A Keylogger is hardware or software that records all information entered into a computer via a keyboard, even into password fields. The idea of this is to keep children safe online, monitor employees, catch an unfaithful spouse, or prevent other kinds of trouble. Keystroke logging is not new, for it can be traced back to 1874, when the first typewriter was sold. Because whatever letters typed on a typewriter appear on its ribbon, law enforcement and intelligence agencies commonly pursued discarded ribbons out of trash (there you have a tip to spy on those who are out of date). The police even utilized ribbons as evidence to convict some wrongdoers. Keyloggers come in different forms, giving you more options to monitor a computer, and some contain a lot more functions than just recording keystrokes.
A hardware-based keylogger is a device that either looks and connects like a keyboard adapter or comes included inside some keyboards. The latter is the best hardware keylogger because it can’t be spotted. The former is the most common but unless you spy on a computer from someone who never looks at its back, which is not very likely, such hardware logger can be easily spotted, at the moment of connecting a USB memory, a digital or web camera or other hardware to the computer. Usually, a hardware keylogger can only record keystroke-related information—passwords, credit card numbers, websites visited, e-mails sent, chat and instant messenger conversations—because of its limited physical memory, which is usually of one or two megabytes, and lack the ability to transmit the information anywhere. So, to retrieve data from a hardware keylogger, you must recover the device or regain physical access to the computer in which you installed it.
A software-based keylogger must be installed in the target computer either physically or remotely, depending on the features of the software logger you are using. The latter is done by embedding the keylogger in a “bait” file to get a user to execute it and unknowingly install the logger in his or her system. In this case, the software keystroke logger will either e-mail the surveillance data to your private e-mail address or upload the data to a website where you can access it. A software logger runs at start up, remains invisible and does not show in startup, add/remove programs or task manager. A software keylogger can do what a hardware keylogger plus record desktop screenshots, applications ran, print jobs executed, files and folders created or deleted, documents viewed and more. Some software keystroke loggers can even allow you to monitor the target computer in real-time. Some software loggers contain more or less features than others. This type of logger is the best keylogger type; the most complete and practical solution.
Keyloggers are easy to install and use. When you install a keylogger without remote installation available, make sure you have enough time alone with the computer. Always choose the best keylogger, according to your needs.
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Ivan Miller is the author of The Easy Way to Spy on a Computer without being a computer expert.