In today’s digital world, data security is of paramount importance. More than ever before, companies must stay vigilant against constantly evolving cyber threats that can compromise sensitive information. Compared to AI-based threats that have only emerged in recent years, tactics like key tracking continue to fester without much success in curbing them. Recent attacks, including last year’s TikTok inquest, demonstrate that these threats are far from obsolete.

While key tracking attacks have seen a decrease in the media over the past decade, the threat is still very real. Contemporary data show that companies are still very much vulnerable to keystroke logging whilst facing newer, more direct attacks. Today, we’ll delve into the world of key log tracking, its potential dangers, and how to ensure that data remains secure, irrespective.

What Is Key Tracking?

Key tracking is a sophisticated technique used by hackers to gain unauthorized access to a computer or system by monitoring and recording keystrokes. Every time a person types on a keyboard, whether it’s entering passwords, sensitive data, or even simple messages, key tracking software records each keystroke and sends it to a server or device – as would a spyware virus, giving cybercriminals access to valuable information.

This technique is commonly associated with keyloggers, which can be hardware or software-based. Hardware keyloggers are physical devices connected between a keyboard and a computer, while software keyloggers are malicious programs that hide within the operating system, evading detection.

Many businesses invest in firewalls, antivirus software, and other security measures, believing their systems are impenetrable. However, employee credentials can be an easy entry point for cybercriminals. Similar to social engineering attacks, key tracking can bypass these defenses – entirely, leaving corporate files exposed to potential data breaches as if the threat came from the inside.

Types of Key Tracking Attacks

Keyloggers make up a significant cybersecurity concern that can be extracted in various forms, client connections, and shared logs. Some keyloggers use hypervisors to remain hidden under the operating system, while others operate at the kernel level, making them difficult to detect. Others can be integrated into hardware components or computer peripherals, acting as keyboard device drivers, accessing and recording all keyboard inputs before they reach the operating system.

Software-Based Keystroke Logging

All keylogging software has two primary components: a Dynamic Link Library (DLL) file and an executable file. The executable file installs and initiates the DDL, which can then begin tracking and recording keystrokes. The specifics, however, can vary significantly. 

API-based keyloggers are particularly tricky to detect since they hook into keyboard APIs – as if they were legitimate applications – and register keystrokes in a covert manner. Form grabbing-based keyloggers – malware that works by retrieving authorization and log-in credentials – target web form submissions whilst recording sensitive data before its transmission over the Internet.

JavaScript-based keyloggers infiltrate web pages through malicious script tags, waiting for key events to record. Memory-injection-based keyloggers, like the notorious Zeus and SpyEye trojans, manipulate memory tables to bypass security mechanisms and gain access to confidential information.

To establish remote communication, keyloggers upload data to websites, databases, or FTP servers. Some opt for periodic emails to predefined addresses, while others use wireless transmission through hardware systems. As obfuscation goes, some keyloggers enable remote logins, allowing unauthorized access to locally stored data on the target machine.

Hardware-Based Keystroke Logging

Hardware-based key tracking is a fundamentally different threat vector, but similar in its outcome. While firmware-based keyloggers can modify BIOS-level firmware to intercept keyboard events while remaining hidden, hardware keyloggers use physical circuits attached between the keyboard and computer or USB connectors to record keystrokes without the need for software installation, making them difficult to detect.

Threats from hardware-based key tracking are especially relevant today when working from home or with a demand for Bring-Your-Own-Device. What this means is that company computers are not necessarily safely locked in an office at all times, even when all corporate policies and rules must be adhered to in that place. 

Moreover, wireless keyboard and mouse sniffers passively collect wireless data packets, requiring decryption for access. This is inducing criminals to employ keyboard overlays on ATMs to capture PINs, appearing as integrated while deceptive to bank customers.

In addition, acoustic keyloggers use sound monitoring to identify keystrokes based on acoustic signatures, requiring a large sampling for accurate mapping. Electromagnetic emissions can also be captured from wired keyboards at a distance, and optical surveillance can be used to observe passwords and PINs via strategically placed cameras. 

Furthermore, physical evidence can be exploited when the keypad’s security code is known, reducing the possibility of a brute-force attack. Smartphone sensors, such as accelerometers, have been used to capture nearby keyboard keystrokes with high accuracy. The most advanced keyloggers will analyze body movements to determine pressed keys and audible signals to identify keystrokes in near real-time. There are methods of key tracking which provide hackers with a way into certain systems. 

Addressing Key Tracking Threats

To combat the threat of key tracking and ensure robust data security, companies need advanced solutions like Sertainty’s self-protecting data technology. Rather than rely on a series of firewalls and trust that those with access are legitimately allowed to be there, Zero Trust security gives data the ability to protect itself. 

Unlike conventional perimeter security, Sertainty data privacy technology empowers data itself to become an active defender against threats. By embedding intelligence directly into data files, self-protecting data can recognize and thwart malicious activities, even in the presence of key-tracking malware. This means that even if a hacker gains access to sensitive information, they will be unable to access or modify sensitive data. 

Truly Secure Data with Sertainty

As the digital landscape evolves, companies need to stay one step ahead of hackers by embracing innovative and proactive data protection strategies. With the right tools and the commitment to data security, businesses can maintain the trust of their customers and protect what matters most — their invaluable data. 

Sertainty leverages proprietary processes through its UXP Technology that enable data to govern, track, and defend itself — whether in flight, in a developer’s sandbox, or in storage. These UXP Technology protocols mean that even if systems are compromised by AI tools or accessed from the inside, all data stored in them remains secure. 

At Sertainty, we know that the ability to maintain secure files is the most valuable asset to your organization’s continued success. Our industry-leading Data Privacy Platform has pioneered what it means for data to be intelligent and actionable, helping companies move forward with a proven and sustainable approach to their cybersecurity needs. 

As the digital landscape evolves and networks become more widely accessible, Sertainty is committed to providing self-protecting data solutions that evolve and grow to defend sensitive data. With the proliferation of human and AI threats, security breaches may be inevitable, but with Sertainty, privacy loss doesn’t have to be.