“At Loggerheads”

BY HCS Technical Staff

Disclaimer: HCS and any affiliated persons are not responsible for anything that may result from the use or misuse of the information below.

The unauthorized interception of anyone’s communications without their consent or the appropriate legal authority is a serious crime in most jurisdictions. This information is for academic study and lawful self-protective use only.

Seriously, don’t snoop on people. It is just not cool.

Today we are going to continue our series of “Civilian ECM” articles by discussing the threat of key loggers.

“What is a key logger?”

Key loggers are devices or programs designed to record every keystroke that you make onto a computer keyboard to allow for continuous monitoring of computer usage.

They are often known as keystroke recorders or just keyloggers.

“Why do people use them?”

Key loggers are deployed for a number of reasons. The primary goal of a key logger deployment is to capture sensitive information such as a computer user’s account name and password (usually their e-mail) as well as any activity they perform on a particular computer.

The most common scenarios are:

  • The “Jealous Lover” Scenario
  • A Private Investigator in a divorce case
  • Concerned and Watchful Parents
  • Cybercrime
  • Police Investigations
  • Intelligence Operations

Software Key loggers and Countermeasures

These require the least technical sophistication to deploy (and keep active) effectively.

Software key loggers offer the user a wide-variety of data to capture such as screen shots and programs accessed as well as the keystroke data. Be mindful that most anti-virus and anti-malware programs are often not configured to detect commercial key loggers so you will have to familiarize yourself with the names of the .exe files associated with such programs.

You can also use a LiveCD operating system if you believe key logging software has been installed on your computer.

Unfortunately LiveCDs may not protect against the next threat…

Hardware Keyloggers

Some of these are almost Wile E. Coyote silly if you know what to look for.

Obvious Key Logger on a PS/2 keyboard cable.

As a rule of thumb,  the easier the hardware logger is to install, the easier it is to detect and disable.

Relatively Obvious WiFi Hardware Key Logger

Keep in mind that the very obvious hardware key loggers pictured above that connect to the USB port or the nearing obsolescence PS/2 cable(the purple and green headed cables) could just be a “red herring” meant to distract you from something more insidious like a key logger installed inside of a keyboard, laptop, or desktop machine as pictured below.

A Very Dangerous and Difficult to Detect Key Logger

The key logger pictured above is an example of a key logger installed inside of a keyboard or laptop keyboard controller.

KeyGrabber Installation Diagram

Some of the more advanced models can transmit keystroke data over wireless signals stronger than WiFi so don’t count on the less sophisticated models that require access to the machine to be deployed.

So What Can I do to protect myself?

Take a hint from Kathy Bates’ masterfully frightening performance in the “ceramic penguin” scene in the film Misery.

If something seems out of place, it is out of place!

Countermeasures to Hardware Key Loggers

  • Check your keyboard cables and where they connect into the computer!
  • Check for anything attached to the video monitor cables
  • Check on and around your keyboard for:
    • Any tool marks
    • Glue residue
    • Small red, yellow, or gray bits of plastic
    • Loose screws
    • Stripped screws
    • Rattling noises inside the keyboard
    • Unexplained dust that looks like plastic shavings
    • Broken hard pieces of plastic
    • The halves of the keyboard seem to fit incorrectly
  • Get a ceramic penguin.
  • Use a rubber or “floppy” keyboard.
    • Since these are seamless, they are much harder to “tap”.
    • These are also more resistant to acoustic microphones meant to record the unique sounds that each keyboard key makes.
  • Setup video monitoring of your computer desk.
  • Tape offbeat colored tape around the “seams” of the keyboard and over the screw holes of the keyboard.
    • Use multiple colors and different size strands and put them in a pattern that you will remember but an outside observer may not make sense of.
  • Turn off anywireless devices in your area and then use a portable wifi signal detector around your computer to see if there are any signals coming out.

This article is by no means meant to be exhaustive and as always I encourage the reader to do their own research and make their own conclusions.