What is a keylogger? How to detect, remove and further avoid it

Gannicus Oliver Last updated: March 25, 2023 Read time: 24 minutes Disclosure

This extensive guide explains what a keylogger is all about, the dangers it poses, how to prevent it, and so much more.

Sneak peek at keylogger

Keyloggers are one of the intrusive spyware apps that most cybercriminals use for monitoring users’ activities. These lightweight spyware remain undetected for years, secretly sense and record all the keystrokes in infected devices alongside emails, pictures, account details, and much more in mobile phones. Keyloggers often get into your system software via malicious websites. However, they can be installed in hardware, like mouse and joystick. Nonetheless, not all keyloggers are viruses and thus have positive usage as well. This guide elaborates on what a keylogger is and some tips to spot and remove it from devices.

Internet usage has increased significantly in the last decade, which has exposed users to various malicious applications ready to invade users privacy. Consequently, personal data leaks (such as photos) and other hacking attacks have also increased. An effective way for hackers to access users’ devices and infiltrate them is through a keylogger virus.

Precisely, keyloggers are lightweight, difficult-to-detect spyware applications that take note of every key you type on your PC or mobile device. These tools then relay the logged data to the hacker’s server.

These malicious applications can run on your system for many years undetected without giving a hint of who deployed them on your device and how.

Here is a real-world case to help you recognize the malicious extent of keyloggers.

A man named Joe Lopez filed a suit against Bank of America in 2005 after a hacker infiltrated the bank database and stole $90,000. Investigations revealed that the hacker transferred the money to another account in Latvia.

Wondering how did it happen? Joe Lopez’s PC fell victim to a malicious application named Backdoor Coreflood that was actually a keylogging tool. It recorded every keystroke Lopez made. Hence, the criminal accessed everything he typed on his PC and used it to steal money from his account.

This incident occurred in 2005, more than 15 years ago. So imagine how sophisticated malicious programs might have become since then.

Mr. Lopez lost the lawsuit because the court determined that he did not take adequate precautions to secure his system.

That judgment clears one crucial thing; if you don’t remain cautious, even the court won’t help. And to take adequate precautions against a nasty threat like a keylogger, you first need to understand it well.

What is a keylogger, and how does it work?

Keylogger comes from the family of the Trojan virus. A Trojan would typically mask itself as a useful application to conduct its malicious activities after downloading it sneakily.

The term ‘keylogger’ describes any program that records the keystrokes of a device. It carries out its operation by secretly monitoring and storing a user’s keystrokes.

However, there are also keylogging devices that are different from keylogging software. So that brings us to the question of what is a keylogger virus.

Not every keylogger is malicious or a virus. In some cases, legitimate programs also carry out keylogging functions. For example, applications that use “Hotkeys” or help users toggle between different keyboard layouts may not be malicious.

Some organizations also install keylogging software on employee systems to track their activities during working hours. If this is a known policy of an organization, then it is justified and legitimate. Besides, parental control apps may also keylog the devices of the wards.

But, many malicious keylogging applications also exist that are actually viruses and help cyber criminals in espionage and unjustified monitoring.

Thus, no matter the reason for deploying, you should know that such tools can facilitate malicious and criminal intent.

How a keylogger works

Once installed on a device, keylogging tools execute immediately after the target user boots the system and runs until shutdown.

Some keyloggers target your activities on specific applications/websites, while others target every keystroke you make, irrespective of what you do.