What is Keystroke Logging?

G. Wiesen

Keystroke logging, also known as keylogging, is the practice of recording the data entered by a computer user during the use of a computer’s keyboard. This can be done through software or hardware and can be part of a malicious computer program or part of a legitimate security system. Keystroke logging is often considered an invasion of privacy and can be most devastating when used to gain important private information, such as account numbers and passwords for bank accounts, credit card information, and even online computer game accounts and passwords. There are several steps that can be taken to help protect a computer and user from keystroke logging, and as with most computer security issues, being cautious and using computer security software are the best ways of preventing problems.

Although there are legitimate uses for keystroke logging, it's often used to steal private information.
Although there are legitimate uses for keystroke logging, it's often used to steal private information.

Certain hardware devices can be used as keystroke loggers. These devices are plugged in between the cord of a keyboard and the input on a computer tower and are similar in size and appearance to a keyboard adapter plug. Keystroke logging hardware can be especially troublesome because the information is logged by the device before it ever actually reaches the computer, so computer security software is useless against these types of devices. Fortunately, these devices can typically be seen by casual inspection of a computer and should be watched for whenever a person is using a public computer.

Keystroke logging, or keylogging, can be used to steal an individual's password.
Keystroke logging, or keylogging, can be used to steal an individual's password.

A keystroke logging program can be software-based, and this is typically part of an extensive computer security system or part of a piece of malicious software (malware). Some people use security software on their computers to ensure that children cannot access certain websites or spend money online, or to ensure that employees are not wasting time online while at work. Some of these programs can include keystroke logging as a feature, typically intended to track the activities of unsupervised minors and employees using the computer.

Some keystroke logging, however, is performed by malicious programs such as Trojan horses or other types of malware. These programs are typically intended to log the keystrokes of a computer user as he or she enters account numbers, passwords, and other sensitive information. The data can then be remote accessed or sent to a specific email address or Internet protocol (IP) address that is owned by the malware designer. This data can then be used to access the accounts and can even be used to change passwords and keep the legitimate user from accessing his or her information.

Though some computer security programs can detect these types of malicious keystroke loggers, no single program is always a perfect defense against such practices. Much like avoiding any other piece of malware, caution should be taken by computer users whenever opening mail from someone they do not know, or following suspicious links in email and on Internet websites. Using antivirus and antimalware programs, and keeping them constantly updated, is also a great way to better detect programs such as keystroke logging malware and remove them before private information is compromised.

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Discussion Comments


@Terrificli -- parents do have every right in the world to monitor their kids' online activities, but think about the lack of trust that demonstrates. If you are a parent, are you willing to deal with a child after he or she discovers you've installed a keystroke logger to see what they're doing? That will cause some friction because you can count on a kid who is the least bit tech savvy figuring out one has been installed.

Before you install a logger, ask yourself that question and think hard about whether you're willing to deal with the fight that move could cause.


If you have children, putting a keystroke logger on his or her computer is a great idea, and that goes double if you have teens. Why? So you can keep up with what junior is doing while he is online, unless you just want to peer over your kids shoulder constantly.

Of course, merely spying on them (all in the name of keeping them safe) isn't all you can do with a key logger. Let's say junior has a bed time of 10 p.m. and he decides to ignore ole mom and/or dad and fool around on the Internet. A logger will let you know what time he has accessed a computer -- perfect evidence to use against teens who might not be too willing to own up to what they've done.

A key logger can be cheap and fairly unobtrusive. Why not monitor your kids with one? The Internet can be a dangerous place, so parents should use whatever tools they can get their mitts on to protect their kids. If you're worried about performance, whether the device can be detected, etc., do a little research or talk to your friendly, local tech guy before buying one.

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