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The Top 20 Penetration Testing Tools for Cybersecurity in 2023

To combat the growing number of sophisticated cyber threats, security professionals must stay up-to-date with the latest tools and techniques.

In this article, we will explore the top 20 penetration testing tools. These tools are indispensable for identifying, evaluating, and addressing vulnerabilities in networks and applications.

The list features a mix of open-source and commercial solutions. These state-of-the-art tools are vital for security researchers looking to protect their digital assets in today's ever-evolving cyber landscape.

Pentesting simulates cyber attacks on an organization's systems before cybercriminals can. By identifying vulnerabilities in a system or network, organizations get the opportunity to address vulnerabilities to prevent potential breaches. Furthermore, testing ensures companies follow regulatory requirements.

Below, we'll look at the best penetration testing tools that you'll want in your toolkit in 2023.

Types of Pentesting Tools

It's important to differentiate pentesting tools from vulnerability scanners or scanning tools.

Scanners are automated tools used to scan a system or network for known vulnerabilities. DAST is an example of a common type of scanner. While they're quick to deploy, they're also limited in their ability to identify new and more complex vulnerabilities.

A penetration testing tool helps security researchers manually identify vulnerabilities. During a pentest, testers can exploit them and try to gain access to an organization's system or network, as a cybercriminal would. As a result, pentesters can identify a wider range of vulnerabilities, both known and unknown, and provide more detailed recommendations for remediation.

Penetration testing tools fall into a wide range of categories such as: 

  • open-source
  • web app, network, cloud, wireless, or mobile application pentesting
  • hardware testing
  • social engineering
  • exploitation frameworks
  • password cracking

Each tool has unique features and capabilities. Many of these tools are essential components of any pentester's toolkit.

Top Open-Source Pentesting Tools

The biggest advantage of open-source pentesting tools is their customization ability. They're often accessible, developed, and maintained by a community of experts. This means they're updated regularly to meet the latest security trends and threats.

1. Nmap

Nmap, commonly referred to as a network mapper, "maps" a network by analyzing the responses received from packets sent to the target network. With Nmap, users can determine what hosts and services are available. Nmap also allows testers to identify operating system details, open ports, version numbers of running services, firewalls, and potential network vulnerabilities.

Nmap can be used on various operating systems, including Linux, Windows, and macOS. It also supports various scan types, including simple port scans to advanced scans that detect specific vulnerabilities. It can be used with other tools like Metasploit for automated vulnerability exploitation.

2. OWASP ZAP

OWASP ZAP is a versatile web application security testing tool that scans and analyzes responses received from a target web app. It can identify potential vulnerabilities, including SQL injection, cross-site scripting (XSS), and buffer overflow attacks. It supports both passive and active scans. Plus, has an easy-to-use GUI, an intercepting proxy, automated scanners, and a variety of plug-ins. Like Nmap, OWASP ZAP works on multiple platforms.

3. Metasploit

Metasploit provides a comprehensive suite of tools. This includes a large database of known exploits and vulnerabilities to help identify weaknesses in a target system. Its user-friendly interface is great for developing and executing exploits. Also, ideal for auxiliary modules that perform tasks like fingerprinting, reconnaissance, and vulnerability scanning. Metasploit integrates with other tools and frameworks, such as Nmap and Burp Suite. It provides a comprehensive suite of pentesting capabilities.

4. WPScan

WPScan, designed specifically for WordPress, contains an extensive database of known vulnerabilities and weaknesses. Its scanning capabilities include the detection of usernames, weak passwords, insecure plugin versions, and vulnerable themes. WPScan is a command-line tool with automation potential using scripts for large-scale testing. It's updated often to include the latest known vulnerabilities.

Web App Pentesting Tools

Web application penetration testing tools send various inputs to a web application to see how it responds to help uncover vulnerabilities such as SQL injection, cross-site scripting, cross-site request forgery, and authentication flaws. They can also test for vulnerabilities in web frameworks and third-party components, such as plugins or libraries.

5. Nikto2

Nikto2 is an open-source web server scanner. It can detect outdated software versions, insecure configuration settings, and cross-site scripting (XSS) vulnerabilities.

6. BurpSuite

BurpSuite's a popular pentesting tool. Its features include a proxy server, scanner, intruder, and repeater. This makes it a versatile tool for testing. Its proxy server allows users to intercept and modify traffic between a browser and a server. Its scanner can automatically detect and exploit vulnerabilities in web applications or APIs. BurpSuite also supports integration with tools like Metasploit and Nmap. It also comes native to Kali Linux. Read more with BurpSuite use cases.

Network Pentesting Tools

Network penetration testing tools analyze network configurations and services, routing protocols, and applications to find vulnerabilities in network infrastructure, devices, and protocols.

7. Wireshark

Wireshark is a popular open-source network protocol analyzer. It can be used on multiple operating systems to capture and analyze network traffic. Real-time network packet inspection and filtering capabilities facilitate focused investigation of specific network traffic.

Cloud Pentesting Tools

Cloud pentesting tools are designed specifically for evaluating the security posture of cloud environments. These environments are increasingly used to store sensitive data and run critical applications.

8. ScoutSuite

ScoutSuite is a popular tool that scans cloud environments for vulnerabilities and misconfigurations. The tool works across AWS, Azure, and GCP. It provides a detailed analysis of cloud resources, such as virtual machines, databases, and storage buckets. It also assesses their compliance with industry-standard security best practices.

9. CloudMapper

CloudMapper is an open-source cloud security tool that creates detailed visual maps of cloud infrastructure. It provides a comprehensive view of the relationships between different resources. It identifies security risks and potential attack paths. It is also capable of generating detailed reports with recommendations for addressing vulnerabilities.

10. Prowler

Prowler is an open-source AWS security tool designed to audit AWS accounts for security best practices. It provides an extensive list of checks that assess compliance with industry-standard security frameworks like NIST, CIS, and PCI DSS. It also generates detailed reports of audit findings.

Wireless Pentesting Tools

Wireless pentesting tools, designed to identify vulnerabilities and weaknesses in wireless networks and their associated devices, help detect and exploit network security flaws, unauthorized access points, and weak encryption protocols. Read more about Cobalt's Wireless pentesting serivces.

11. Aircrack-ng

Aircrack-ng provides a comprehensive suite of tools for monitoring and analyzing network traffic. It also supports cracking passwords for wifi networks that use weak encryption methods. It's open-source and can help identify vulnerable access points, monitor network traffic, and test network security. 

12. Kismet

Kismet provides real-time detection and analysis of wireless network traffic, including SSIDs, MAC addresses, signal strength, and more. It helps pentesters discover and identify rogue access points, network misconfigurations, and hidden wireless networks.

Mobile Application Pentesting Tools

Mobile application pentesting tools analyze the security of mobile apps on various platforms, including iOS and Android. These tools often include features such as dynamic analysis, static analysis, reverse engineering, and code analysis to provide a comprehensive assessment of the mobile app's security posture.

13. Frida

Frida is a powerful tool for reverse engineering and debugging Android and iOS applications. It lets pentesters hook into function calls, intercept network traffic, and manipulate binary code to modify the behavior of the target application. It's an ideal tool to perform in-depth analysis.

Hardware Pentesting Tools

Hardware pentesting tools are used to assess the security of physical devices. This includes IoT devices, hardware security modules, USB devices., ATMs, Point of Sale (POS) terminals, and others.

14. Proxmark3

Proxmark3 is an open-source hardware tool used for RFID research and testing. It can read and emulate different types of RFID cards and tags, perform wireless analysis, and clone RFID devices. This tool allows pentesters to simulate various attacks, such as replay attacks and man-in-the-middle attacks, on RFID systems to assess their security posture.

Social Engineering Pentesting Tools

Social engineering tools are designed to simulate attacks that use human interaction to manipulate individuals into divulging sensitive information or performing specific actions. They help assess an organization's security awareness and training programs.

15. The Social Engineer Toolkit (SET)

The Social Engineer Toolkit (SET) is an open-source tool used to generate a variety of social engineering attacks like pear-phishing and credential harvesting. Additionally, it includes email spoofing, SMS spoofing, and geolocation spoofing capabilities. It can even integrate with the Metasploit Framework to allow testers to deliver payloads and exploit vulnerabilities.

Exploitation Frameworks

Exploitation frameworks are collections of tools that provide a range of pre-built exploits for common vulnerabilities. They often include a scripting interface for customization. Other common features such as payload generators, command shells, and post-exploitation modules make it easier for testers to gain full control of the target system.

16. SQLmap

SQLmap is an open-source tool that automates the process of identifying and exploiting SQL injection vulnerabilities in web applications. It supports a variety of database management systems, including MySQL, Oracle, and PostgreSQL. While it's largely automated, pentesters use it in combination with manual testing.

17. The Browser Exploitation Framework 

BeEF (The Browser Exploitation Framework) allows penetration testers to exploit client-side vulnerabilities in web browsers. BeEF hooks into a target browser and allows the tester to interact with it in rea-time. This allows testers to launch attacks like keylogging and cookie stealing. It is particularly useful for testing the effectiveness of browser-based security controls like Content Security Policy (CSP) and Same Origin Policy (SOP).

Password Cracking Tools

Password cracking tools are used to recover passwords by attempting to guess them through brute-force or dictionary attacks. Password cracking tools are valuable for testing the strength of an organization's password policies. These tools can help identify vulnerabilities in password management practices.

18. John the Ripper

John the Ripper is a widely-used tool for cracking passwords encrypted with popular encryption algorithms like MD5 and SHA. It can also perform dictionary attacks and to test the strength of passwords.

19. Hashcat

Hashcat is a popular tool that can crack over 300 different hash types using a dictionary, brute-force, and hybrid attacks. It supports distributed cracking so multiple computers can work together to crack a password during forensic investigations.

20. Hydra

Hydra is a popular password-cracking tool that performs brute-force attacks on various protocols and services such as SSH, FTP, and Telnet. It supports authentication mechanisms like HTTP, FTP, and SMB, making it a versatile tool.

Protect Your Organization with the Best Pentesting Tools of 2023

There are many different types of penetration testing tools, each with its own unique features and capabilities. While it's important to have a variety of tools in your security testing toolkit, some of the most essential tools include Nmap, Metasploit, Burp Suite, Aircrack-ng, and Wireshark.

It's vital to remember that no single tool can provide complete security. That's why pentesters must be familiar with multiple types of pentesting tools and use a combination of different types of these tools to evaluate an organization's security strategy and ongoing vulnerability management.

After the test, pentesters can then send these details to the broader security team through the pentest report or with the direct communication available on Cobalt’s Pentest as a Service platform.

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About Jacob Fox
Jacob Fox is a search engine optimization manager at Cobalt. He graduated from the University of Kansas with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science. With a passion for technology, he believes in Cobalt's mission to transform traditional penetration testing with the innovative Pentesting as a Service (PtaaS) platform. He focuses on increasing Cobalt's marketing presence by helping craft positive user experiences on the Cobalt website. More By Jacob Fox