5 proven penetration testing tools used by the pro’s.

A penetration tester, alternatively referred to as an ethical hacker, is a security professional who conducts simulated attacks on a client’s network or systems in order to identify vulnerabilities. Their objective is to demonstrate where and how a malicious attacker could exploit the target network, allowing their clients to address any vulnerabilities prior to a real attack.

To gain a thorough understanding of what penetration testing entails, you should check out our product page. We’re going to look at one specific aspect of the pen tester’s trade in this article: the penetration testing tools they use to breach their clients’ defenses. As one might expect, these are largely the same tools and techniques that malicious hackers employ.

Hacking used to be difficult and involved a great deal of manual work. Today, however, a comprehensive suite of automated penetration testing tools transforms hackers into cyborgs, artificially enhanced humans capable of testing far more than ever before. After all, why cross the country by horse and buggy when you can fly in a jet plane? The following are the penetration testing tools that make the job of a modern pen tester easier, faster, and smarter.

1. Kali Linux

2. nmap

3. Metasploit

4. Burp Suite

5. Wireshark

Kali Linux.

If you are not using Kali Linux as your primary penetration testing operating system, you either have cutting-edge knowledge and a unique use case, or you are doing it incorrectly. Previously known as BackTrack Linux and maintained by the good people at Offensive Security (OffSec, the same people who run the OSCP certification), Kali is optimized for offensive penetration testing in every way.

While Kali can be run on its own hardware, pen testers are far more likely to use Kali virtual machines on OS X or Windows.

Kali comes pre-installed with the majority of the penetration testing tools mentioned here and is the recommended penetration testing operating system for the majority of use cases. However, be warned—Kali is designed for offense, not defense, and is thus easily exploited. Keep no super-secret files in your Kali VM.

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Nmap—short for network mapper—is the grandfather of port scanners. It is a tried-and-true penetration testing tool that few can live without. Which ports are currently open? What is the purpose of those ports? This is critical data for the pen tester to have during the recon phase, and nmap is frequently the best tool for the job.

Despite the occasional hysteria from a non-technical C-suite executive that an unknown party is port scanning the enterprise, using nmap alone is perfectly legal, and is akin to knocking on everyone’s front door to see if anyone is home.

Numerous legitimate organizations, including insurance companies, internet cartographers such as Shodan and Censys, and risk assessors such as BitSight, regularly scan the entire IPv4 range using specialized port-scanning software (typically nmap competitors masscan or zmap) to map the public security posture of large and small enterprises. Having said that, attackers with malice scan ports as well, so it’s worth noting for future reference.



This software operates similarly to a cannon: Aim at your target, select an exploit, choose a payload, and fire. Metasploit is indispensable for the majority of penetration testers because it automates large amounts of previously tedious work and is truly the “world’s most used penetration testing framework,” as its website proclaims. Metasploit, an open-source project backed by Rapid7, is a must-have for defenders looking to secure their systems from attackers.

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Wireshark is a ubiquitous penetration testing tool for deciphering network traffic. While Wireshark is frequently used to debug common TCP/IP connection problems, it also supports the analysis of hundreds of protocols, including real-time analysis and decryption for many of those protocols. Wireshark is a must-learn tool for anyone new to pen testing.



No discussion of penetration testing tools would be complete without mentioning the web vulnerability scanner BurpSuite, which, in contrast to the other tools mentioned thus far, is neither free nor libre, but is a premium tool used by professionals. While there is a Burp Suite community edition, it lacks a significant amount of functionality, and the Burp Suite enterprise edition costs a cool $3,999 per year (that psychological pricing doesn’t make it appear any cheaper, guys).

However, there is a reason they can charge such exorbitant prices. BurpSuite is a powerful web vulnerability scanner. It should be pointed at the web property you wish to test and fired when complete. Nessus, a Burp competitor, offers a product that is similarly effective (and similarly priced).

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Several of the penetration testing tools discussed here are akin to virtual Swiss Army knives, capable of assisting you in conducting a variety of different types of pen tests, while others are more specialized. We’ll examine the categories into which our chosen tools fall and also highlight some of the best free penetration tools available.

Tools for network penetration testing.

Because the stereotypical hacker spends their days breaking into networks where they have no business being, a pen tester requires tools that facilitate access to their targets’ network infrastructure. Among our top picks, this category includes Kali Linux, nmap, Metasploit, Wireshark, John the Ripper, and Burp Suite. Among the other popular network pen testing tools are the packet manipulation program Scapy; the attack and audit framework w3af; and the vulnerability scanners Nessus, Netsparker, and Acunetix.

Penetration testing tools for web applications.

Because web-facing applications are one of the primary attack surfaces that any organization must secure, a pen tester should spend considerable time assessing their target’s security. Nmap, Metasploit, Wireshark, Jon the Ripper, Burp Suite, ZAP, sqlmap, w3af, Nessus, Netsparker, and Acunetix can all assist with this task, as can BeEF, a web browser-focused vulnerability scanner; web application vulnerability scanners Wapiti, Arachni, Vega, and Ratproxy; diresearch, a command-line tool for bruteforcing directories.

Tools for database penetration testing.

If a hacker’s objective is to exfiltrate valuable data, those crown jewels are almost always hidden somewhere in a database, which is why it’s critical for a pen tester to have penetration testing tools for prying open the locks. nmap and sqlmap are critical tools for this. Additionally, SQL Recon, an active and passive scanner that targets and attempts to identify all Microsoft SQL Servers on a network, and BSQL Hacker, an automated SQL injection tool, are available.

Penetration testing tools that are automated.

Manually identifying all possible vulnerabilities in a target system could take years. Numerous penetration testing tools incorporate automation features to expedite the process. In this regard, Metasploit, John the Ripper, Hydra, Sn1per, and BSQL Hacker stand out.

Tools for open source penetration testing.

Pen testing originated in a hacker community that is deeply committed to the open source movement. Except for Burp Suite, all of our top tool picks are open source, including Scapy, BeEF, w3af, Wapiti, Arachni, Vega, Ratproxy, and Sn1per.

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