What Are Key Loggers
What Are Key Loggers
The term ‘keylogger’ itself is neutral, and the word describes the program’s function. Most sources define a keylogger as a software program designed to secretly monitor and log all keystrokes. This definition is not altogether correct, since a keylogger doesn’t have to be software – it can also be a device. Keylogging devices are much rarer than keylogging software, but it is important to keep their existence in mind when thinking about information security.
Legitimate programs may have a keylogging function which can be used to call certain program functions using “hotkeys,” or to toggle between keyboard layouts (e.g. Keyboard Ninja). There is a lot of legitimate software which is designed to allow administrators to track what employees do throughout the day, or to allow users to track the activity of third parties on their computers. However, the ethical boundary between justified monitoring and espionage is a fine line. Legitimate software is often used deliberately to steal confidential user information such as passwords.
Most modern keyloggers are considered to be legitimate software or hardware and are sold on the open market. Developers and vendors offer a long list of cases in which it would be legal and appropriate to use keyloggers, including:
- Parental control: parents can track what their children do on the Internet, and can opt to be notified if there are any attempts to access websites containing adult or otherwise inappropriate content;
- Jealous spouses or partners can use a keylogger to track the actions of their better half on the Internet if they suspect them of “virtual cheating”;
- Company security: tracking the use of computers for non-work-related purposes, or the use of workstations after hours;
- Company security: using keyloggers to track the input of key words and phrases associated with commercial information which could damage the company (materially or otherwise) if disclosed;
- Other security (e.g. law enforcement): using keylogger records to analyze and track incidents linked to the use of personal computers;
- Other reasons.
Why keyloggers are a threat
Unlike other types of malicious program, keyloggers present no threat to the system itself. Nevertheless, they can pose a serious threat to users, as they can be used to intercept passwords and other confidential information entered via the keyboard. As a result, cyber criminals can get PIN codes and account numbers for e-payment systems, passwords to online gaming accounts, email addresses, user names, email passwords etc.
Once a cyber criminal has got hold of confidential user data, s/he can easily transfer money from the user’s account or access the user’s online gaming account. Unfortunately access to confidential data can sometimes have consequences which are far more serious than an individual’s loss of a few dollars. Keyloggers can be used as tools in both industrial and political espionage, accessing data which may include proprietary commercial information and classified government material which could compromise the security of commercial and state-owned organizations (for example, by stealing private encryption keys).
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