Keystroke Loggers Catch a Break

By Piazza, Peter | Security Management, February 2005 | Go to article overview
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Keystroke Loggers Catch a Break


Piazza, Peter, Security Management


The KEYkatcher keystroke logger is 4 centimeters long, costs $69, and can store 32,000 keystrokes when it is connected to the cable that runs between a keyboard and a computer. And according to a recent court decision in California, if an employee steals information by installing one on a coworker's computer, that does not violate federal wiretap laws. But that decision may not stand.

Larry Ropp, who worked at an insurance company, installed the KEYkatcher on a secretary's computer to gather information about what he alleged were illegal practices by his company. When his action was discovered, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles brought the case to a federal grand jury, which indicted him for illegally intercepting electronic communications.

But Judge Gary Feess of the United States District Court for the Central District of California dismissed the wiretapping charge, stating that the Wiretap Act refers only to electronic communications made through a "system that affects interstate or foreign commerce."

In his written opinion the judge concluded that "the transmission of keystrokes from a keyboard to a computer's processing unit is not the transmission of an electronic signal by a system that affects interstate commerce, and therefore does not constitute an 'electronic communication' within the meaning of the statute."

The ruling raises concerns about such thefts of information, and the government is already seeking a rehearing. If that fails, it could bring the case to the court of appeals, says Orin Kerr, associate professor at The George Washington University School of Law.

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