Keystroke Logger Scams

by Elizabeth Mott
Restrict your use of public Wi-Fi to low-risk activities.

Restrict your use of public Wi-Fi to low-risk activities.

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In an increasingly wired and interconnected world, you may be tempted to access your online banking from public Wi-Fi, accept files from people you know only through social-media connections, try out numerous freeware smartphone apps and assume that password protection offers sufficient security for your wireless home network. In the real world of online crooks, scams and fraud, however, these practices can make you a sitting duck for keystroke logger scams.

How Keylogging Works

Keystroke loggers act as data recorders that compile a record of every keystroke you type on your computer. They can be used to obtain illicit access to usernames, passwords, social security numbers and other personally identifiable information, financial data, proprietary technical or business secrets, and formal or casual communications between individuals who use chat or text methods. Some keyloggers run as software programs in the background of your regular computer operations. Others hook directly into your operating system and take over the functions of keystroke interpretation. Finally, some run from hardware devices plugged in to your computer. These virtual or physical pieces of malware can store captured data for physical retrieval or transmit it through your Internet connection to a remote a location.

Hardware Attachments

A scammer with physical access to your desktop computer can attach a device that contains a keylogging payload to one of the ports on your system. Designed to look like a dongle, plug or cable, these gadgets work most effectively when they attach to the back of your computer, minimizing the likelihood that you recognize their presence. The size and shape of a laptop computer reduces the chances of a keylogger attachment escaping your view, but a keylogger delivered through a USB flash drive could escape your notice. Alternatively, however, one of these devices plugged in to a public computer can bypass the awareness of everyone who used an unfamiliar system. Avoid flash drives of unknown origin and remain alert to changes in your computer's configuration. At the same time, restrict your use of public Wi-Fi to activities that don't disclose your personal and financial information.

Software Payloads

Phishing email scams often include either an attachment that a message encourages you to activate by clicking on it or a link to a site you're encouraged to visit. These messages and their directly attached or indirectly acquired malware payloads can serve as an effective means of introducing software-based keyloggers onto your computer. If you've educated yourself about phishing scams and carefully resist the temptation to click on attachments in suspicious messages or those from unknown senders, you can limit your vulnerability to keyloggers, but maintaining an up-to-date anti-malware program in addition can halt an attack that comes from a dubious file or website destination.

Smartphone Problems

Smartphones can act as pocket computers, providing unparalleled mobile access to your personal data and files as well as online destinations. Their power, flexibility and mobility also make them ideal targets for phishing scams that can install malware. Free apps can consist entirely of keylogging routines, activated when you install a product only to find that it lacks any business or entertainment value, and become infected in the process. Some freeware products incorporate keyloggers into routines that offer some actual value -- entertainment or otherwise -- but that also record the websites you visit or other aspects of your online behavior, reporting these details to a company that sells consumer-behavior information.

About the Author

Elizabeth Mott has been a writer since 1983. Mott has extensive experience writing advertising copy for everything from kitchen appliances and financial services to education and tourism. She holds a Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts in English from Indiana State University.

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