Why Keylogging Software Should Be on Your Radar

Use it to troubleshoot computer and network technical problems

Hand pointing on lap top

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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.

Families, businesses, and other groups use these tools to monitor network usage without users' direct knowledge. For example, keyloggers are typical components of parental controls.

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:

  • Capture passwords entered by users.
  • Take screen captures at periodic intervals.
  • Record URLs visited in web browsers and take screenshots of the pages viewed.
  • Record a list of applications opened by device users.
  • Capture logs of 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 keyboard keystrokes and screenshots from the device. Typical keylogging programs store 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. A keylogger can also take the form of a hardware module. Typically, such a device is installed between a keyboard and a computer.

Detecting the presence of keylogger software on a device can be difficult. By design, keyloggers hide by:

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

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

Choose a Keylogger That's Right For You

A simple web search turns up dozens of keylogging systems for download or purchase. If you want 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 may find and disable it. If it consumes too many system resources (memory or processing power), it can hamper users' productivity.