Computer Keystroke Recorder

Computer Keystroke Recorder

A computer keystroke recorder, as its name suggests, is simply a device for sequentially recording all the keys pressed on a computer keyboard. Keystroke recorders are available commercially, but much more sophisticated devices are used by government agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

Also called a keystroke logger, key logger, or key logger, a computer keystroke recorder is a program that runs in the background as the computer operates, recording all key depressions or strokes. Some such devices are plugged in manually, but the more effective kind operate through means of a computer program. The latter may be introduced to the computer by means of a trojan horse, a remotely inserted program that operates much like a virus.

An example of an FBI keystroke-recording trojan is Magic Lantern, which made it possible to log keystrokes by means of a computer virus sent to a remote user's machine. The revelation of the device's use, reported by MSNBC News on December 12, 2001, invoked the ire of civil libertarians, as well as computer companies whose assistance the government sought. According to the MSNBC report, vendors of anti-virus software refused to cooperate with FBI requests to bypass special government-created trojans and viruses used for security purposes.

The FBI and its computer keystroke recording technology also made the news in late 2001 due to its involvement in United States v. Scarfo. The first known case of its kind, Scarfo involved a request by the defense to allow analysis of the keystroke recording technique used to gather evidence against the defendant. The government claimed protection of classified information under the Classified Information Procedures Act (CIPA), and the court granted the government's motion.



Hentoff, Nat. "The FBI's Magic Lantern." Village Voice. 47, no. 22 (June 4, 2002): p. 35.

Huleatt, Richard S. "EPIC May Never Learn Details of Government Keystroke Monitor." Information Intelligence Online Newsletter 22, no. 10 (October 2001): 5–6.


FBI Confirms "Magic Lantern" Exists. MSNBC. < > (January 27, 2003).


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Computer Hardware Security

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