A keylogger can be either a piece of software or a small hardware device that is used to capture the keystrokes that are typed on the keyboard. The hardware based keylogger can be easily detected because the physical device needs to be connected in between the keyboard and the USB/PS2 port. However, as for a software keylogger, it can be run while being completely invisible and not get noticed by average computer users. They’ll have to fully depend on security software such as anti-keyloggers or antivirus packages to tell them that a keylogger is present on the system, or else they have no idea that everything that they do on the computer is being monitored.
There are many legitimate uses for a keylogger such as monitoring your children, making sure that they stay safe on the Internet especially when chatting and making friends with strangers. Or maybe even monitoring your employees making sure that they do not copy or leak out any confidential files. However it can also be used for illegal purposes such as stealing your friend’s password and etc.
There are many software based keyloggers found on the Internet, some are freeware while others are shareware that require a paid license to use. Generally speaking, a shareware version of a keylogger normally has better invisibility to prevent being detected by advanced users, maybe security software and also has more features. As for the free keyloggers, they are often very limited in functionality and stealthiness. After testing nearly 2 dozen free keyloggers, we’ve picked what we thought were the best and sorted them into a top 10.
It is able to log keystrokes, clipboard data and site addresses without the screen capture which is fine for people who don’t want to capture screenshots. There are a couple of invisibility settings such as the hidden mode hotkey (default Ctrl+Shift+Alt+U), removing shortcuts from start menu and uninstall list.
Ironically the most downloaded keylogging tool from CNET download.com barely made it to this top 10 list because the most important stealth feature which is starting the program in hidden mode is disabled in the free version. You can set it to automatically start the program with Windows but it will show a tray icon at notification area and anyone can access to it because there is no password protection feature. You can however manually hide it by clicking the “Apply & Spy” button to keep it running as invisible until the next reboot.
9. REFOG Free Keylogger
REFOG is a very popular company that offers a range of keyloggers catering for home, business and corporate use but unfortunately the free version is very basic as most of the important features have been disabled. The free version of REFOG keylogger can only monitor keystrokes, visited websites, clipboard, ran programs and computer activities.
The biggest drawback would be the inability to run totally invisible because it shows a noticeable tray icon in the notification area and fortunately the program can at least be password protected. We also found out how to remove the full version of REFOG Keylogger, which turns out to be quite easy.
8. DanuSoft Free Keylogger
DanuSoft is a simple and easy to use free tool to capture keystrokes. The only way to hide and unhide the program is by typing a chosen keyword, for example the default hide keylogger keyword is “HIDEKEY” while to show is “SHOWKEY”. You can configure DanuSoft to automatically run as stealth during system startup from the Startup settings tab.
It doesn’t have the ability to protect the program by setting a password, although it runs as invisible in Windows but not in task manager or explorer. This author of this keylogger seems to have abandon this project because it is not found on the official DanuSoft’s website but can still be downloaded from CNET.
7. Real Free Keylogger
After installing Real Free Keylogger to log the keystrokes, running it the first time will prompt you to set a password to protect the program so that only you can access the settings and view the logs. You can set a hotkey (default Ctrl+Alt+X) to launch the program when it is running in stealth mode. It comes with a scheduler to automatically start logging and the log files can be exported as a HTML file.
The program folder is set as system attribute and is only visible when the Hide protected operating system files is unchecked in Folder Options.
6. Revealer Keylogger Free
Revealer Keylogger Free is the second most downloaded monitoring tool in CNET Download.com. After testing, we found that it is very responsive and light on system usage. It can record keystroke, has multiple language support, startup settings, ability to run with elevated privileges, hotkey support (default Ctrl+Alt+F9) and automatic log cleanup. Screenshot capture, automated delivery options and additional stealth features are disabled.
The program can be protected with a password, and is invisible in the taskbar and in add/remove programs. To uninstall, you can do it by running the program, click on the question mark icon at the top right, go to Program end and select Uninstall. Pay attention during the installation because it prompts to install adware.