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The Resource Center Online Security Issues & Protection The Resource Center | article

How Does Keylogging Malware Work?

Without your knowledge, keylogging software can collect your personal information for identity theft, making certain security precautions an important part of your online security.Perhaps the most worrisome form of malware, keylogging can be installed on a machine without a user’s knowledge – and track all sorts of sensitive information. By monitoring each keystroke on a specific computer, keylogging has become a popular way for fraudsters to commit identity theft.

How keylogging malware is used

With these keystrokes, thieves are able to collect a user’s passwords, PIN codes, account numbers and other personal data. Sometimes these programs can be used to spy on corporations or government agencies.

While keylogging software can be installed with a physical device, thieves are also able to access machines remotely, having users download it as spyware. Unlike other forms of malware, keylogging does not present any direct threat to the machine, just to its user.

Though certain keylogging software is marketed for non-illegal use, security provider Kaspersky Lab notes that only a fine and subjective line separates that use from cyber fraud. Benign uses include monitoring by parents, to make sure their children are browsing appropriately, and by companies for security purposes. However, there are often other solutions for these same functions, and the legitimate software is often misused to conduct identity theft.

Why they’re hard to detect

Over the past decade or so, these tracking programs have become increasingly prevalent. Kaspersky Lab includes them in its malware classification system under the name “Trojan-Spy.” Still, protection is challenging.

Unlike a phishing scam, it’s not as easy as ignoring suspicious emails or not entering personal information on questionable websites. Typically, avoiding keylogging malware requires the right security software, but it’s still nearly impossible to tell if your computer has been compromised.

Once a thief can view your information via keylogging, it’s easy to access bank accounts and transfer money. On a personal level, this can result in a significant financial loss, but for attacks on a larger scale, this malware has spelled disaster.

In the fall of 2015, Kentucky hospital OH Muhlenberg, LLC became the victim of a data breach when keystroke logging software was installed on several of its computers. The hospital said it believed the software had possibly been on the computers since January 2012. The data breach compromised a number of sensitive data like patient names, Social Security Numbers, license or ID numbers, health plan information, addresses, payment card information and dates of birth.

In 2005, federal police in Brazil arrested a theft ring of 55 people who had used keylogging malware to steal about $4.7 million from 200 different accounts. The New York Times reported that Russian authorities broke up a similar ring that year as well.

How to avoid keylogging malware

Because users themselves can’t detect whether or not a machine has keylogging malware, it’s important to know the ways they can avoid it. According to Norton Antivirus, this means installing anti-spyware programs that know how to look for these types of viruses. The site also notes that Windows XP users can change their settings to “limited user” mode which can protect against keyloggers. Other operating system users should avoid downloading any free software from the Internet and use secure web browsers.

At Identity Guard, we offer plans that help protect you from identity theft in various different ways. We not only monitor your credit files, Social Security Number and public records for signs of identity misuse, we also provide you with tools to help keep you safe when you're online. Both our Total Protection and Platinum plans include our innovative PrivacyProtect® software that encrypts every keystroke you make on your PC‚ making them unintelligible to keyloggers.