Penetration tests, or pen tests as they’re colloquially known, primarily consist of hacking or cyber-attacking your own system so that you can determine if there are any vulnerabilities that can be exploited by third parties.
This process is used to strengthen a web application firewall, and it provides a great amount of insight that can be used to improve our system’s security, which is vital for any kind of organization. Pen tests simply are much more effective and efficient with the aid of specialized tools, and that’s why today we will be exploring the best ones out there.
Here is our list of the best penetration testing tools:
- Netsparker Security Scanner (GET DEMO) Can handle large scale operations, uses automation to check for false positives.
- Acunetix Scanner (GET DEMO) Slick tool with plenty of automation, can detect and fix issues before they arise.
- Intruder Automated Penetration Testing (FREE TRIAL) A cloud-based subscription service that constantly scans a client’s system for vulnerabilities. The highest plan includes human-led penetration testing.
- Network Mapper (NMAP) Free and open-source utility for network discovery and security auditing.
- Metasploit Lightweight command-line tool, trusty for assessing and keeping you on top of threats.
- BeEF Solid command-line tool, great for monitoring the network’s ‘open door’ – the browser – for any unusual behavior.
- Wireshark A trusty network protocol analyzer with a well-known user interface, packs a lot of power.
- w3af Python-based network protocol analyzer with similar features to Wireshark, yet very extendable.
- John the Ripper Great command-line password cracker to test how secure the user passwords on your network are.
- Aircrack mainly focuses on wifi security and known vulnerabilities.
- Burp Suite Pen Tester Comprehensive set of tools, great for analyzing and tracking traffic between servers and client browsers.
The objective of a pen test is not only to find vulnerable elements of your security system but also to check the compliance of your security policy in your organization, measure the awareness and scope of any security issues, and to take a look at the possibility of what disasters could befall your network in the event of a real foreign-entity cyber-attack.
See also: Courses to learn ethical hacking online
In essence, penetration testing allows you to reveal areas of weakness that you might not have otherwise considered. Often, organizations are stuck in their ways (or simply become apathetic), but pen testers offer an unbiased and fresh perspective that will result in strong improvements and the adoption of a more proactive approach.
The best Pen Testing Tools
What should you look for in penetration testing tools?
We examined the penetration testing tools on the market and analyzed tools based on the following selection criteria:
- A suite of tools that offer a range of functions from one console
- A mix of task automation and tools to support manual actions
- Systems that will automatically log all actions to take the burden of note-taking off the technician
- Automated test reporting
- Tools that offer specialized hacking facilities for specific types of IT systems, such as networks, wireless systems, or operating systems.
- A free trial or a money-back guarantee to provide a no-risk assessment of paid tools or tools that are free.
- A good mix between low price and powerful capabilities – value for money.
Given that a penetration test is meant to provide such important information, its success depends on using the right tools. This is a complex task, so automated tools make it easier and more effective for testers to identify the faults. So, without further ado, here are the top 11 tools for pen testing (in no particular order), according to our in-depth analysis:
The Netsparker web application for pen testing is totally automatic. It has become very popular due to the fact that developers can use this on many different platforms for entire websites, including web services and web applications. It can identify everything pen testers need to know to make an informed diagnosis—from SQL injection to cross-site scripting.
Another characteristic that makes this tool so popular is that it allows pen testers to scan up to 1,000 web apps at once while also allowing users to customize security scans to make the process robust and more efficient. The potential impact of vulnerabilities is instantly available; it takes advantage of weak points in a read-only way. This proof-based scanning is guaranteed to be effective, including the production of compliance reports among other great features, including the ability to work with multiple members for collaboration, making it easy to share findings; there’s no need to set up anything extra due to the fact that scanning is automatic.
- Fully automated
- Bundle of many tools
- Systems intelligence
- Fast scanner
- Automatic assessment report
This is another automated tool that will allow you to complete pen tests without any drawbacks. The tool can audit complicated management reports and issues, and it can handle many of the network’s vulnerabilities. It’s also capable of including out-of-band vulnerabilities. The Acunetix Scanner also integrates issue trackers and WAFs; it’s definitely the kind of tool you can rely on because it’s one of the most advanced tools in the industry. One of its crowning achievements is its exceptionally high detection rate.
This tool is amazing, covering more than 4,500 weaknesses. The Login Sequence Recorder is easy to use; it scans areas that are protected by passwords. The tool contains AcuSensor technology, manual penetration tools, and built-in vulnerability testing. It can crawl thousands of web pages quickly and also run locally or through cloud solutions.
- Automated functions
- Results tracking
- Covers network software
- Checks on configurations
- Manages test plans
Intruder is a cloud-based service that scans client systems for vulnerabilities. During onboarding, Intruder does a full system sweep, looking for existing vulnerabilities. After that, the Intruder service makes periodic scans of a client system, triggered by the discovery of new hacker attack vectors that have revealed new vulnerabilities.
The services of Intruder are charged for on a subscription basis. There are three plan levels: Essential, Pro, and Verified. The Essential plan offers an automatic monthly vulnerability scan. With the Pro plan, customers also get the option to launch scans on demand. The Verified plan offers the monthly scan plus an on-demand facility plus human-driven penetration testing.
- SaaS service
- Sophisticated analysis graphics
- Test results consolidation
The Intruder service is available for a 30-day free trial.
Related post: The Best Web Application Firewalls – Buyer’s Guide
NMAP is a great tool for discovering any type of weakness or holes in the network of an organization. Plus, it’s also a great tool for auditing purposes. What this tool does is take raw data packets and determine which hosts are available on a particular segment of the network, what OS is in use (aka fingerprinting), and identify the different types and versions of data packet firewalls or filters that a particular host is using.
Just like the name implies, this tool creates a comprehensive virtual map of the network, and it uses it to pinpoint all the major weaknesses that can be taken advantage of by a cyber-attacker.
- Widely used by hackers
- Useful for system audits
- Quick command line utility
NMAP is useful for any stage of the penetration testing process. Best of all, it’s free.
Related post: Alternatives to Microsoft Baseline Security Analyzer
Metasploit is an exceptional tool because it’s actually a package of many pen testing tools, and what’s great is that it keeps evolving and growing to keep up with the changes that are constantly coming up. This tool is preferred by both cybersecurity professionals and certified ethical hackers, and they contribute their knowledge to the platform to help it grow, which is great. Metasploit is powered by PERL, and it can be used to simulate any kind of penetration testing you need. Plus, Metasploit is customizable and only has a process of four steps, so it’s super quick.
The features available will help you determine the prepacked exploits you should use, and it also allows you to customize them; you can also configure them with an IP address and remote port number. What’s more, you can also configure the payload with the IP address and local port number. You can then determine which payload you’d like to deploy before launching the exploit at the intended target.
Metasploit also integrates a tool called Meterpreter, which displays all results when an exploit occurs, which means you can analyze and interpret results effortlessly and formulate the strategies a lot more efficiently.
- Bundles together many tools
- Executes tests quickly
- Automatic reporting
Related: Metasploit Cheat Sheet
This kind of pen-testing tool is best suited to check web browsers because it’s designed to combat web-borne attacks. That’s why it tends to benefit mobile clients the most. This tool uses GitHub to find vulnerabilities, and the best thing about this tool is that it explores weaknesses beyond the network perimeter and the client system. Just keep in mind that this is specifically for web browsers because it will look at vulnerabilities within the context of a single source. It connects with several web browsers and allows you to launch directed command modules.
- Browser testing
- Good for mobile device tests
- Comprehensive threat searches
Wireshark is a network protocol and data packet analyzer that can fish out security weaknesses in real time. The live data can be collected from Bluetooth, Frame Relay, Ipsec, Kerberos, IEEE 802.11, any connection based on Ethernet, and more.
The greatest advantage this tool has to offer is that the results of the analysis are produced in such a way that even clients can understand them at first glance. Pen testers can do so many different things with this tool, including color coding, to enable a deeper investigation, and to isolate individual data packets that are of top priority. This tool comes in quite handy when it comes to analyzing security risks inherent to information and data posted to forms on web-based apps.
- Reliable and widely used
- Exposes packet header details
- Presentable results reports
Related: Wireshark Cheat Sheet
This penetration-testing suite was created by the same developers of Metasploit, and its objective is to find, analyze, and exploit any security weakness that may be present in web-based applications. The package is complete and features many tools, including user-agent faking, custom headers to requests, DNS cache poisoning or DNS spoofing, and many other attack types.
What makes W3AF such a complete tool is that the parameters and variables can be quickly saved into a Session Manager file. This means that they can be reconfigured and reused quickly for other pen tests on web apps, thus saving you a lot of time because you won’t have to re-enter all the parameters and variables every time you need them. Plus, the results of the test are displayed in graphic and text formats that make it easy to understand.
Yet another great thing about the app is that the database includes the best-known threat vectors and customizable exploit manager so that you can execute attacks and exploit them to the maximum.
- A suite of tools
- Covers all aspects of network vulnerabilities
- Allows test parameter reuse
This is a well-known tool and is an extremely elegant and simple password cracker. This tool allows you to determine any unknown weaknesses in the database, and it does this by taking text string samples from a word list of complex and popular words that are found in the traditional dictionary and encrypting them in the same format as the password that’s being tampered with. Simple and effective, John the Ripper is a highly recommended addition to the toolkit of any well-prepared pen tester.
- Widely used by hackers
- Command line tool
- Password cracker
Aircrack is a must-have tool to detect flaws inside wireless connections. Aircrack does its magic by capturing data packets so that the protocol is effective in exporting through text files for analysis. It’s supported by different operating systems and platforms, and it offers a great array of tools that will allow you to capture packets and export data, test WiFi devices and driver capabilities, and many other things.
- Essential tool for wireless pen testing
- Exportable results
- Analyzes WiFi
This tool contains all the essentials to successfully perform scanning activities and advanced penetration testing. It this fact that makes it ideal to check web-based apps, because it contains tools to map the attack surface and analyze requests between destination servers and the browser. It does so by using web-penetration testing on a Java platform. It’s available on numerous different operating systems, including Windows, Linux, and OS X.
- More than adequate for performing scans
- Great for web-based apps
- Favorite for testing Java
Pen testing is extremely important for the integrity of security systems in any kind of organization, so choosing the right tool for each individual job is essential. The ten tools presented here today are all effective and efficient for what they were designed to do, which means they will allow pen testers to do the best possible job to provide organizations with the information and forewarning they need. The goal here is to strengthen systems and eliminate any vulnerability that will compromise system integrity and security.
Penetration Testing FAQs
Which are the best free pen testing tools?
The best free tools for pen testing are:
What are the main penetration testing methodologies?
Penetration testing requires white hat hackers to try to break into a system by any means possible. This is an intuitive art but methods fall into four categories:
- External methods: Try to break into a network from a remote location
- Internal methods: Activities that can be performed once in the system, modeling an insider threat or an advanced persistent threat.
- Web application methods: Using widgets and APIs in websites to access private systems.
- Social engineering methods: Using phishing and doxing to trick system users into disclosing access credentials.