What is the difference between vulnerability and exploit?

Vulnerability is a flaw in a system or in some software in a system that could provide an attacker with a way to bypass the security infrastructure of the host operating system or of the software itself. It isn’t an open door but rather a weakness which if attacked could provide a way in.

Exploiting is the act of trying to turn vulnerability (a weakness) into an actual way to breach a system. Vulnerability can therefore be ‘exploited’ to turn it into viable method to attack a system.

In software, the most common type of vulnerability is a memory error. These can be buffer overflows, heap corruptions or NULL pointer de-references. Once a memory issue has been discovered an attacker will try to exploit it by manipulating how the memory is corrupted in the hope to alter some aspect of the addressing (maybe a return address). This can then be used to make the CPU run code in another part of memory. If arbitrary code execution is achieved then the system can be exploited. The extent of the exploit will depend on the nature of the vulnerability.

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