A keyboard logger, also called a keystroke logger or simply keylogger, can be hardware or software installed on a computer to surreptitiously record keystrokes. The keystrokes are sent to a file that might be retrieved manually or clandestinely emailed to the installer of the keyboard logger.
When the target of a keyboard logger is a remote computer without direct access, a keyboard logger can be delivered inside a Trojan horse, a virus, a program, or an email attachment. A software keylogger consists of just a few lines of code and operates undetected, failing to show up even in the Microsoft Windows' task manager. Law enforcement can use a keyboard logger to gather information such as email sent, websites visited, chat room dialog, and passwords or encryption keyphrases. Virtually anything a suspect types into his or her keyboard will end up in the log.
Keyboard loggers are widely available online from any major download site, and are easy to write. A malicious party can use a keyboard logger to secretly steal people's personal information including passwords, credit card numbers, bank account numbers, and more. This is unfortunately a perfect tool for identity theft.
In addition to software keyloggers, there are also hardware keyloggers. These devices are only practical when one has direct access to the target computer. There are several models, but one popular type looks like a small adapter that plugs into the keyboard port on the back of the computer. The keyboard cable plugs into the back of the logging device. The device contains a small flash drive that records keystrokes. It can then be taken to another computer where the internal drive can be read like a flash drive.
At the office, a keyboard logger installed on a network can inform managers or CEOs of who is doing their work and who is playing on the Internet. Interoffice email, personal email -- anything at all that is typed at work -- will be sent to the keylogger, unbeknownst to the employees. Some people choose to install a keyboard logger at home to monitor what their kids are doing online. Others want to see what their partner is up to.
Because keyboard loggers operate without the target's knowledge or permission, many people consider them unethical and a clear invasion of privacy -- a tool too easily abused in the wrong hands, with too many 'wrong hands' using them. To help protect yourself from a malicious keyboard logger, you can install some popular spyware software designed to detect and remove keyloggers. Not all spyware performs this function, so read the fine print. Of those that do, they might not guarantee detection of all keyloggers, but every step taken lessens your chances of being the victim of an abusive keyboard logger.