How a stealthy keylogger loots private data

Edward G. | August 18, 2020

A keylogger is a highly-intrusive application with a sole task on its agenda: to spy on users. Corporate entities employ such tools in good faith to improve security. However, the idea that employers get access to all keystrokes does not thrill employees. In fact, it could be a work ethics violation, invading employees’ privacy on many levels. Imagine the intrusiveness of a keylogger that used deceptive means to get into your device. While it records all keystrokes, you continue to access online banking accounts, share personal details, and type credentials for various accounts.

What is a keylogger?

A keylogger is monitoring software that logs users’ keystrokes. Some tools can record mouse movements, take screenshots, monitor microphone and camera, and retrieve copy-pasted data. The controllers of these invisible spies retrieve the gathered data and can use it against their victims. However, depending on the context, even legitimate companies use keyloggers to gather intel on their staff.

Events that occur after the collected data reaches the third-party responsible for the keylogger differ. Hackers might review and filter collected keystrokes. They are after valuable data such as banking account details, credentials, email correspondence, and other private details. Then, crooks take advantage of the dark market and put such data for sale. With no interested buyers, sellers can dump the information, making it publicly available.

When using corporate hardware, you will get a computer with some pre-installed programs. Despite potential work ethics violations, companies might slip in keyloggers into these devices. IT departments can run through logs and find out how employees use assigned devices. Employers might discourage their staff from visiting specific links, performing illicit activities, and looking at inappropriate content. So, the keylogger becomes a form of surveillance and control. There are two types of such software:

  • Hardware-based. These refer to actual gadgets that malicious actors connect to devices. Since they are noticeable, it is not the stealthiest move.
  • Software-based. Due to seamless operation, hackers, corporate entities, and significant others prefer them. Victims might have no idea that a malicious source monitors and logs their activities.

Are keyloggers legal?

Keyloggers are legal to an extent. If people receive full-disclosure and agree to the ongoing monitoring, they comply with the law. Such a scenario might be relevant to corporate hardware that employees receive upon joining the team. However, hackers do not care about consent and might use vicious means and channels. For one, third-party software from unknown sources might do more than anticipated. In addition to its proclaimed purpose, it can work under-the-hood to record keystrokes around-the-clock.

Shockingly, it might not even be a hacker monitoring your activities. Significant others, paranoid about cheating or other deception, might install keyloggers without their partners’ knowledge. In such cases, this tool becomes illegal.

How a keylogger violates privacy?

  • Continuous collection of data. Keyloggers, especially when installed without users’ knowledge, are parasites that log online activities non-stop. Hence, hackers might receive piles of valuable data. For one, identity theft is one of the potential consequences that victims will need to withstand.
  • Leaks of private data to the public domain. Not all hackers seek profits. Some initiate devastating attacks as tests or pranks. Hence, their goal might be extortion but not monetization. As a result, crooks can perform a practice called doxxing, the reveal of data without consent.
  • No privacy in the workplace. While staying productive and task-oriented is crucial, employees might feel uncomfortable with keyloggers active on their devices. Companies should prioritize people and ensure that they feel motivated to pursue their objectives.
  • Financial losses. Keystroke records and screenshots make it easy for hackers to determine which credentials victims used to access banking accounts. So, depending on the banks’ login practices, crooks can make unauthorized transfers from your account.

How to protect yourself from keyloggers?

  • Is using an on-screen keyboard a good solution? Such a measure might prevent keyloggers from collecting your data. However, the effectiveness of this solution is debatable. Might it might work to an extent, more sophisticated spying software will have no issue gathering such data. Bypassing spying software with wireless keyboards can also backfire. Such gadgets are even more vulnerable as they can broadcast the keystrokes to nearby entities.
  • Retrieve credentials from password managers. They can autofill login fields. Hence, you won’t need to provide the credentials manually. However, more sophisticated keyloggers might access this data via screenshots or other means.
  • Steer clear of suspicious links and downloads. Do not install unknown programs. In some cases, they might exploit vulnerabilities and download tools without users’ consent. Another option is that you will download a keylogger disguised as a legitimate application. So, choose official vendor pages to download software and avoid suspicious third-party websites.
  • Install antivirus software and run scans. Sophisticated security tools can detect spyware. However, stealthier applications can circumvent detection for longer periods. This secretive scenario is especially true with legitimate software that people install on their loved ones’ devices. Since they do not classify as malware, antivirus software might not detect them. To find stalkers within your circle, look for irregularities both in the digital and real world.
  • Apply a VPN. While you cannot predict when some keyloggers enter your device, you can reassure safer browsing with a VPN. It won’t prevent keyloggers directly, but it can stop users from entering suspicious websites that transmit them. Atlas VPN has a built-in SafeBrowse feature that alerts users when they are about to enter potentially dangerous sites.
Edward G.

Edward G.

Cybersecurity Researcher and Publisher at Atlas VPN. My mission is to scan the ever-evolving cybercrime landscape to inform the public about the latest threats.



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