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Is someone tracking your typing? Here's how you can protect yourself against key logging

Key logging, or keystroke logging, is a way of keeping track of every button you press on your keyboard. Although key loggers have a few honorable uses, they can also be used for slightly more nefarious ones. 

Key loggers can be installed on your system as software, or on rare occasions they can even be installed as hardware. They're often used by businesses to monitor their employees' computer usage, and they can also be found in some parental controls. However, the key loggers that we're interested in are the ones that shouldn't be on your computer; the ones that are quietly tracking your typing.

These nasty kind of key loggers may be installed on a computer as part of a drive-by download, through a dodgy website, a malware laden torrent or a suspicious attachment on an email. They're tricky little things to locate once they're on your device; often they'll disguise themselves so you can't see them running away in the background - even if you're looking right at them. 

If you've been hit with a key logger, there probably isn't a hacker on the other side of the world watching you write messages to your partner, or publishing your Harry Potter fan fiction. Like the majority of malware, the key logger will be on the lookout for certain pieces of information that they'll be able to use. Sixteen numbers in a row, for example, is likely to be your debit card number; the first thing you type after you start up your computer is likely to be your password. 

After it has finished highlighting the important information, the key logger can send anything interesting back to the hacker, who can then sieve through the information manually to find anything usable. Bank details are easy to spot, and can be used immediately by hackers. Passwords are often collected, because many people use the same password on different accounts. And once someone even has access to your email account, they can then use that information to wreak havoc

And if you do lose money, data or personally identifiable information to hackers as a result of a key logger, the odds may not be in your favour. A lot of organisations, including banks, will expect you to take basic precautions to protect yourself online. If you've accidentally downloaded something dodgy, and you've not protected yourself properly, there may be very little you can do to get your data or your money back.

So how can I protect myself?

If you're using the internet, you should be using some sort of anti-virus software. We'd recommend F-Secure, or Malwarebytes. Get into the practice of regularly scanning your computer; as well as keeping your machine safe from any nasties, it's also going to keep your device running at top speed and efficiency. If you notice your computer is running significantly more slowly than usual, run a quick scan and then remove anything that your anti-virus flags. If you've noticed an unusual program running in the background, you can check it with Should I Remove It? 

Next, updates. We know that they're annoying, particularly if you've logged on to your computer in the morning only to find that Windows wants to spend the next hour and a half installing something. However, these updates are absolutely vital to keep your computer protected. The temptation to turn them off may be great, but keep your machine up-to-date and it will stay protected against any shiny new viruses and malware that might come your way. You can find out how to schedule Windows updates here, so they won't get in the way of your work day. 

Finally, be careful when you're using sites that you're unfamiliar with. Get to grips with phishing emails so you know what those dodgy links look like. Stay clear of torrents or any downloads from an unverified source. Look after your machine, and take care in what you're clicking on - only then will your bank details, passwords and fan fiction stay private.

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