What Does Payload Mean?

A payload refers to the component of a computer virus that executes a malicious activity. Apart from the speed in which a virus spreads, the threat level of a virus is calculated by the damages it causes. Viruses with more powerful payloads tend to be more harmful.


Although not all viruses carry a payload, a few payloads are considered extremely dangerous. Some of the examples of payloads are data destruction, offensive messages and the delivery of spam emails through the infected user’s account.

A payload is also known as a destructive payload.

Techopedia Explains Payload

Some viruses just copy themselves from one computer to other. Other viruses may steal data or files, permit eavesdropping or unauthorized access, destroy data and cause other consequences. It is also possible for a virus to carry multiple payloads.

Present-day malware is less likely to incorporate a payload that causes damage to system files; instead, they enable backdoor access to a user’s computer and the theft of sensitive information.

Some of the ways to execute a payload include:

  • By using an unprotected computer (computer without an anti-virus installed) connected to a network
  • By booting the computer using an infected removable medium
  • By opening an infected file
  • By executing an infected program
  • By activating a logic bomb

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Margaret Rouse

Margaret is an award-winning technical writer and teacher known for her ability to explain complex technical subjects to a non-technical business audience. Over the past twenty years, her IT definitions have been published by Que in an encyclopedia of technology terms and cited in articles by the New York Times, Time Magazine, USA Today, ZDNet, PC Magazine, and Discovery Magazine. She joined Techopedia in 2011. Margaret's idea of a fun day is helping IT and business professionals learn to speak each other’s highly specialized languages.