Common Types of Keyloggers and Examples from the Past

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A keylogger, also known as a keystroke logger, is a form of invasive software or hardware that surreptitiously records and monitors every keystroke made on a computer or mobile device. Keyloggers come in various forms, each with the potential to compromise sensitive information. These malicious tools have left their mark on cybersecurity, from sneaky hardware keyloggers to stealthy software variants. Notable examples from the past include FinFisher, Zeus, SpyEye, and Ghost Keylogger, reminding us of the ever-present threat posed by these insidious programs.

Originally developed as tools for legitimate purposes, such as troubleshooting and monitoring, hackers quickly weaponised keyloggers. As antivirus software evolved to detect and counter traditional malware, cybercriminals turned to keyloggers as a means to gain unauthorised access to sensitive information.

Types of Keyloggers

Keylogger types can be classified based on various factors, such as the keylogger software used or the underlying technology. One common categorisation includes software-based keyloggers and hardware-based keyloggers. Let’s learn more about them.

Software-based keyloggers:

Software keylogger is installed on a computer system that runs in the background, capturing keystrokes and saving them to a log file. Software keyloggers can be installed through infected email attachments, malicious downloads, or by exploiting vulnerabilities in software.

  • Memory-injecting keyloggers: These keyloggers inject malicious code into the memory of running processes on a computer. By hooking into system functions or DLLs, they can intercept and record keystrokes before they are processed by the operating system.
  • Form-grabbing keyloggers: These keyloggers monitor web browser activity and capture data entered into web forms, such as login credentials and credit card details. They can target specific websites or capture data from multiple sites.
  • Kernel-based keyloggers: These keyloggers operate at the kernel level of an operating system, allowing them to capture keystrokes before they are processed by any application. This makes them difficult to detect and remove.

Hardware-based keyloggers:

Hardware keyloggers are physical devices that are connected between the computer’s keyboard and the computer itself. Hardware keylogger intercepts and record keystrokes before they reach the computer, storing the information in built-in memory or transmitting it wirelessly to a remote location.

  • Acoustic keyloggers: These keyloggers use the sound generated by keystrokes to capture information. By analysing the acoustic signals produced when keys are pressed, these keyloggers can reconstruct the keystrokes and capture the information typed by the user.
  • Wireless keyloggers: These keyloggers capture and transmit keystrokes wirelessly to a remote location using technologies like Bluetooth or radio frequency (RF). They can be disguised as innocent-looking devices, such as USB dongles or wireless receivers.

Web-based keyloggers:

These keyloggers, also called ‘Keylogging Trojans’, operate by exploiting vulnerabilities in web browsers or websites. When a user visits a compromised website or clicks on a malicious link, the keylogger is silently downloaded onto their system. It then records and transmits keystrokes back to the attacker’s server. Web-based keyloggers can be hidden within web pages, JavaScript code, or browser extensions/add-ons.

Web-based keyloggers can be particularly stealthy because they don’t require the installation of any software or physical devices on the target system. They can be distributed through various methods, such as phishing emails, malicious advertisements, or compromised websites.

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keyloggers examples

Keylogger Examples from the past

The use of keyloggers, also known as keylogging software, has raised serious concerns in the realm of cybersecurity. These malicious tools are designed to discreetly capture every keystroke a user presses on their keyboard. Keylogger malware poses a significant threat to the security and privacy of individuals and organisations alike. By silently logging keystrokes, these malicious programs can capture confidential data such as usernames, passwords, and financial details. Let’s look at the examples below-

1. FinFisher:

  • Started: Originated in 2007
  • Operation: FinFisher is a highly sophisticated surveillance spyware developed by a company called Gamma International. It can be deployed through various methods, including malicious email attachments, fake software updates, or drive-by downloads. Once installed on a target’s device, FinFisher can monitor and record various activities, including keystrokes, screen captures, microphone recordings, and webcam footage. It can bypass antivirus software and remain hidden.
  • Targets: FinFisher has been used by governments and law enforcement agencies worldwide, raising concerns about human rights abuses and privacy violations. It has targeted political activists, journalists, and dissidents.
  • Damages: The use of FinFisher has led to breaches of privacy, censorship, and harassment of targeted individuals. The captured information can be used for surveillance, blackmail, or other malicious purposes.
  • Measures: Detecting and mitigating FinFisher is challenging due to its advanced evasion techniques. Security researchers and organisations continuously work to identify and develop countermeasures against this spyware. Strong antivirus software, regular software updates, and cautious online behaviour can help protect against FinFisher attacks.


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2. Project Sauron:

  • Started: Discovered in 2015
  • Operation: Project Sauron, also known as Strider, is a highly sophisticated stealthy cyber-espionage platform. It remains undetected for long periods and can infect both Windows and Linux systems. Project Sauron uses various advanced techniques, including keylogging, to capture confidential data. It has the ability to intercept network traffic, record keystrokes, and take screenshots. It communicates with command-and-control servers to exfiltrate the stolen data.
  • Targets: Project Sauron targeted specific organisations and individuals, including government entities, research institutions, and financial institutions. It focused primarily on high-value targets.
  • Damages: The information gathered by Project Sauron can lead to significant intellectual property theft, compromise national security, and result in financial losses.
  • Measures: Detecting Project Sauron can be challenging due to its advanced evasion techniques. Robust network security, regular software updates, intrusion detection systems, and employee education on phishing and social engineering attacks are essential to mitigate the risks associated with this advanced threat.

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3. Ghost Keylogger:

  • Started: Notable in the early 2000s
  • Operation: Ghost Keylogger is a type of software-based keylogger that can be installed on a victim’s computer either by physical access or through malware distribution. Once installed, it operates stealthily in the background, capturing keystrokes and logging them to a file or transmitting them to a remote server.
  • Targets: Ghost Keylogger can be used by individuals with malicious intent, such as cybercriminals or attackers seeking to compromise personal or corporate systems.
  • Damages: Ghost Keylogger can compromise the privacy and security of victims by capturing confidential data, including usernames, passwords, and financial details. The stolen information can be used for identity theft, fraud, or unauthorised access to accounts.
  • Measures: Detecting and preventing Ghost Keylogger involves employing robust security measures, including using reputable antivirus software, regularly updating software and operating systems, and practising safe computing habits such as avoiding suspicious downloads and maintaining strong passwords. Educating users about the risks of keyloggers and the importance of cybersecurity hygiene is crucial in mitigating the threat posed by Ghost Keyloggers and similar keylogging malware.

4. Zeus (Zbot):

  • Started: Around 2007
  • Operation: Zeus was distributed through various methods, including phishing emails and malicious downloads. Once installed on a victim’s computer, it operated as a Trojan horse and injected itself into the browser or other applications. It captured keystrokes and recorded login credentials, including usernames and passwords, which were then transmitted to remote servers controlled by attackers.
  • Targets: Zeus targeted a wide range of organisations, including major banks, financial institutions, and online payment systems.
  • Damages: The stolen information allowed cybercriminals to carry out fraudulent activities, such as unauthorised transactions, identity theft, and financial fraud. The financial losses caused by Zeus and its variants were substantial.
  • Measures: Cyber Security companies developed updated signatures for antivirus software to detect and remove Zeus. Financial institutions implemented additional security measures, such as two-factor authentication and transaction monitoring systems.

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5. KeyGrabber USB:

  • Started: Notable in the early 2000s
  • Operation: KeyGrabber USB was a hardware-based keylogger that could be physically connected between the keyboard and the computer. It would intercept and record all keystrokes made on the connected device, including usernames, passwords, and other confidential data.
  • Targets: KeyGrabber USB could be used in various scenarios, including public computers, corporate environments, or when an attacker gained physical access to a victim’s computer.
  • Damages: The keylogger could silently record confidential information, compromising the security and privacy of individuals or organisations. The extent of the damages depended on the attacker’s motives and the data captured.
  • Measures: Preventive measures included physical security controls, regular inspections of public computers, and education on the risks of using untrusted devices.

6. SpyEye:

  • Started: Around 2009
  • Operation: SpyEye was a type of malware that incorporated keylogging capabilities. It was typically distributed through exploit kits, social engineering tactics, or malicious downloads. Once installed, SpyEye would capture keystrokes and steal login credentials, including usernames and passwords, from the victim’s computer.
  • Targets: SpyEye targeted individuals, organisations, and financial institutions.
  • Damages: SpyEye enabled financial fraud, compromised banking systems, and led to data breaches. It resulted in financial losses for individuals and organisations.
  • Measures: Measures to combat SpyEye included regular software updates, enhanced security measures such as firewall and antivirus software, and user education on phishing prevention.

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working principle of keyloggers


How Keyloggers Work

Keyloggers work by secretly capturing and recording every keystroke made on a computer or mobile device. When a keylogger attack occurs, it usually involves the installation of a keylogger program on the target device. This can happen through various means, such as downloading malicious files, opening infected email attachments, or visiting compromised websites.

Once installed, the keylogger program operates in the background, often remaining undetected by the user. It captures and stores every keystroke made by the person using the computer or mobile device, including passwords, credit card numbers, chat messages, and other sensitive information. The person who installed the keylogger can periodically retrieve the recorded data by accessing the device directly or remotely. Some keyloggers transmit the captured information to a remote server, allowing the attacker to access it from anywhere.

Detecting a keylogger can be challenging since they are designed to operate covertly. However, there are some signs that may indicate the presence of a keylogger, such as unusual system behaviour, unexpected slowdowns, or suspicious network activity. Antivirus and antimalware software can help detect and remove known keyloggers, so it’s essential to keep security software up to date.

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What keyloggers are used for

Keyloggers have played a significant role in the history of malware and cybercriminal activities. They are used to record keystrokes on compromised systems, capturing passwords, financial data, and personal information. They can also be used in targeted attacks, such as spear-phishing, to gather intelligence or gain access to systems. The continuous advancement of keylogger technology, coupled with the increasing sophistication of cybercriminals, underscores the importance of robust security measures and user awareness to combat this pervasive threat.

Protect your devices from Keylogging!

There are many effective measures you can take to protect your devices and your organisations from keyloggers and mitigate the associated risks. These solutions include:

  • Use reputable antivirus software: Install and regularly update a reliable antivirus program from a trusted provider. This software can detect and remove keyloggers and other malware from your system.
  • Keep your operating system and software up to date: Regularly install security patches and updates for your operating system and applications. These updates often address vulnerabilities that keyloggers can exploit.
  • Be cautious of suspicious emails and attachments: Avoid opening email attachments or clicking on links from unknown or untrusted sources. Keyloggers can be distributed through malicious email attachments or phishing links.
  • Enable a firewall: Activate and configure a firewall on your devices to monitor and control incoming and outgoing network traffic. This helps block unauthorised access attempts, including those from keyloggers.
  • Use strong, unique passwords: Create strong, complex passwords for your accounts and avoid using the same password across multiple platforms. This minimises the risk of keyloggers capturing and compromising your login credentials.
  • Implement two-factor authentication (2FA): Enable 2FA whenever possible, as it adds an extra layer of security by requiring a second verification step, such as a unique code sent to your mobile device, in addition to your password.
  • Exercise caution when using public Wi-Fi: Avoid accessing sensitive accounts or transmitting sensitive information when connected to public Wi-Fi networks. Public networks can be vulnerable to keylogger attacks, so it’s best to use a virtual private network (VPN) for added protection.
  • Regularly monitor your financial accounts: Keep a close eye on your bank and credit card statements for any suspicious activity. If you notice any unauthorised transactions, report them immediately to your financial institution.

Protecting your devices from keylogging attacks is crucial to safeguard your sensitive data and maintain your privacy. Fortunately, there are multiple ways to enhance your defences against keystroke loggers and prevent unauthorised access to your data.

S360 is a complete cybersecurity solution that combines the power of our advanced technology and services to provide a holistic approach to protecting against keyloggers and other cyber threats. With S360, you gain access to a wide array of security measures integrated into a single platform for convenience and efficiency.


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