If a cybercriminal carries out a successful attack on your system, he or she might leave a keystroke logger (also known as a keylogger) behind. A keylogger is a kind of malware that cybercriminals use for Internet fraud and theft. When malware attacks your computer or smartphone or other device, it sometimes silently installs a keylogger. You likely won’t see it happen, but once it’s there it poses a constant threat to you and your online personal information. Keystroke loggers are also often associated with Trojan horses; the keylogger is what’s hiding inside the horse. When the cybercriminal convinces you to install his seemingly harmless, even helpful program, the keylogger is secretly planted without your knowing it. Antivirus security software helps protect you by keeping keystroke loggers off your computers and other devices in the first place. Or, if keyloggers do get on your system, the security software finds them and removes them.
To understand how keyloggers work, imagine you’re doing your online banking. Someone you don’t know about is hiding inside your keyboard or touchscreen watching and recording each and every key you press.
When it’s time to pay your bills, you type in the address for your online banking site. The keylogger copies that down. As you enter your username, the keylogger records that too. And then, as you’re entering your password, the keylogging malware copies that down exactly as you type it, even getting the numbers and special characters you added for better security.
Then, without you knowing, they take this information, package it up and send it across the Internet to a cybercriminal in some place like Estonia. This hacker goes to your Internet banking site, enters the information you typed in originally and convinces your bank that they’re you—not very hard to do most of the time. Now they can access your money as easily as you can, and, typically they’re going to empty your account as soon as they can, leaving you high and dry.
It sounds scary. It is scary. It’s scary because it’s real. Even if your bank uses Internet security that encrypts the information, that won’t help; keyloggers copy your information before it gets encrypted.
Keystroke loggers can also be found on public computers and Internet kiosks like those you find in Internet cafes. Since it’s nearly impossible to know if these public computers have a keystroke logger or not, never enter sensitive information on a public computer.
You can’t see keystroke loggers but they’re out there. And they’re one of the biggest threats to your Internet security because of how they can give cybercriminals access to your online financial information. Because you may not know when a keystroke logger is loaded on your system, running a good antivirus software package (free or not) on all your devices is the best thing you can to do to protect yourself and your personal information.