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The payload is the portion of a program that executes an activity that deals damage to the device[1]. The same payload may be delivered by different carriers. For example, a payload may install a rootkit that makes the user's computer part of a botnet.

This may be delivered to the user's computer by different means including an infected PDF, a drive-by download through JavaScript when visiting an infected website or a phishing attack that tricks the user into installing software which the user believe will be beneficial. The damage done by the payload of a virus or worm can range from irreparably damaging the operating system (such as Arcticbomb) or even the BIOS (as the CIH and Magistr viruses), the CMOS (as the CMOSDead and Mypics viruses), the Master Boot Record (as the Spaces, MEMZ, and PCToaster viruses), or almost nothing (as the Badtrans worm), or to only annoy the user (as the Gollum and Button joke programs and the NavaShield rogue). Some viruses also have the ability to eject drives, or even the hard drive to attempt to make it harder to stop the payload (as the PCToaster and EscalationBomb viruses). Sometimes the damage payload is a consciously coded part of the program, as with the Ramen worm, or it could be simply be a product of its existence and spreading, as with the Slammer worm. Some payloads can be based on others like Resonate having a payload that replicates You Are An Idiot.


[1] Technopedia - What is a Payload