Some keyloggers are more harmful than others. All keyloggers, of course, are designed to record keystrokes. If your computer is infected with a keylogger, it will record all of your keystrokes. From emails and documents to payment information and passwords, everything you type will be seen by the hacker who deployed the keylogger. Kernel-based keyloggers, however, can prove more harmful than other types of keyloggers.

What Is a Kernel-Based Keylogger?

A kernel-based keylogger is a type of keylogger that uses root access to conceal itself. They gain root access to the computers that they infect. With this root access, kernel-based keyloggers remain hidden.

As their name suggests, kernel-based keyloggers operate at the kernel level. Operating systems (OS) have a core environment that facilitates basic interactions between users and the computer. This core environment is the kernel. Kernel-based keyloggers reside within OS kernels. This is essentially what distinguishes kernel-based keyloggers from other types of keyloggers.

Why Kernel-Based Keyloggers Are Problematic

All keyloggers will record your keystrokes — and kernel-based keyloggers are no exception. Each account that you log in to with a username and password will become compromised. Kernel-based keyloggers, though, are particularly problematic because of their ability to conceal themselves.

Other types of keyloggers may consist of conventional programs that run alongside other programs. Kernel-based keyloggers use a different approach. They are typically distributed as rootkits. Upon infecting your computer, the kernel-based keylogger will reside within the OS kernel. You won’t be able to see the kernel-based keylogger running in Task Manager.

How to Protect Against Kernel-Based Keyloggers

They may operate at the kernel level, but there are still things you can do to protect against kernel-based keyloggers. Running antivirus software can lower your risk of infection. Antivirus software can detect many rootkits. And since kernel-based keyloggers are distributed as rootkits, antivirus software can prevent them from infecting your computer.

Ensuring that your computer’s OS is up to date will better protect you from kernel-based keyloggers. OSs have safeguards in place to defend against rootkit malware, such as kernel-based keyloggers. As new vulnerabilities are discovered, developers will patch them in OS updates. Running an old OS means your computer may not have these patches.

You can use a firewall to protect against kernel-based keyloggers. Firewalls are tools that filter network traffic using a set of custom rules. Most of them operate at the application level. Known as application-level firewalls, they are an essential part of a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy. An application-level firewall can protect you from many different types of malware, including kernel-based keyloggers.