Ethical Hacking was once considered the exclusive domain of the experts has now become a widespread phenomenon with the rise of technology and advancements in this field. Hacking can be used for harmful purposes as well as for finding flaws/vulnerabilities in a system and notifying the authorities to help them secure their system better. With the help of a few tools and basic knowledge, a security analyst performs security testing to help to harden a client's network.
On the other hand, automation has left its imprint on every industry out there, and the realm of ethical hacking is no different. With the onset of various tools in the ethical hacking industry, it has been transformed. Ethical hacking tools help in information gathering, creating backdoors and payloads, cracking passwords, and an array of other activities. In this article, we will be discussing the top 14 ethical hacking tools as of 2022.
1. Metasploit Framework
The Metasploit Framework is on the list of hugely popular hacking tools between both penetration testers and security analysts. It is backed by a community of more than 200k people who contribute and develop it, creating an infrastructure where you can build your custom exploits and scripts. It is one of the must-know tools if you are interested in getting into Cybersecurity.
The Metasploit framework is essentially a computer security project which provides the user with essential information regarding the known security vulnerabilities, real-world attacks and helps to formulate the penetration testing and IDS use cases, plans, strategies, and methodologies for exploitation. Most of the in-demand practical IT Security courses such as CEH or OSCP have also included a Metasploit component. There is also a detailed tutorial about how to get started with Metasploit, have a look at the complete beginner guide here.
It is available in both Free and Paid versions which can be found here.
2. Burp Suite
Burp Suite is a penetration testing framework based on the Java programming language which is used to find security flaws in web applications. It is one of the most widely used hacking tools by both penetration testers and security analysts to find out the potential vulnerabilities using the OWASP TOP 10 standard of passing the security evaluation. Burp Suite helps in identifying the vulnerabilities and verifying the attack vectors, which can affect web applications. Due to its popularity, it is considered the industry standard when it comes to Web Application Testing.
In the simplest form, the Burp Suite works like an Interception Proxy which means that while browsing the target web application, a user can configure their internet browser to route all the traffic through the Burp Suite proxy server, which then acts as a sort of Man In The Middle as it will captures and analyzes each request from or towards the target web application server so that the data being transmitted or being received can be interpreted in the plain text.
It can even decrypt and read the HTTPS traffic by importing a custom Burp certificate in the browser. The captured requests can be parsed, manipulated, and replayed individually in the HTTP requests section for analyzing the potential data input parameters or injection points of the web page. Injection points can also be specified for manual as well as automated fuzzing attacks to discover potentially unintended application behavior, crashes and, error messages. It is one of the tools which should make it into your bucket list of things to learn. There is even a tutorial in which we had shown the usage of Burp Suite, you may want to have a look here.
Like Metasploit, it also comes in both Free and Paid versions which can be found here.
Nessus is one of the most popular vulnerability scanning tools out in the market that is being used by many professional penetration testers and auditors around the world, for both internal and external vulnerability assessments in banks and different organizations. Tenable, a famous cybersecurity company, has developed it and is maintaining it. It has a web interface that is used to set up scanning and audits, and to view reports.
Along with one of the most significant vulnerability knowledge bases, its most prominent features includes identifying the vulnerabilities which could allow a remote attacker to access sensitive data from the system, checking for the patches of offered service by the server, password level weaknesses (default or standard) authentication check on the service, firewall and system configuration audits, mobile device audits, SCADA, audits, web application audits, PCI DSS compliance checks, malware scanning, host discovery and many more. The results of all of these can be viewed in a beautiful customized report. Nessus can also integrate with the Metasploit framework to extend the scanning phase for co-relating the vulnerabilities with their available exploits. In my opinion, it is one of the must-have tools.
It is available in both free and paid versions which can be found here. The free version has a lot of limitations compared to the pro, which is very expensive.
Nmap project, also known as network mapper is a security tool used by information security professionals to manage, explore, and audit the network and operating system security of both the local and remote hosts. Nmap project is one of the most legacy port scanners with the existence from 1997, and it gets continually developed and actively updated with the addition of new features with time. It is regarded as the most effective network mapper by the network administrators and cybersecurity professionals around, known for being efficient and consistently delivering effective results with any network investigation.
It is available in both GUI and command-line versions with the prominent features of fingerprinting the dozens of types of devices, along with the port-scanning capabilities, operating system type with version detection, service type with version detection, ping sweeps, firewall bypass scan, reconnaissance, vulnerability detection, exploit verification and custom scripts with the ability of scanning scan massive networks thousands of machines. You can even make changes in its code as it is open source and use its libraries to get the network scanning capability in your custom-made scanner. There is even a series of tutorials on learning the Nmap we had created; you can also try that out here.
It is available with full source code of both GUI and command-line versions which can be found here.
Wireshark is amongst the most popular hacking tools that are used for a reason. It uses a network protocol analyzer and network sniffer which lets you check for different types of data segmented into packets regardless of the protocols used and running between a source and destination in real-time and implements the filters, color-coding, and other features which lets the user dig deeper into network traffic and inspect individual packets. Wireshark can also perform live capturing of packets and analyzes them to find various payloads transmitting in the network and provides its result with verbose output in a human-readable form.
It is widely known for its ability to detect security problems in a network, as well as for its effectiveness in solving networking problems. It comes both in GUI named as Wireshark GUI and command-line interface called Tshark. It lets you see the activities on a network from the most basic level provided with PCAP file access, customized reports, alerts and, etc. If you would like to become an offensive security tester or work as a security analyst, then it is a tool you must learn. We have also created a tutorial to understand how to make use of it. Briefly, you can find it here.
It is a free and open-source software that can be found here.
OpenVAS is a framework that also stands out in the list of top hacking tools which is developed by Greenbone Networks. It provides comprehensive scanning services and a robust vulnerability scanning and management package. It is an open-source program that has now become a fork to one of the most popular vulnerability scanners, Nessus. It is made up of three parts, a feed system that keeps the pace up with the newly discovered vulnerabilities and threats which gets updated by Network Vulnerability Tests (NVTs) regularly, a scanner that runs the NVTs feeds against the target and an SQLite3 database which stores the test configurations and scan results.
OpenVAS can be accessed and operated by both, the command line and the GUI mode (web-based). The most prominent features of OpenVAS are multi-threaded scanning of targets, vulnerability management, and verification, detailed risk assessment and remediation, and customized reports that are both statistical and detailed. There are also tutorials on how to install it on the Parrot OS and Kali Linux here.
It is free and open-source with both GUI and command-line versions which can be found here.
Wireless technology is difficult to secure due to the visibility issue, as it can not be physically seen which data is being transmitted in the air, this is where aircrack-ng comes into play. Aircrack-ng is one of the most popular wireless network hacking tools which consists of a packet sniffer, wireless host detector, reconnaissance, WPA/WPA2-PSK cracker, WEP, and an analysis tool for 802.11x wireless networks. It is one of the most used tools when it comes to wireless hacking. It works with a wireless network interface controller whose driver supports packet injection and raw monitoring mode and it can sniff 802.11a, 802.11b, and 802.11g traffic.
It is a command line-based tool with the compatibility of Windows, Linux, and OSX-based operating systems. Aircrack-ng focuses on the areas of wireless security with the provision of a complete suite that includes monitoring in which packets are captured, and data is exported to the text files for future processing by 3rd party tools, attacking the target device with Replaying attacks, fake access points, de-authentication by using packet injection, testing the capabilities of Wifi cards and drivers via capture and injection and cracking of WPS, WPA1, and WPA2. You can also read a detailed article here, describing the best Wifi adapter with the ability of packet injection to use with Aircrack-ng.
It is also one of the open-source tools which you can easily find here.
Nikto is one of the classic and favorite hacking tools which comes along with the Kali Linux Distribution. It is used to scan web servers and perform different types of security tests against the specified remote host. It has a clean and straightforward command-line interface, which makes it easy to use against the target. Netsparker, a cybersecurity company, sponsors it. Nikto searches for vulnerability against a database of over 6800 potentially dangerous files/ programs when scanning a software stack.
It also scans for outdated versions of over 1300 types of services and version-specific problems on over 275 services. It also has audit capabilities and can check server configuration items such as the presence of multiple index files, HTTP server options, SSL scanning support, parked domain checking, and the platform will also try to identify installed web servers and web applications and directory enumeration with verbosity. It could even get combined by any semi-decent Intrusion Detection tool to co-relate the vulnerabilities and provide a decent report of all the results in HTML, CSV, and XML format. Indeed a great tool to learn when attacking an open box for training.
It is an open-source hacking tool and can be found here.
9. John the Ripper
John the Ripper is a free password cracking tool which uses wordlists or dictionaries to crack a given hash. It was initially developed for the UNIX operating system, but now it runs even on Windows. It combines several password crackers into one package, auto-detects the password hash types, and includes a customizable cracker. It can be run against various encrypted password formats including several crypt password hash types most commonly found on multiple UNIX versions (based on DES, MD5, or Blowfish, Crypt3), Kerberos AFS, and Windows NT/2000/XP/2003 LM hash. The additional modules can extend and include MD4 based password hashes and passwords stored in LDAP, MySQL, and others.
The other mode offered by John the Ripper is the use of dictionary-based attacks which takes the text string samples usually from a wordlist, containing the words found in a dictionary or real passwords that have been cracked before, encrypting it in the same format as the password being examined (including the encryption algorithm and key), and comparing the output with the encrypted string. It can also perform other varieties of alterations to the dictionary words which are also used in its single attack mode that modifies an associated plaintext (such as a username with the encrypted password) and checks for the variations against the hashes.
Netcat is an ethical hacking tool that is considered a swiss army knife of the network as it is capable of performing any network-related operation logically with the right type of commands. It makes use of TCP and UDP protocols to connect and read and write in a network, which makes it be used for both attacking and security a network. In the case of attacking, it has scripts driven approach, which makes it quite dependable on the back-end while using it from a security point of view, it helps us to debug and investigate the network. It is available on Linux, Windows, and OS X operating systems.
It acts as a UDP/TCP/SCTP/SSL client for interacting with different types of servers and other network services, which is the best way to acknowledge how these services work and interact with each other that helps in finding security flaws, or testing custom commands with authority to let you control every bit that is sent and view the raw and unfiltered responses.
It provides the encryption of communications using SSL over both IPv4 and IPv6. It also has the ability to connect to destinations through a chain of anonymous or authenticated proxies and acts as a gateway for the execution of system commands. And in the last, the feature for which it is famous is working as a connection node in which it allows two or more clients to connect through a third (middle) server which enables the multiple machines that are hidden behind NAT gateways to communicate with each other. There are even multiple tutorials in which we had shown the usage of Netcat, you may want to have a look here.
This fantastic utility is available for free and can be downloaded from here.
THC Hydra is the fastest known network logon password cracking tool with a very dynamic and experienced team at its back. It is one of the ethical hacking tools that is used by both information security analysts and hackers to stress test services for weak password combinations, depending on the processing speed of the computer, internet connection (and proxies) this methodology will systematically go through each password until the correct one is discovered. It uses the brute force and dictionary attack-based approach and repeatedly tries the combinations of username and passwords against the specified host.
The new modules can be easily attached to it for enhancing its features which are available in both GUI and command-line versions for Windows, Linux, and OS X operating systems. The Hydra supports various network protocols which include Asterisk, AFP, Cisco AAA, Cisco auth, Cisco enable, CVS, Firebird, FTP, HTTP-FORM-GET, HTTP-FORM-POST, HTTP-GET, HTTP-HEAD, HTTP-PROXY, HTTPS-FORM-GET, HTTPS-FORM-POST, HTTPS-GET, HTTPS-HEAD, HTTP-Proxy, ICQ, IMAP, IRC, LDAP, MS-SQL, MYSQL, NCP, NNTP, Oracle Listener, Oracle SID, Oracle, PC-Anywhere, PCNFS, POP3, POSTGRES, RDP, Rexec, Rlogin, Rsh, SAP/R3, SIP, SMB, SMTP, SMTP Enum, SNMP, SOCKS5, SSH (v1 and v2), Subversion, Teamspeak (TS2), Telnet, VMware-Auth, VNC, and XMPP. There is also a tutorial in which we had shown the usage of Hydra performing a brute-force attack, you may want to have a look here.
It is also a free and open-source tool that can be downloaded from here.
SQLmap is one of the hacking tools that is best known to attack against databases that are situated at the backend of web applications. It tries all the possible combinations for SQL to query data from the database server. It seeks to exploit the SQL injection vulnerability that exists because developers do not perform the data validation during the input from the user which should be sanitized before passing into SQL queries which makes the web application vulnerable to SQL injection attacks.
From a successful SQL injection attack, an attacker can read sensitive data including email, username, password, and credit card details, and other personal information from the database, and not only it can be read, but also it can be modified or deleted from it. SQLmap supports the injection on Oracle, MySQL, Microsoft SQL Server, Microsoft Access, Sybase, IBM DB2, SQLite, PostgreSQL, Firebird, Sybase, SAP MaxDB, Informix, HSQLDB, and H2 database systems and with time-based blind, boolean-based blind, UNION query-based, error-based stacked queries, and out-of-band injection queries.
It is considered as the Metasploit of the databases, having a command-line-based tool written in Python. The function of SQLmap is scanning HTTP or HTTPS request URLs, checking for its parameter inputs using multiple types of queries respective with the database type, and exploiting it to extract the database names, tables, columns, all the data in it. It can even add a remote shell in the database to be controlled remotely. All of this can be performed using GET-based, POST-based, or cookie-based SQL injection without any problem. And even if the extracted password is not in plain text but the hash form, it has a built-in dictionary that tries to decrypt the password into the plain text.
This foe for a database tool is open source and freely available to download here.
Ettercap is probably one of the most widely used hacking tools for performing the Man in the Middle attack. It works as a network interceptor and packet sniffer for LAN networks and supports active and passive scans on various protocols like Telnet, FTP, IMAP, SMB, MySQL, LDAP, NFS, SNMP, and HTTP and including the ones that are encrypted such as SSH and HTTPS. It was developed as a suite to work on OSI layer 2 for performing different Man in the Middle operations like infecting the traffic with malware, deleting and manipulating the traffic passing with two different hosts, sniffing passwords, provision of fake authorization certificates for HTTPS, ARP spoofing and DNS spoof.
Further capabilities which it includes are network scanning and host analysis (like operating system fingerprinting), manipulating and intercepting the over established connections, active and passive analysis of protocol, filtering based on the source and destination IP address, MAC and ARP address, sniffing of remote traffic over the GRE tunnel, DNS hijacking, and extensions with the scripted plugins to perform specific operations. It comes with both GUI and command-line versions but is available only for Linux distributions.
It is freely available to download and can be found here.
14. SET Toolkit
SET Toolkit or known as Social-Engineer Toolkit (SET) is an open-source framework used for penetration testing via various social engineering techniques. The Social-Engineer Toolkit (SET) is designed to perform advanced attacks against the human element and has quickly become a standard tool in a penetration tester’s arsenal. It is backed by a large community and has incorporated the types of attacks that have never been seen before in an exploitation toolset. The types of attacks that are built into it Toolkit are targeted, sophisticated, and focused attacks against a person or an organization. The SET toolkit is a command-line based on menu driven attack system and requires multiple scenarios, options, and customizations to achieve a successful attack.
The SET Toolkit includes several techniques such as website attack vectors, spear phishing, Arduino-based attack, wireless access point attack, SMS spoofing, infection media technique, custom payloads, PowerShell attack, QRCode generated attack, USB based attack, credential harvesting, and third party module attacks. It is incredibly customizable and can be integrated with the Metasploit and Ettercap and harness their capabilities as well.
This Toolkit is freely available to download and can be found here.
The list of hacking tools is not limited to those which are discussed above. The preference varies from organization to organization. However, they are the most recommended tools which are preferred by professionals and used in the industry. Moreover, all these tools come bundled in pentesting Linux distro’s such as Kali Linux and they can be downloaded and integrated.
If you have any other recommendations for a tool to be included in this list, please comment below. We will surely have a look at it.