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A software program or physical device that records which keys you press on your keyboard.
Keyloggers are typically spyware designed to steal passwords and other sensitive information. By collecting each keystroke, thieves can then sift through the data to find important information, such as your online username and passwords, your credit card numbers, and maybe even secure personal information.
A keylogger may be a physical device that is attached directly to your computer, usually between your computer and the keyboard cord, or placed somewhere in the vicinity of your computer. These devices either collect and store your keystroke information and then have to be retrieved later by the data thief, or they transmit that information wirelessly to a nearby computer.
Keyloggers can also be software based, distributed in the form of malware or a computer virus. Once installed on your device, it can run unnoticed in the background, collecting your keystrokes and transmitting them the data thief via the Internet.
Frequently Asked Questions
Doesn’t searching every keystroke take forever?
While sorting through every character you type may seem tedious, in many cases a data thief can simply search for certain terms (like common bank websites) in order to find your username and password, or certain patters (16 numbers in a row for your credit card). Even if the data thief needs to search through each individual key stroke, the payoff can be worth it if he or she can find a single credit card number. Chances are, if you entered your credit card number to pay for something online, you immediately entered your expiration date and security code too. That’s everything a data thief needs to go on a shopping spree or clone your card.
How do I know if there is a keylogger on my computer?
Physical keyloggers are often easy to detect. These are most often installed on public computers, such as those at your local library or in hotel lobbies, or office computers that are easily accessible to other employees within the company (anyone can sneak into your cubicle while you’re not around). Before you work at this type of machine, follow the cord that runs from the keyboard to the computer. If there is anything between the cord and the plug, let someone know and don’t use that machine. If it’s a wireless keyboard, avoid using the computer for any secure transactions.
Software-based keyloggers are harder to detect, but there are still plenty of steps you can take to protect yourself. Make sure you have antivirus software installed and up-to-date, and schedule a full-system scan at least once a week. Avoid opening any files from unknown sources, and never click links contained within emails, as these may cause malware to be downloaded to your computer. If you suspect your work computer may be infected by any suspicious software, contact your company’s IT department right away. To learn more ways to protect yourself online, see our Security Tips.