Technology advances with time, but so do cybercriminals. To stay ahead of these threats, you need to be using the most up-to-date penetration testing tools. These tools allow you to simulate real-world attacks and find vulnerabilities in your systems, network, websites, and applications before they are exploited by criminals. In this blog post, we will discuss twenty of the best penetration testing tools available today.
Why penetration testing?
Penetration testing finds flaws and loopholes in your systems the way a hacker does and that’s why it’s so effective against cyberattacks. The best way to avoid the crosshairs of cybercriminals is to find the flaws before hackers and get to fixing them right away. Not only does this help protect your data and systems, but it also helps reduce the risk of financial losses and negative publicity.
Some great benefits of penetration testing:
- improved security posture
- reduced risk of cyberattacks
- identifies vulnerabilities in systems and applications
- improves overall system reliability
- can reduce system downtimes
- a better understanding of how your defences withstand attacks
- assists with compliance requirements (e.g., PCI DSS, HIPAA, SOC 2, etc.)
What penetration tests can you do?
There are several types of pen tests you can perform using various methods, tools, and techniques. These include:
- Web application penetration testing – focuses on websites and their associated servers and network infrastructure
- Mobile application testing – looks at the security of mobile apps and how they interact with backend systems
- Network infrastructure penetration testing – assesses the security of routers, firewalls and other networking devices
- Database security assessments – evaluates the security of databases and how well they are protected from unauthorised access
- Social engineering – primarily relies on human interaction to gain access to sensitive information. It identifies risks from social attacks such as phishing, pretexting and more
- External network testing – this is where the pen test team simulates an attack from outside your organisation’s network.
- Internal network testing – the pen test team simulates an attack from inside your organisation’s network.
Top 20 penetration testing tools in 2022
In no particular order, the twenty best penetration testing tools are:
1. Astra Pentest:
Developed by Astra Security, a leading provider of penetration testing services, this is a comprehensive pen-testing tool. Its features include:
- automated vulnerability scanning for over 3000 threats
- suggestions for fixing vulnerabilities found
- risk score based on threat level
- re-scan after patching up
- 24/7 online support
- live-threat updates via an interactive dashboard
- automatic report generation
- exportation of test reports to various formats
This is among the most popular and thorough vulnerability scanners on the market. It can scan for vulnerabilities in operating systems, network devices, web applications, and more.
3. Metasploit Framework:
This tool is widely used for developing and executing exploit code against a target system. It includes modules that allow you to find and exploit known vulnerabilities as well as create your own exploits or malware (payloads).
4. Burp Suite Professional:
The pro version of the infamous website scanner. It has everything you’ll need to test your web application’s security. It includes features like spidering/scanning (through a domain for all URLs), proxy interception (for intercepting data in transit), intruder (for automating attacks), repeater (to manipulate and replay requests), and much more.
This tool is handy for capturing and analyzing network traffic in real-time or from a file. Use it to monitor your network traffic and catch hackers in the act. It’s also a network protocol analyzer.
6. John the Ripper:
A widely used tool for uncovering/cracking passwords. It works on just about any platform and gets the job done. It can crack passwords for various authentication methods, including LM hashes (Windows XP), MD-based hashes, and password files (Unix).
This is a free and open-source tool for network exploration that sends packets and analyzes the replies to locate hosts and services on a computer network. It can identify live hosts, scan ports, detect operating systems, and so on.
This tool automates the SQL injection exploits and performs them against databases. It can detect and test for the vulnerabilities of over two dozen databases, manipulate and extract data from them.
9. OWASP Zed Attack Proxy (ZAP):
A widely used free web app scanner. ZAP is a penetration tool by OWASP that can be used by amateurs too. It finds vulnerabilities in websites, suggests remediation tips, and also has a proxy for intercepting traffic.
10. Nikto Web Scanner:
This tool scans web servers to find dangerous files/programs, outdated servers, and other issues.
11. Retina Network Security Scanner:
This is a commercial network security scanner (free version available) that can prevent, detect and respond to network threats. It has a range of features for securing your infrastructure including asset discovery, policy compliance auditing, configuration management, and vulnerability assessment.
The Social Engineering Toolkit is open-source and based on python, making it platform-independent. It helps with penetration testing by using social engineering tactics such as phishing. This toolkit includes modules for attacking via email, web applications, wireless networks, and more.
This is a free and open-source black box vulnerability scanner written in Python. Use it to detect file inclusion, SQL injection flaws, and XSS worms in web applications.
This is an open-source intelligence (OSINT) gathering tool used by security professionals to identify relationships and links between entities on the internet. It can be used to find vulnerable servers, gather intelligence on people/companies, and more.
15. SysInternals Suite:
This is a suite of powerful utilities from Microsoft for troubleshooting, diagnosing, and managing Windows systems. It includes tools like Process Explorer (to view detailed information about running processes), Autoruns (to see what programs are configured to run at startup), and many more.
This is a framework for analyzing applications that communicate using HTTP (usually web browsers). It can be used as a proxy to intercept and modify messages or interact directly with the browser using its own API.
This is an 802.11 WEP and WPA/WPA-PSK key cracking program. If you are dealing with Wifi security, this is a must-have tool in your arsenal.
The Browser Exploitation Framework is open-source and as the name suggests, its main focus is testing web browsers. It provides tools like XSS hooks to facilitate the exploitation of client-side vulnerabilities and can be used to hijack user sessions.
19. HCL AppScan:
HCL AppScan is a software security tool that can perform DAST, SAT, or IAST. It can even perform SCA on cloud applications. This is great for implementing throughout your software development life-cycle.
OpenVAS includes a vulnerability scanner, management console, client tools, and more. Use it to perform network-wide vulnerability scans or target specific vulnerabilities.
Kali Linux – Kali Linux is a Debian-based distribution that includes over 600 open source and free cybersecurity tools including several tools mentioned above.
While this list is primarily intended for use by those who have a good understanding of the technical aspects of cybersecurity, there are many tools available that do not require a technical background.
The best tools categorised based on their application
Best pen testing tools for web applications:
Free: OWASP ZAP
Commercial: Astra Website Protection, Burp Suite Professional
Best pen testing tools for network devices:
Free: Nmap, Nikto, Wireshark, Aircrack-ng
Commercial: Retina Network Security Scanner, Nessus
Best pen testing tools for operating systems:
Free: Metasploit Framework, SysInternals Suite, OpenVAS
Commercial: Metasploit Pro, Astra Pentest, Nessus
Best pen testing tools for password cracking:
Free: John the Ripper, Hydra, Hashcat
Best pen testing tool for non-technical users:
Free: OWASP ZAP
Commercial: Astra Website Protection
Best pen testing tool for databases:
Best pen testing tools overall:
Free: Kali Linux OS, Nessus Vulnerability Scanner
Commercial: Astra Pentest, Metasploit Pro, Burp Suite Professional
How to choose your penetration testing tools
When choosing your pen test tools, there are a few things you should keep in mind, such as:
The quality of the tool – is it reliable and well maintained? Is it capable of performing its intended functions? How does its support stack up? Is it easy for new users to get started?
The features of the tool – what does the tool offer in terms of functionality? Is it capable of performing the types of tests you’ll need to conduct?
The cost of the tool – is it affordable for your organization? Does it have a suitable licensing model that meets your needs?
The user community around the tool – is there a good user community for the tool? Are there people who can answer your questions and help you troubleshoot problems you run into while using them?
The frequency of updates – how often is the tool updated? Are the updates relevant and useful to you?
The number of systems it can scan at once – does the tool scale to work with large and/or complex systems? Is it suitable for use in an enterprise or by small/large businesses?
The support from the tool vendor – is the vendor responsive and helpful? Do they provide good quality training and support materials?
Several free tools exist for penetration testing and individuals as well as businesses can use them. While no single tool can provide complete security coverage, using a combination of these tools can help you find the maximum amount of flaws and fix those vulnerabilities before anything bad happens.
Ideally, you should use both automated tools and manual testing in combination with security best practices such as user education, secure software development life cycle (SSDLC), regular vulnerability scanning & patching, and more.