylogger programs, so this isn’t an ideal solution. 
  • Update your internet browser and apps when they alert you about upgrades. These programs release updates when they’ve found a vulnerability in their system, so you must act quickly. 
  • Avoid sharing charging cables with other people. In 2019, researcher Mike Groves made national headlines when he released a charging cable that looked like an Apple cable but could log keystrokes if attached to a Mac computer.

Monitor your accounts for suspicious activity

As we’ve illustrated, the threat of keylogger platforms is real, and it’s hard to tell when you’re being targeted. You can stay safe by checking your credit card accounts, bank accounts, credit reports and other accounts regularly to check for signs that someone has stolen your information. Take action immediately if you notice anything suspicious. The longer you wait, the more damage can be done. 

If you’re generally safe with your online activity, you reduce the risk of a keylogger attack. Remember, you should avoid clicking on suspicious emails, avoid unsecured sites and only take your technology for repairs at reputable organizations. Protecting your online information is part of a sound financial strategy and is just as important as checking your credit report or monitoring your bank accounts. 

Posted in Security
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