Malicious payloads are commonly used in cyber attacks. They are a defining factor, in fact, of malware. From viruses and ransomware to Trojans and worms, all forms of malware contain a malicious payload. Malicious payloads, however, aren’t the same as malware. What is a malicious payload exactly, and does it work?

Overview of Malicious Payloads

A malicious payload is the part or parts of a piece of malware that causes harm. It can consist of one or more files, or it may consist entirely of code.

All forms of malware contain a payload. After all, malware is characterized by its ability to cause harm. If your computer is targeted with malware, it will cause some type of harm. Maybe the malware deletes your data, or perhaps the malware captures and steals your data. To carry out these malicious activities, malware leverages a malicious payload. Malicious payloads are simply the mechanisms within malware that cause harm.

Malicious Payloads vs Malware

While all forms of malware contain a malicious payload, they typically contain other files and code as well. Most forms of malware, for instance, are designed to conceal themselves upon being deployed. They essentially cover their tracks so that the victim doesn’t discover and, thus, remove them.

For some forms of malware, specifically viruses and worms, certain files and code are used for transmission purposes. These files and code aren’t considered part of the malicious payload. The act of transmission isn’t malicious itself. Rather, viruses and worms cause harm in other ways. Regardless, malicious payloads are defined by their ability to cause harm. Malware contains malicious payloads as well as other files or code. Only malicious payloads cause harm. Other files and code are used for different purposes, such as concealment or transmission.

How Malicious Payloads Work

Different malicious payloads work in different ways. Ransomware leverages a malicious payload that encrypts and locks the victim’s storage drive. Upon being deployed, the malicious payload will prevent the victim from accessing his or her files. All ransomware uses an encryption-based malicious payload. The malicious payload will encrypt the victim’s files, resulting in the files becoming locked.

Other types of malicious payloads are designed specifically to capture and steal data. They may contain a keylogger-based malicious payload, for example. Keyloggers are malicious programs that capture the data entered by the victim. The bottom line is that all malicious payloads cause harm.