If you're a penetration tester, there are numerous tools you can use to help you accomplish your goals.

From scanning to post-exploitation, here are ten tools you must know if you are into cybersecurity.

What is Cybersecurity?

Being a cybersecurity engineer means being responsible for an entire network. This network includes computers, routers, mobile phones, and everything that connects to the internet.

Thanks to the rise of Internet of Things, we see more and more devices connecting to the internet every day. Services like Shodan are proof of how dangerous it is to have an internet-connected device without adequate security.

We cannot rely on Antivirus software either, given how sophisticated today’s hackers are. Besides, most attacks nowadays use social engineering as their entry point. This makes it even harder for cybersecurity professionals to detect and mitigate these attacks.

Covid-19 has become another major catalyst for growing cyber-attacks. Employees working from home don’t have access to the same enterprise-level security architectures in their workplace.

The growing number of cyber-attacks have also increased the demand for cybersecurity professionals around the world. Due to this increasing demand, Cybersecurity has been attracting a lot of experts as well as beginners.

For those of you who are new to Cybersecurity, hacking is not as cool as it looks on TV. And there is a high probability that you will end up in jail.

However, being a penetration tester or a white hat hacker is different – and beneficial – since you will be playing with the same tools black hat hackers (the bad ones) play with. Except for this time, it's legal, and your goal is to help companies discover security vulnerabilities so they can fix them.

You can learn more about the types of hackers here.

It is always hard to find the right tools to get started in any domain, especially if you are a beginner. So here are 10 tools to help you get started as a cybersecurity engineer.

Top Tools for Beginner Cybersecurity Engineers

Wireshark

Having a solid foundation in Networking is essential to becoming a good penetration tester. After all, the internet is a bunch of complex networks that communicate with each other. If you are new to Networking, I recommend this playlist by Network Direction.

Wireshark is the world’s best network analyzer tool. It is an open-source software that enables you to inspect real-time data on a live network.

Wireshark can dissect packets of data into frames and segments giving you detailed information about the bits and bytes in a packet.

Wireshark supports all major network protocols and media types. Wireshark can also be used as a packet sniffing tool if you are in a public network. Wireshark will have access to the entire network connected to a router.

Wireshark UI

Sites like Facebook and Twitter are encrypted now, thanks to HTTPS. This means that even though you can capture packets from a victim computer in transit to Facebook, those packets will be encrypted.

Still, being able to capture data packets in realtime is an important utility for a penetration tester.

Nmap

Nmap is the first tool you will come across when you begin your career as a penetration tester. It is a fantastic network scanning tool that can give you detailed information about a target. This includes open ports, services, and the operating system running on the victim’s computer.

Nmap is popular among penetration testers for many reasons. It is simple, flexible, and extensible. It offers a simple command-line interface where you can add a few flags to choose different types of scans.

Nmap also offers simple ping scans all the way up to aggressive scans that provide detailed ports and service information.

Zenmap UI

Nmap also provides a GUI tool called Zenmap with added utilities. You can build visual network maps and choose scans via dropdowns. Zenmap is a great place to start playing with Nmap commands if you are a beginner.

I recently wrote a detailed article on Nmap that you can read here.

Ncat (Previously Netcat)

Netcat is often referred to as the swiss-army knife in networking.

Netcat is a simple but powerful tool that can view and record data on a TCP or UDP network connections. Netcat functions as a back-end listener that allows for port scanning and port listening.

You can also transfer files through Netcat or use it as a backdoor to your victim machine. This makes is a popular post-exploitation tool to establish connections after successful attacks. Netcat is also extensible given its capability to add scripting for larger or redundant tasks.

In spite of the popularity of Netcat, it was not maintained actively by its community. The Nmap team built an updated version of Netcat called Ncat with features including support for SSL, IPv6, SOCKS, and HTTP proxies.

Metasploit

If there is one tool I love, its Metasploit. Metasploit is not just a tool, but a complete framework that you can use during an entire penetration testing lifecycle.

Metasploit contains exploits for most of the vulnerabilities in the Common Vulnerabilities and Exposure database. Using metasploit, you can send payloads to a target system and gain access to it though a command line interface.

Metasploit is very advanced with the ability to do tasks such as port scanning, enumeration, and scripting in addition to exploitation. You can also build and test your own exploit using the Ruby programming language.

Metasploit was open-source until 2009 after which Rapid7 acquired the product. You can still access free community edition and use all its features.

Armitage UI

Metasploit used to be a purely command-line tool. A Java-based GUI called Armitage was released in 2013.

Nikto

Nikto is an open-source tool that is capable of performing extensive web server scans. Nikto can help you scan for harmful files, misconfigurations, outdated software installations, and so on.

It also checks for the presence of multiple index files, HTTP server configurations, and the installed web server software.

Nikto is the preferred tool for general web server security audits. Nikto is fast, but not quiet. You can scan a large web server pretty quickly but intrusion detection systems will easily pick up these scans. However, there is support for anti-IDS plugins in case you want to perform stealthy scans.

Burp Suite

When it comes to pen-testing web applications, Burpsuite has all the answers for you. BurpSuite aims to be an all in one set of tools for a variety of web application pen-testing use cases. It is also a popular tool among professional web app security researchers and bug bounty hunters.

Burpsuite’s tools work together to support the entire web application testing lifecycle. From scanning to exploitation, Burpsuite offers all the tools you need for breaking into web applications.

One of Burp Suite’s main features is its ability to intercept HTTP requests. HTTP requests usually go from your browser to a web server and then the web server sends a response back. With Burp Suite, you can perform Man-in-the-middle operations to manipulate the request and response.

Burpusite has an excellent user interface. Burpsuite also has tools for automation to make your work faster and more efficient.

In addition to its default features, Burpsuite is extensible by adding plugins called BApps.

John the Ripper

Passwords are still the de-facto standard of authentication in most systems. Even if you successfully get into a server or a database you will have to decrypt the password to gain privilege escalation.

John the Ripper is a simple tool used for cracking passwords. It is a super-fast password cracker with support for custom wordlists. It can run against most types of encryption methods like MD5 and SHA.

Aircrack-ng

Aircrack-ng is a set of tools that help you to work with wireless networks. Aircrack comprises of tools that can capture wireless networks, crack WPA keys, inject packets, and so on.

A few tools in the Aircrack-ng suite include:

  • airodump — Captures packets
  • aireplay — Packet injection
  • aircrack — Crack WEP and WPA
  • airdecap — Decrypt WEP and WPA

Aircrack contains excellent algorithms for cracking WiFi passwords and to capture wireless traffic. It can also decrypt encrypted packets, making it a complete suite of tools for wireless penetration testing.

In short, you can use Aircrack for monitoring, attacking, and debugging all types of wireless networks.

Nessus

Nessus is a popular enterprise vulnerability scanner. Nessus is built to be a complete vulnerability analysis and reporting tool. While you can scan and find ports or services using Nmap, Nessus will tell you the list of vulnerabilities and how they can be exploited.

Nessus has an excellent user interface, tens of thousands of plugins, and supports embedded scripting. It is often favored by enterprises since it helps companies audit for various compliances like PCI and HIPPA. Nessus will also tell you the severity of the vulnerabilities so that you can focus on those threats accordingly.

Nessus UI

Nessus is not a free software, but offers a limited free home edition. Nessus has an open-source alternative called Open-Vas that offers similar features.

Snort

Snort is an open-source software for detecting and preventing intrusions in a network. It can perform live traffic analysis and log incoming packets to detect port scans, worms, and other suspicious behavior.

Snort is used for defense compared to most of the other tools in this list. However, snort helps you understand the attacker’s methods by logging their activity. You can also build DNS sinkholes to redirect attacker traffic while finding attack vectors through Snort.

Snort also has a web-based GUI called BASE (Basic Analysis and Security Engine). BASE provides a web front-end to query and analyze the alerts coming from Snort.

Conclusion

In today’s networked world, everyone from government agencies to banks stores critical information in the cloud. Cyber-attacks even have the potential to cripple an entire nation. Hence, protecting these networks is not a choice, but an absolute necessity.

Whether you are a beginner or an experienced cybersecurity engineer, you will find these ten tools invaluable. Good luck on your journey to becoming a successful penetration tester. Learn more tools from the Security Tools Directory.

I regularly write about Machine Learning, Cyber Security, and AWS. You can signup for my weekly newsletter here.