An exploit (from the English verb to exploit, meaning “to use something to one’s own advantage”) is a piece of software, a chunk of data, or a sequence of commands that takes advantage of a bug or vulnerability to cause unintended or unanticipated behavior to occur on computer software, hardware, or something electronic (usually computerized). Such behavior frequently includes things like gaining control of a computer system, allowing privilege escalation, or a denial-of-service (DoS or related DDoS) attack.

Exploits against client applications may also require some interaction with the user and thus may be used in combination with the social engineering method. Another classification is by the action against the vulnerable system; unauthorized data access, arbitrary code execution, and denial of service are examples.

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 the highest administrative level (often called “root”).

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