Exploit (computer security)

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An exploit (from the same word in the French language, meaning "achievement", or "accomplishment") is a piece of software, a chunk of data, or sequence of commands that take advantage of a bug, glitch or vulnerability in order to cause unintended or unanticipated behavior to occur on computer software, hardware, or something electronic (usually computerised). This frequently includes such things as gaining control of a computer system or allowing privilege escalation or a denial of service attack.

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Classification

There are several methods of classifying exploits. The most common is by how the exploit contacts the vulnerable software. A 'remote exploit' works over a network and exploits the security vulnerability without any prior access to the vulnerable system. A 'local exploit' requires prior access to the vulnerable system and usually increases the privileges of the person running the exploit past those granted by the system administrator. Exploits against client applications also exist, usually consisting of modified servers that send an exploit if accessed with client application. Exploits against client applications may also require some interaction with the user and thus may be used in combination with social engineering method. This is the hacker way of getting into computers and websites for stealing data.

Another classification is by the action against vulnerable system: unauthorized data access, arbitrary code execution, denial of service.

Many exploits are designed to provide superuser-level access to a computer system. However, it is also possible to use several exploits, first to gain low-level access, then to escalate privileges repeatedly until one reaches root.

Normally a single exploit can only take advantage of a specific software vulnerability. Often, when an exploit is published, the vulnerability is fixed through a patch and the exploit becomes obsolete for newer versions of the software. This is the reason why some blackhat hackers do not publish their exploits but keep them private to themselves or other crackers. Such exploits are referred to as 'zero day exploits' and to obtain access to such exploits is the primary desire of unskilled attackers, often nicknamed script kiddies.[citation needed]

Types

Exploits are commonly categorized and named by these criteria:

  • The type of vulnerability they exploit (See the article on vulnerabilities for a list)
  • Whether they need to be run on the same machine as the program that has the vulnerability (local) or can be run on one machine to attack a program running on another machine (remote).
  • The result of running the exploit (EoP, DoS, Spoofing, etc.)

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