Espionage is a vice that is put into practice at large by various parties intending to dig out more information or collect data due to one reason or the other.
Among the ways that cyber espionage takes place is through the use of keyloggers which is a type of software or hardware that captures every single detail entered into keyboards.
Keyloggers are used in both legal and illegal ways.
Legitimate ways include monitoring how employees do their work, keeping track of what children type into a device, or for personal use as a backup to check a user’s history in the event their computer crashes.
Illegitimate ways in which the keyloggers are used include installing it on the device of another entity without their consent to gather their confidential data such as passwords, credit card information, messages, etc.
Of course, this is not a desirable application, but it’s one that happens quite a lot. And what’s more, if it occurs, the affected party may not realize it’s happening until a considerable chunk of confidential data had already been gathered by a third party.
The other unfortunate part is that some devices purchased online may come with a built-in keylogger. In these cases, it is technically difficult to prevent it from monitoring the activities of an individual.
In the most recent case, a Mantistek GK2 gaming keyboard was discovered to contain a keylogger that collects data without the consent of the owner and sending that data to Alibaba servers based in China.
At first, it was assumed that every detail entered to the system was being sent to the third party, but closer examination into the keyboard reveals that it is only the number of keypresses that was being sent to the remote server.
Perhaps, as a company that offers gaming tools, the number of times each key is pressed would enable the company to establish the gaming patterns of their customers—a clear explanation as to why they would be interested in collecting such information without asking for permissions.
Alibaba is among the leading e-commerce sites in the world, and one would wonder why they need to collect such information.
Further investigations reveal that Alibaba offers cloud services, thus the data collected isn’t meant for the e-commerce site but instead for another party that’s using the server.
For those affected who don’t want their data being sent to an external server, then they can take appropriate measures to prevent such from happening, such as adding a firewall which blocks some programs developed by third parties from functioning.
In other instances, keyloggers have been put to use by students who want to improve their grades. In the past, students have installed the programs on school computers and teachers’ personal devices to up their marks.
Recently, one student at Kansas University was expelled for installing the hardware and further using the data collected to log in to the school’s grading system and alter his marks.
In this case, the student used a computer located in one of the school’s buildings to perpetuate the vice.
Another instance happened in 2014, when 11 students of Corona del Mar High School in California were caught keylogging school computers to change their grades and steal test information.
The practice is widespread across the globe, and in the U.K. back in 2015, another student who used the same tactic was jailed after admitting to charges of computer misuse levied against him.
He collected the passwords of several staff members which he used to top-up grades in multiple subjects.
The matter is indeed quite severe, as cases of students engaging in keylogging has the ability to undermine the quality of education in any institution of learning, whether high school or college.
Currently, there are several types of keyloggers that all operate differently. They can be software, hardware or kernel keyloggers.
Software keyloggers require one to install an application on the computer.
However, one will have to temporarily disable an antivirus since most of these antiviruses are designed to block spyware from installing since the antivirus software is aware of the cunning tricks employed by third parties.
On the other hand, hardware keyloggers are attached between the computer and the keyboard. For one to use this, they will need to attach the hardware next to a console physically.
What happens is that before connecting a mouse to a desktop, a specialized USB gadget must be attached to the port then followed by the keyboard. All it does is intercept data, store it and send it depending on its configurations.
Then the last type of keylogger is the kernel, which is built in. One is not required to install software or add any hardware on it to get the keystrokes and monitor the details entered.
The reason is that it automatically does that on its own just as in the case of the gaming keyboards feeding data to servers based in China.
Anyone can access keyloggers on the internet. Some software keylogging tools are offered for free, whereas others come at a cost. The same goes for the hardware which is found on e-commerce sites such as Alibaba, eBay, Amazon, among many others.
It is just a matter of having internet access, searching for the keyloggers of your choice and obtaining them. If it’s software, then one will easily download and install it. But if it’s hardware, then one will have to pay for it then wait for few days or even weeks for the shipment to take place.