An exploit can be any object - for example, a program, a piece of code, or even just a string of characters - that can take advantage of a flaw or loophole in a program or operating system (a vulnerability).
An exploit is usually maliciously used to gain unauthorized access, or to force a vulnerable program or operating system to perform unexpected actions.
The name of the detection that identified the exploit will often indicate the vulnerability it targets, such as:
Where CVE-2012-0507 is the name used by the CVE - Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVE) organization to identify the vulnerability.
Exploits are often included in harmful programs such as trojans or worms, to facilitate their other destructive actions. These programs are usually spread in email attachments, or as disguised files that are distributed over networks.
Exploits are also used by exploit kits, which are most commonly encountered on compromised webpages. While an unsuspecting user views the webpage, the kit silently probes their computer or device for any flaws that can be exploited.
Exploits allow an attacker to perform a wide range of possible actions on an affected device, from viewing data on a restricted-user database to gaining almost complete control of a compromised system. For examples of exploits on various platfoms, see the following descriptions:
The vulnerabilities leveraged by the exploits are usually application or platform specific; in other words, a specific program (or even a specific version of a particular program) must be installed on the machine in order for the exploit to be effective.
To prevent exploitation of such vulnerabilities, please refer to the application vendor for the latest updates and additional advice.