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May 20, 2021

Privacy Tip of the Week: Avoiding Keyloggers

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Very few of us navigate the web with mouse clicks only. Instead, we must rely on our keyboards as well. They help us use search engines, visit new websites, access our accounts, and keep in touch with our loved ones. But what happens when the private things we type become visible to someone else? This can happen with a keylogger, a tool which tracks every letter, number, or symbol a person types. Here’s what you should know about keyloggers and how they hurt your privacy:

  • How do they work?
  • What are the risks associated with keyloggers?
  • How do you know if a keylogger was installed?
  • Can you avoid them?

How Do They Work?

Keyloggers come either as software or hardware. However, the software version is the most popular. This type of program can be installed on a device (usually without the user even knowing about it), where it runs silently in the background. Every time you tap a key on your keyboard, it keeps a log of what you type. Once gathered, that information is then sent back to the person who caused the logger to be installed in the first place.

Hardware versions work in a similar fashion, but instead of being an installed program, they typically come as a small device that attaches to your computer as a USB (or similar) device. 

What Are the Risks Associated with Keyloggers?

Keyloggers may be installed for a variety of reasons. Parents wanting to observe their kids’ online activities, employers interested in tracking employee productivity, and even jealous spouses afraid of infidelity may install one. All of these uses, obviously, invade a person’s digital privacy. Bad as that is, keyloggers are most commonly installed by hackers and cybercriminals, who do worse than simply watch your private keyboard interactions.

If a hacker somehow gets a keylogger installed on your computer (through a fake download, for example), you risk losing more than your privacy. They can use the logger to collect your email addresses, passwords, banking numbers, personal messages, and way more. Once they have all this information, they can steal your accounts, your money, and your identity.

How Do You Know if a Keylogger Was Installed?

Keyloggers, unfortunately, are often sneaky. You may not even know there is one on your device. However, there are a few signs to look out for.

  • An unusual device has been attached to yours. A hardware keylogger is the easiest to detect. If you spot an unfamiliar device attached to your USB or PS/2 port, it could be a keylogger.
  • You’ve noticed an unfamiliar app. A software keylogger may show up on your device as a program you don’t remember installing or using. If you didn’t install it, it probably shouldn’t be there and may be a keylogger.
  • Your keystrokes are really slow. If you’re noticing a delay between what you type and what appears on screen, a keylogger may be the culprit.
  • Your task manager is showing a strange task. If you open up your task manager and can’t account for a process, check to see if it’s a keylogger.

Can You Avoid Them?

Because you may never know if a keylogger has been installed on your device, the best way of protecting yourself is by avoiding keyloggers altogether. Fortunately, this task isn’t difficult. It just requires a little bit of basic knowledge about online security. The best ways of avoiding keyloggers include:

  • Using antivirus software. Most keyloggers are installed when a hacker tricks its victim into installing a piece of malicious software (this software is often disguised as something else). Fortunately, good antivirus software should be able to detect malicious downloads, even if you don’t.
  • Avoiding random downloads. Hackers are great at making malicious software look legit. This is how they trick so many people into installing it. Because of this, it’s prudent to avoid links and downloads in messages/emails sent to you unexpectedly. In addition, if you’re seeking out a download (like an app, game, movie, etc.), only download them from an original source you can trust.
  • Updating your software. Software vulnerabilities often provide backdoors for hackers to inject malicious programs into your devices. Fortunately, companies quickly discover many of these vulnerabilities and fix them with an update. If you don’t keep your software updated, however, you’ll remain vulnerable.
  • Using a password manager. Keyloggers are incredibly effective at stealing your passwords. However, they can’t steal what you don’t type. By saving your passwords to a password manager, which allows you to simply copy or autofill a password, a keylogger can’t steal this information.
  • Changing your passwords. If a keylogger does somehow get ahold of your passwords, changing them frequently reduces the damage this can have.

Conclusion

Our keyboards are our keys to the web. Without them, we could do next to nothing online. But what happens when our keys to the web become the keys to our data, thanks to keyloggers? With our tips, hopefully you’ll never find out!

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