Beware of keystroke loggers

Posted: Updated:
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

Q. I saw someone on TV talking about the dangers of keystroke loggers? What is keystroke logging?

A. Keystroke logging (also known as keylogging) is a method used to capture and record user keystrokes. It’s often thought of in a negative sense, but it can be used for good as well. For example, keylogging can be used to track down certain recurring computer system errors, to research how users interact with systems and it can even be used to monitor employee productivity. Keylogging is also useful in data recovery, as it provides a way to unlock passwords and encryption keys.

On the evil side, keystroke logging is used by hackers to access computers and view or steal information. For the most part, if you have an anti-virus program, a firewall and anti-spyware software installed on your computer, you will be relatively safe, as those types of applications can usually stop or alert you to the presence of software keystroke loggers.

There are two types of keystroke logging: hardware- and software-based. Within the hardware logger category are devices that are attached to the keyboard cable. While these devices are easy to install, they are also easily detected because you can see them. Duh! They appear as a little box or protuberance on the keyboard cable.

Software keyloggers, in addition to being installed by employers to keep tabs on employees, are also used by justifiably anxious parents who want to know what their little future felons are doing online.

There are several types of software keylogging, including local machine keyloggers, remote access keyloggers, wireless keylogger sniffers and acoustic keyloggers, used for a variety of tasks. When using a public-access computer, avoid typing personal or financial information if at all possible because a keystroke logger could be recording every keystroke you enter.

There are also devices that can be installed within a keyboard itself. These are difficult to install, but are virtually impossible to detect. Unfortunately, wireless keyboard users aren't immune from keystroke loggers. A wireless keystroke logger simply plugs into a PS2 port on a computer -- the port previously used by a wired keyboard. For more information about wireless keystroke loggers, visit

Q. Is there some way I can show more items on my Start menu than currently appear? Can I get rid of some of the icons or make them smaller?

A. Yes, you can shrink Start menu icons in Vista and Windows 7. Right-click a blank area of your Taskbar and select Properties. Select the Start Menu tab from the window that appears and click the Customize button. Scroll down the list and remove the check mark beside “Use Large Icons,” then click OK > OK.

If you are using Windows 8 and long for the days when you had a real Start menu, is for you. It returns the same Start button orb and the Search box that you came to know and love in Windows 7. As an alternative, when Windows 8.1 is released, Microsoft has promised to return the beloved Start menu to appease distraught users suffering from SMSA (Start Menu Separation Anxiety).

Mr. Modem's Sites of the Week

Birding Guide
Hosted by the National Audubon Society, if it's related to birds, you will find it here. Everything from bird-watching clubs, to equipment, a photo gallery, trails for birding, tips where to watch -- just about everything but recipes. Pity.
If you like to take photos, Cameratown will teach you everything you need to know about digital photography and provide access to news, forums, tutorials, articles, camera manuals and even
software updates.

For Dog Lovers
If you like prancing pooches, you won't want to miss this video. As noted on the site, if you're having a bad day, this video is for you! Trust me, it's hilarious.

A member of the National Speakers Association, Mr. Modem (Richard A. Sherman) is well known in speaking circles as a technological humorist.

For many years, Mr. Modem has provided helpful advice and information to those seeking help with their computer problems.

An Internet pioneer, Sherman first ventured onto the Internet in 1988, and as "Mr. Modem," has been providing an online helping hand to millions of computer users worldwide ever since.

Mr. Modem publishes the weekly "Ask Mr. Modem!” computer-help newsletter and a peep of helpful eBooks at