Why Keylogging Software Should Be on Your Radar

Hand pointing on lap top
Diego Lezama/Lonely Planet Images/Getty Images

A keylogger is a hardware device or software program that records the real-time activities of computer users, including the keyboard keys they press.

Use Cases for a Keylogger

Information technology (IT) organizations and departments use keyloggers to troubleshoot technical problems with computers and business networks. Those entities are the primary users of keyloggers, but families, businesses, and other groups also can use them to monitor network usage without users' direct knowledge, as well. For example, keyloggers are typical components of parental controls. Lastly, malicious individuals use keyloggers on public computers to steal passwords and credit card information.

An illustration detailing the information a keylogger can collect.
 ©Lifewire

Information a Keylogger Can Collect

The capabilities of keyloggers vary, but when installed on a device, they generally can:

  • Capture passwords entered by users on the device.
  • Take screen captures of the device at periodic intervals.
  • Record URLs visited via web browsers and take screenshots of the pages viewed.
  • Record a list of applications that device users use.
  • Capture logs of all instant messaging (IM) sessions.
  • Capture copies of sent emails.
  • Automatically send reports containing stored logs and emails to a remote location (by email, FTP, or HTTP).

Most keyloggers capture not only keyboard keystrokes but also screenshots from the device. Typical keylogging programs store their data on a local hard drive or in the cloud (on a remote computer or web server).

Where Keyloggers Come From and How to Determine if Your Device Has One

Some keylogger software is freely available on the internet; others are commercial or private applications. Keyloggers are sometimes part of malware packages downloaded onto computers without the owners' knowledge. Detecting their presence a device can be difficult. By design, they hide themselves via methods such as:

  • Being installed in hidden directories (folders) on the target system.
  • Cleverly disguising or hiding the application from the operating system task list (Windows Task Manager and Start screens, macOS Activity Monitor, and equivalent).

Anti-keylogging programs have been developed to thwart keylogging systems, and these are often effective when used properly.

A keylogger can also take the form of a hardware module. Typically, such a device is installed between a keyboard and a computer.

Choosing a Keylogger That's Right For You

A simple web search turns up dozens of keylogging systems for download or purchase. If you're looking for a good keylogger solution for your home or business, consider these factors when making your decision:

  • Does it support the right operating system?
  • Are its reports easy to read and access? Nicely formatted reports are much easier to use than data scattered in strangely named files on a local hard drive.
  • How well does it remain hidden? If the keylogger hardware or software runs in plain sight, device users will likely find and disable it. If it consumes too many system resources (memory or processing power), it can hamper users' productivity, too.