What is a keylogger and how to successfully defend against it

Internet users are constantly exposed to various attacks. Among the most dangerous are the so-called keyloggers. We will tell you what type of attack this is, but also how to successfully defend against it.

What is a keylogger?

A keylogger is software that records all keystrokes on your keyboard. There are also hardware variants, but these are not very widespread as an attacker would have to physically get to your computer or other device. These recorded keystrokes of all the keystrokes are then sent to the attacker who can see what we have typed all about.

Cybercriminals use keyloggers to steal passwords and private data in real time. Perhaps needless to say, such a successful attack can spell disaster.

But keyloggers are not only used by hackers. There are legitimate applications for this type of software, which we’ll discuss later in the article.

How does keylogging work?

During an attack, the attacker tries to sneak a keylogger into the victim’s device. This can be done in a variety of ways, which we’ll look at later.

Once the installation of the malicious software is complete, many things can happen. The success of the hacker and the keylogger depends on both the sophistication of the software and the device on which it operates. A simple keylogger can only record keystrokes on a single web page or app, but a more advanced keylogger can do much more.

At the most extreme end of the spectrum, this software can extend almost anywhere. A keylogger can track copied text or get at your microphone settings. On your phone, an advanced keylogger could record calls, get location data, and even take screenshots.

Using a keylogger, a hacker could obtain users’ passwords, sensitive payment details or private messages. With this information, hackers can gain accesses to accounts, but need to start blackmailing and demanding money directly.

How does a keylogger get into your device?

As with most forms of malware, there are several different ways a keylogger can get into your computer or other device. We’ll focus on the three main ways they can get into your device.

Malicious advertising (malvertising)

Malvertising is one of the most popular and effective forms of malware distribution. The Internet and its functioning is essentially dependent on advertising, which has become an integral source of revenue for almost all websites. Although many of the ads are perfectly legitimate, an increasing number of ads function as a vehicle for malware and viruses.

Some malicious ads can only install their software if users click on them. A click indicates the start of the malware download, or the user will be redirected to a page that installs the malware on the computer. Much more worrying are the ads that don’t even need to be clicked.

Phishing emails

Phishing emails are one of the oldest tricks, but every year a number of users still fall victim to phishing as this type of attack becomes more sophisticated. For malware distributors, everything is relatively simple. The victim receives an email with a link and the sender attempts to lure them to click on those links. The following link starts the keylogger installation process and immediately infects the device.

These emails are usually disguised in some way and the senders mimic a legitimate message from a trusted source. The attackers will pose as banks or other well-known institutions and instill confidence in potential victims.

Infectious websites

Creating a website that automatically installs keyword-recording malware is relatively simple. Web hosting services offer an increasingly easy and user-friendly way to create your own site. This is nice for users who don’t want to learn to code, but it’s also easier for attackers who can quickly and easily create professional-looking sites that serve to do bad things.

With the right keywords and search engine optimization (SEO), a criminal can even move their malicious site higher up in the search rankings of various browsers. Once a victim lands on a dangerous site like this, a keylogger can be secretly installed.

Keyloggers as a corporate tool

Keyloggers are not only used by criminals and hackers, but quite legitimately by companies as well. A number of companies are investing in software of this kind in order to increase security.

We can bring up a debate about ethics or user privacy, but there are many reasons why using keyloggers is perfectly fine. However, the use must be done legally and in good faith. Employees should also be knowledgeable about the software.

One obvious advantage is increased efficiency, where a company can guard how its resources and hardware are used. There’s also the ability to catch risky user actions that could lead to data leaks or malware installation.

Risks arise when workers are not informed about how and when their keystrokes are being tracked. This is particularly the case when software is active on personal devices that function as both work and home hardware. Context is essential in assessing how ethical these practices are in any work environment.

How to protect yourself from keyloggers

Whether you’re concerned about individual security or threats to the larger corporate network, it’s important to protect yourself from keyloggers. Use these three simple steps to reduce risks and improve security.

Avoid infection

The best way to protect yourself from keylogging malware is to behave sensibly and preferably not visit places where you may encounter this software. So don’t click on suspicious links in emails and avoid interacting with online advertising on risky sites.

Invest in antivirus software

No matter how careful you are, some types of infection are hard to avoid. Downloading malicious ads that run without direct user interaction are particularly dangerous. Antivirus programs are able to flag these kinds of infections and warn which sites are risky.

Get a password manager

The biggest risk posed by keyloggers is the disclosure of passwords. An easy solution to this threat is a password manager like NordPass, 1Password and others. These will automatically fill in text fields and login forms for you, so you never have to physically enter passwords on a keyboard. Even if malware manages to bypass your antivirus and take up residence on your device, the attacker won’t gain access to your login credentials. They won’t get what you don’t type on the keyboard.

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