Red TeamingJan Kahmen6 min read

Malware: What is a Payload?

Payloads are an important factor in the spread of malware. They are the software components that inject the malicious software into systems or networks.

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Cybercriminals develop so-called malware, i.e. malicious software, to infiltrate targeted devices and harm their users. The payload is the part of the software that actually causes damage to the device. What exactly this damage looks like depends on the type of malware and the intentions of the attackers. Due to their widespread distribution, it is not always easy to protect one's own devices from such an attack.

The payload: Central Element of Cyberattacks

Payloads are an important factor in the spread of malware. They are the software components that inject the malicious software into systems or networks. They are most commonly used by computer worms and computer viruses. The procedure is quite simple: the payloads, for example, use an area marked as text in a message and hide the malware in it.
Incidentally, the term payload means something like "malicious user load" in German. However, this term is less common, which is why we usually talk about payloads.
Although the term is also common in telecommunications, they are very different concepts. Here, "payload" refers to the user data of a packet, i.e., the data that contains neither control nor protocol information.

Definition: What is Malware and How Does it Work?

Malware, by definition, is the malicious software that cybercriminals use in a cyberattack. The dangerous thing about it is that this malware does not necessarily show up immediately.
Moreover, the attack vectors (the payloads) do not always hide in the same place. Nevertheless, email attachments are one of the most popular variants. This makes the use of an online malware scanner and the subsequent removal of the malware so important.
Important: Colloquially, "virus" and "malware" are often used synonymously. However, from a technical point of view, this is not correct. Malware can be a virus, but it can also be another form of malware.

Virus, Trojan & Co.: Types of Malware

Malware differs primarily on the basis of how it works. The main categories include:
Adware: with adware, you receive unwanted advertisements that generate revenue for the developers.
Botnets: Botnets are not malware in the strict sense. Rather, they are a network of computers that can run this software. As a result, your computer participates in various criminal activities.
Ransomware: this malware aims to extort a ransom from you. Only after receiving the money, your device or data will be released.
Spyware: these programs collect your data and transmit it to third parties. Most of the time, their goal is to monitor your Internet activities.
Trojan: A Trojan often gets onto your computer in the form of a download (for example, from other software). Once it is installed, it independently downloads further malware onto your devices.
Worms: The main purpose of a computer worm is its rapid propagation. It replicates itself on your computer and infects other computers in this way.

Which Devices are Affected?

Basically, any device can fall victim to malware. You can download malware on Android as well as on the iOS. Therefore, malware removal is just as important on the iPhone as on other devices.
What this means for you is that active protection against malware should not be missing from your laptop, tablet or smartphone.

Effects of Malware: this is How the Payload harms your Devices.

Usually, a malware scanner helps you banish obvious threats. Nevertheless, many users refrain from performing a malware check. In such cases, the malware gets onto your devices and can cause damage there:

  • Data theft: stealing sensitive data, such as login or financial information, is one of the most common uses.
  • Surveillance: monitoring your activities is another classic. This allows cybercriminals to spy on your secret data and blackmail you or sell the data.
  • Displaying advertisements: Some payloads aim to show you unwanted and persistent ads in the form of pop-ups or pop-unders.
  • Manipulate data: If the malware alters or deletes the data on your computer, it can have serious consequences. As a result, it is even possible to block the normal functioning of your operating system.
  • Background processes: Stealthy processes running in the background always pose a threat. Especially common are unwanted data storage or cryptocurrency mining.

Starting Point for the Malware: Execution of the Payload.

The attacker's first goal is always to transfer the payloads to your computer. To achieve that, they may use DNS hijacking or social engineering attacks, for example. Once the malicious payload is on your computer, it usually just stays there for a long period of time. After that, the attacker can execute the payload using various methods:

  • For example, they click on a malware download hidden in an email attachment. As soon as you double-click on the data, usually an installation file, the execution begins.
  • Another possibility is that various behavioral conditions are attached to the payloads. For example, such a logic bomb can check in the company whether a certain condition is given. As soon as this changes, the program starts.
  • Even a non-executable file is suitable as a method for the payloads. For example, they hide in a PNG image file and start execution by opening the image.

Effective Malware Protection: What You can Do

The most effective malware protection is provided by cybersecurity-focused software. After all, it is not always possible to detect potential threats at first glance. One option, for example, is the security suite from Turingpoint, which you can use to increase the security of the Node Package Manager. This software solution provides you with the online security you want and effectively protects you, your data and your privacy from threats.


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