Keyloggers are neither good nor bad per se; they are simply tools. Just like any tool, though, they can be used for positive, beneficial reasons or they can be used for selfish or malicious purposes. They can be used for protection, or they can be used for spying. Keyloggers have the ability to track and log each keystroke, each website visited, and every activity undertaken on a computer. How is that information used?
The Good. In the United States, the Drug Enforcement Agency recently used a keylogging program as a surveillance tool in a high-profile drug case because they needed “real-time and meaningful access” into the suspects’ activities. The DEA obtained a warrant, and then was able to gather invaluable information that was used to arrest and prosecute the suspects. In another case, over 50 child predators were arrested because of information obtained from keylogging programs.
Keyloggers can be invaluable tools. Parents can ensure that their children are not interacting with potential predators or engaging in inappropriate or dangerous behavior; employers can keep track of sensitive, confidential data or how a computer is used during work hours; law enforcement can gather evidence needed for arrests and prosecution.
When you install a keylogger on a computer you own, it is perfectly legal. When you install them on computers at your workplace, and notify employees that their use will be monitored, it is perfectly legal. What happens when these rules are broken?
The Bad. Keyloggers record every keystroke that is made on a specific computer; while parents may use this to monitor chats or IMs, those with less noble intentions can use this capability to capture passwords, usernames, bank account information, credit card numbers, and other sensitive data.
In some cases, keyloggers can be installed in your system without your knowledge. Say you are on a social networking site, like Facebook. One of your friends sends you a link, writing, “Hey, check this out!” You trust your friend, so you do. Unfortunately, social networks are big targets for malware developers; your friend’s account was hacked, you’ve clicked on the link, and now you’ve inadvertently downloaded a keylogger onto your computer.
In Manchester, England, keyloggers were installed on a number of computers in public libraries; the attackers were able to recover bank data and steal mobile phone numbers of patrons using the computers. This type of use is illegal and can have potentially devastating consequences.
The Ugly. But it’s OK to spy on your spouse, girl/boyfriend, neighbor, coworker, friend, or family member, right? If they are using your personal computer, and if you tell them that you monitor its activity, it is perfectly within your right to do so.
If, however, keyloggers are installed without the owner’s permission, things can get ugly. Monitoring software is often used by suspicious spouses who are looking for evidence of an affair or by “friends” hoping to dig up dirt. In any case, it is a violation of privacy. We depend on our computers to be secure and keep our data safe and private. When someone monitors your actions without your permission, it compromises data and takes away your ability to bank, shop, research, work, browse, or communicate freely. This is indeed a very ugly use for keyloggers.
Keylogging technology has the potential to be very helpful or very harmful. If you suspect that such a program has been installed without your permission, take immediate steps to detect and remove it to regain your privacy and keep your information safe.