Top 5 penetration testing tools for ethical hackers

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Software systems are vulnerable. That’s down to a range of things, from the constant changes our software systems undergo, to the extent of the opportunities for criminals to take advantage of the gaps and vulnerabilities within these systems. Fortunately, penetration testers – or ethical hackers – are a vital line of defence. Yes, you need to properly understand the nature of cyber security threats before you take steps to tackle them, but penetration testing tools are the next step towards securing your software.

There’s famous saying from Stephane Nappo that sums up cyber security today: It takes 20 years to build a reputation and few minutes of cyber-incident to ruin it. So, make sure you have the right people with the right penetration testing tools to protect not only your software but your reputation too. 

The most popular penetration testing tools

Kali Linux

Kali linux is a Linux distro designed for digital forensics and penetration testing. The predecessor of BackTrack, it has grown in adoption to become one of the most widely used penetration testing tools. Kali Linux is  based on debian – most of its packages are imported from Debian repositories.

Kali includes more than 500 preinstalled penetration testing programs that makes it possible to exploit wired, wireless, and ARM devices. The recent release of Kali Linux 2018.1 supports Cloud penetration testing. Kali has collaborated with some of the planet’s leading cloud platforms such as AWS and Azure, helping to change the way we approach cloud security.


Metasploit is another popular penetration testing framework. It was created in 2003 using Perl and was acquired by Rapid7 in 2009 by which time it was completely rewritten in Ruby. It is a collaboration of the open source community and Rapid 7 with the outcome being the Metasploit Project well known for its anti-forensic and evasion tools.

Metasploit is a concept of ‘exploit’ which is a code that is capable of surpassing any security measures entering vulnerable systems. Once through the security firewalls, it runs as a ‘payload’, a code that performs operations on a target machine, as a result creating the ideal framework for penetration testing.


WireShark is one of the world’s primary network protocol analyzers also popular as a packet analyzer. It was initially released as Ethereal back in 1998 and due to some trademark issues was renamed to WireShark in 2006.

Users usually use WireShark for network analysis, troubleshooting, and software and communication protocol development. Wireshark basically functions in the second to seventh layer of network protocols, and the analysis made is presented in a human readable form.

Security Operations Center analysts and network forensics investigators use this protocol analysis technique to analyze the amount of bits and bytes flowing through a network. The easy to use functionalities and the fact that it is open source makes Wireshark one of the most popular packet analyzers for security professionals and network administrators who want to quickly earn money as freelancers.

Burp Suite

Threats to web applications have grown in recent years. Ransomware and cryptojacking have become increased techniques used by cybercriminals to attack users in the browser. Burp or Burp Suite is one widely used graphical tool for testing web application security. Since it’s about application security there are two versions to this tool: a paid version that include all the functionalities and the free version that comes with few important functionalities.

This tool comes preinstalled with basic functionalities that will help you with web application security checks. If you are looking at getting into web penetration testing this should definitely be your first choice as it works with Linux, Mac and Windows as well.


Nmap also known as Network Mapper is a security scanner. As the name suggests it builds a map of the network to discover hosts and services on a computer network. Nmap follows a set of protocols to function where it sends a crafted packet to the target host and then analyses the responses. It was initially released in 1997 and since then it has provided a variety of features to detect vulnerabilities and network glitches. The major reason why one should opt for Nmap is that it is capable of adapting to network conditions like network delay and network congestion during a scan.

To keep your environment protected from security threats you should take necessary measures. There are n number of penetration testing tools out there with exceptional capabilities. The most important thing would be to choose the necessary tool based on your environment’s requirement. You can pick and choose from the above mentioned tools as they are shortlisted taking into consideration the fact that they are effective, well supported and easy to understand and most importantly they are open-source.

Learn some of the most important penetration testing tools in cyber security

For a complete list of books and videos on this topic, check out our penetration testing products.

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