A penetration test (pen test) can be performed by hiring a certified professional or someone with strong ethical hacking skills to find vulnerabilities and attempt to breach them. The pen tester will assess the security by following the steps: defining the scope, reconnaissance/intelligence, scanning, finding vulnerabilities, gaining access, and reporting.
Every step along this process is executed with the help of a variety of penetration testing tools and a lot of skills.
Here is our list of the best penetration testing tools:
- Netsparker Security Scanner A comprehensive vulnerability management solution capable of scanning for web application vulnerabilities (SQL injection, XSS, etc), and integrating with tracking systems and CI/CD pipelines software. Register to get a free demo.
- Acunetix Scanner A web application vulnerability scanner that checks a web application or website and attempts to find vulnerabilities like SQL injection, XSS, or more. Subscribe to get a demo.
- Intruder Automated Penetration Testing A cloud-based vulnerability scanner that helps automate pen testing for websites and web applications. Get a 30-day free trial.
- Nmap and Zenmap CLI and GUI network mappers, capable of scanning the network via simple ping sweeps or intense TCP/UDP scans.
- Wireshark A robust network protocol analyzer capable of providing deep information about network protocols, packet information, etc.
- Metasploit Framework A powerful tool to test the network and server vulnerabilities. It uses pre-packaged exploit code (payload) to attempt to bypass security measures.
- John the Ripper A password-cracking software used for finding weak spots. It can run on brute force or dictionary attack.
- Aircrack -ng A suite of WiFi network security assessment tools. It can monitor, capture packets, test security, and crack passwords.
- Nessus A free and open-source remote vulnerability scanner for servers, network devices, OS, databases, and hypervisors.
- Kali Linux A complete distribution that gives you access to more than 600 tools.
- Six Worthy Mentions Other tools that didn’t make it to the top 10, but are worthy mentions: BeEF, W3af, THC Hydra, Maltego, SQL Map, and Nikto.
Some manual penetration testing tools require a high level of expertise to use them. But other testing tools are automated vulnerability scanners, which are easier to use and can turn out to be much more efficient for particular scenarios. Combining both types of tools is the best strategy.
On one hand, a security professional with knowledge on how to use these “manual” tools could be able to find the most complex and sophisticated vulnerabilities— where no automation tool is capable of.
But automatic vulnerability scanners can help the pen test to be faster and continuously monitor for vulnerabilities. Automatic vulnerability scanners can also find vulnerabilities such as development mistakes, misconfigurations, etc, much faster.
The Best Tools for Penetration Testing (+Six Worthy Mentions)
1. Netsparker Security Scanner
Netsparker is a robust vulnerability management solution. It scans web applications, services, and APIs, automatically identifies a broad coverage of different vulnerability types. The tool emulates attacks to test the target’s defenses against SQL Injections, Cross-Site Scripting (XSS), and more.
The Netsparker web app security scanner can automatically assess between 500-1000 web applications simultaneously. You can also customize the scan with attack settings, authentication, URL rewrite rules, etc.
- Proof-Based Scanning technology to help reduce (or eliminate) false positives.
- Out-of-the-box support of issue tracking systems such as Jira.
- Integrate scans into the CI/CD pipeline with GitHub.
- In-depth technical reports including recommendations to fix the security flaws.
- Reports to help meet regulatory compliance like PCI DSS and OWASP Top 10.
Register to Netsparker to get a free demo
2. Acunetix Scanner
Acunetix Scanner is a dynamic web application security testing solution. It audits web applications, sites, and API, and identifies vulnerabilities such as SQL injection, XSS, weak passwords, misconfigurations, Out-of-Band (OOB) vulnerabilities, and more.
The Acunetix Scanner allows you to integrate your scans into a CD/CD pipeline with automation service tools like Jenkins. Additionally, you can also integrate third-party issue tracking systems, like Jira, GitLab, and GitHub to streamline vulnerability management.
- It can detect +6500 vulnerabilities with a high detention rate.
- Integrate with Jenkins, GitHub, GitLab, TFS, Mantis, and more.
- Acutenix API to connect to more security controls.
- The fast scanning engine is written in C++ with concurrent crawling and incremental scanning.
- Acunetix Scanner engines can run on-premises or on the cloud.
Price and trial. Starts at $4,500 for the Standard edition, and $7,000 for the Premium edition, both for up to five websites. The price is based on multi-year contracts. Subscribe to Acunetix to get a demo.
3. Intruder Automated Penetration Testing
The Intruder Automated Penetration Testing is an online network vulnerability scanner. It can check for different types of application weaknesses, including SQL Injection, XSS, XML injection, and more. It can also identify infrastructure weaknesses such as remote code execution flaws, and misconfigurations like weaknesses in (or lack of) encryption in SSL/TLS or VPNs.
The tool also performs banner-grabbing or fingerprinting to identify missing patches. When it detects a vulnerability, it creates a comprehensive report with recommendations.
- With +10,000 security checks available.
- A recommendation engine that helps you reduce risks.
- Updated threat intelligence database.
4. Nmap and Zenmap
Nmap (Network Mapper) is a powerful CLI-based network mapper. It is the defacto standard for network mapping and port scanning. Nmap can discover hosts within a network by doing a ping sweep, find the services these hosts are offering, and identify their open ports. It can also discover the remote OS by using TCP/IP stack fingerprinting.
Znmap is the GUI-version of Nmap (screenshot above). It is as powerful as Nmap but easier to use. It provides results in a graphical and simpler way.
Key Features and New Nmap7.0 improvements:
- Better support for IPv6.
- New Nmap’s Scripting Engine comes with 171 new scripts and 20 libraries.
- Nsock for faster scanning.
- Improved scanning of TLS/SSL deployments.
Nmap and Zenmap are free and open-source. Download from the official site.
Wireshark, an award-winning network protocol analyzer, and one of the most preferred tools for network engineers, security experts, pen testers, and even hackers. Wireshark captures and analyzes network packets. It captures raw data, structures it according to the protocol, and filters it in the most detailed possible way.
- Live capture and offline traffic analysis.
- Powerful filtering
- Rich VoIP analysis.
- Export output XML, CSV, etc.
Wireshark is free and open source. The download is available for Windows, Linux, macOS, Solaris, and FreeBSD.
Metasploit is considered the swiss army knife for hackers. It is a robust collection of hacking tools, modules, and plugins. Metasploit automates several phases of a penetration test— from information gathering, gaining access, maintaining access, and even evading detection.
The Metasploit Project is one of the most popular pen testing and hacking frameworks. The project provides information about security vulnerabilities, helps with pen testing and the development of IDS signatures.
- Integration with recon/scan tools like Nmap and Nessus.
- Access to databases with exploits and vulnerabilities.
- Meterpreter to set the payload.
- Exploitation and post-exploitation tools.
7. John the Ripper
John the Ripper (JtR) is an open-source password-cracking tool. JtR was initially designed to test the strength of passwords for UNIX-based systems, but now it is supported by many operating systems.
JTR is capable of cracking passwords using any of the following methods:
- Dictionary attack. Feed a list with a vast combination of words, phrases, and possible passcodes.
- Brute force: Provide parameters to help JTR with successful password guessing.
- Rainbow tables: Compares hashed passwords obtained from data leaks with plain-text passwords.
Aircrack -ng is the most popular suite of WiFi hacking tools. It works with a wide range of wireless NICs as long as they support raw monitor mode. Aircrack-ng is capable of capturing packets from 802.11a, 802.11b, and 802.11g WiFi standards and analyzing their hashes.
Aircrack -ng is armed with:
- Monitoring via a packet sniffer
- WEP and WPA/WPA2-PSK key cracker.
- Perform de-authentication, fake APs, and replay attacks.
- Capture and packet injection.
Download Aircrack-ng for free.
Nessus developed by Tenable is a powerful vulnerability scanner for infrastructures such as servers, network devices, databases, Operating Systems, and hypervisors. Nessus is capable of finding misconfigurations, default and weak passwords, and DoS risks. It is supported by Windows, Linux, and macOS.
- Reports in text, XML, and HTML.
- Integrates with Hydra THC to perform dictionary attacks and attempt to crack passwords.
- Scan patching levels on Windows computers.
- Support compliance audits.
Price and trial. Nessus is available in a free limited version (download Essentials) and a full-featured paid subscription version (Professional for one year for €3.036,34).
10. Kali Linux
Kali Linux is more than a tool; it is an entire Linux distribution— derived from Debian and designed for penetration testing, ethical hacking, reverse engineering, vulnerability assessment, and advanced forensics.
Kali Linux gives you access to a long list with more than 600 tools, for information gathering, vulnerability analysis, brute-force password cracking, wireless attacks, spoofing, sniffing, and a lot more.
- Customizable Kali Linux ISO images.
- Kai live mode (image) to test pen tester skills.
- Kali includes more than +600 pen-testing tools.
- Integration with other robust tools like Wireshark and Metasploit.
Download: Kali Linux is a free and open-source project. Download an image at Kali’s official site.
11. Six Worthy Mentions
Below are six additional pen-testing tools also loved by security experts.
- BeEF The Browser Exploitation Framework (BeEF) was designed to hook (take control of) web browsers, and launch attacks from there.
- W3af Web application audit and attack framework (W3af) is an open-source Web application security scanner.
- THC Hydra. A fast online password and network logon cracking tool. It can perform dictionary attacks over protocols like FTP, HTTP, HTTPS, SMB, and many more.
- Maltego. A robust tool for graphical link analysis, used for forensics and intelligence gathering. Maltego lets you mine data from open-source and distributed sources and compile it into a graph.
- SQL Map A powerful open-source penetration tool used for detecting and executing SQL injections and taking control of databases.
- Nikto An open-source web scanner for web servers. It tests servers against 6700 potentially dangerous files and programs. It also identifies outdated and problems with specific server versions.
The ten tools in this post cover all the required steps to perform a solid penetration test. Nmap to scan for open ports and map the network, Wireshark to analyze packets, and John the Ripper to crack passwords and gain access. Other tools like Metasploit use pre-packaged exploits to automate several phases. Similarly, Aircrack-ng for several wireless pen test phases.
Automatic security assessment tools such as Netsparker, Acunetix, Intruder, and Nessus can help assess either external networks like web applications, websites, and APIs and internal networks such as computers, network devices, etc.