13 Best Penetration Testing Tools As Of 2021 [Free & Paid]

Penetration testing has gained a lot of popularity over the past few years. The reason is simple — with the advancement in techniques of developing and using computers, security takes center stage.

A penetration test, also known as Pen Test, is a human-driven investigation of a company’s security. The testing team uses various methods to detect and exploit weaknesses within the company’s network environment.

While organizations are very well aware of the fact that they can’t make each system 100 percent secure, they always try to minimize the weak points within the system. And how do they do that? By conducting penetration tests at regular intervals.

The effectiveness of a penetration test depends on numerous factors. One of the key factors is the knowledge and experience of the tester. If he/she can’t precisely simulate real-world attacks, the test would be less effective.

Another crucial factor is the tools used to conduct tests. With incorrect or outdated tools, the penetration tester may overlook vulnerabilities and errors in the target network or system.

This is why it is very important to hire knowledgeable testers and use the right tool. A good penetration testing tool helps you discover hidden vulnerabilities in the network, server, and web applications.

We have gathered some of the best penetration testing tools that handle comprehensive network security operations in all the environment. They all are powerful enough to identify unknown weaknesses, errors, and malicious scripts that can cause a security breach.

13. SQLmap

Pros
  • Faster than other SQL injection tools
  • Can be customized in many ways
  • Supports a wide range of DBMS
Cons
  • Generates good amount of false positives
  • Does not have any graphical user interface

Price: Free

SQLmap is an open-source software to identify and exploit SQL injection flaws. It comes with a powerful detection engine that automates the process of discovering and exploiting SQL injection flaws.

SQL injection attacks take control of databases, affecting the apps and websites that contain a SQL database, such as SQL Server, Oracle, and MySQL. Typically, these databases consist of sensitive information such as financial data, trade secrets, and personal data.

Thus, it is important to find SQL vulnerabilities and fix them. SQLmap helps you discover these vulnerabilities. It allows you to fetch information from the database, access the underlying file system, and execute commands on the OS through out-of-band connections.

The software supports six SQL injection methods —

  • Time-based blind
  • Boolean-based blind
  • UNION query-based
  • error-based
  • Stacked queries
  • Out-of-band

It also supports automatic recognition of password hashes and helps you crack them with a dictionary-based attack. Overall, it’s a great command-line tool built with valuable SQL injection techniques that are not practical to test manually.

12. Indusface WAS

Pros
  • Unlimited automated on-demand security scans
  • Centralized dashboard, portal, and security posture reporting
  • Quick Support
Cons
  • CDN doesn’t work most of the time
  • Not available at all locations globally

Price: Free | Advanced version costs $49 per month

Indusface WAS (web application scanning) helps you identify malware, logical flaws, and vulnerabilities within a web application. It performs comprehensive, automated scans and manual penetration testing to ensure that none of the weaknesses go unnoticed.

The software is built with advanced threat intelligence so that it can better understand logical flaws and provide a detailed security audit. It automatically blacklists hacked or injected systems that can potentially transfer malware into your applications.

The company has a dedicated research and development team to track the latest threats, malware, and their behavior. They constantly refine and improve their technology to serve the customers better.

Moreover, Indusface is backed by 24/7 support — there are experts to provide proof of concept for vulnerabilities, ensuring zero false positives and quick fix.

11. Traceroute NG

Pros
  • Performs accurate network path analysis
  • Enables continuous probing
  • Creates easy-to-search log file
Cons
  • Asymmetric paths cannot be seen easily
  • May report a longer delay than is actually perceived by traffic

Price: Free | Advanced version costs $1,638

Traceroute NG is a very interesting software program that helps you figure out how packets are being sent from the host machine to the target device. Before reaching the destination, packets pass through various routers, which have their own IP addresses.

Traceroute exploits a field in the IP packet header, known as Time to Live (TTL), to determine the IP addresses of routers along the routing path. This way, it provides you with the network path analysis, which can be used to diagnose connectivity issues.

The software can detect any path changes during transit that might be associated with a security threat. It uses ICMP and TCP probing to provide accurate single-path analysis, right from the source to destination. It gives information about hostnames, IP addresses, packet loss, and latency rates. All this data is stored in a text log file that is easy to search.

Its more advanced version, named Network Performance Monitor, delivers multipath hop-by-hop analysis and offers GUI node path mapping visualization.

10. OpenVAS

Pros
  • All-in-one scanner updates regularly
  • Scans for default passwords and tries to brute-force the app
  • Descriptive reports of the issues
Cons
  • Difficult to configure in the initial part
  • Interface looks a bit outdated

Price: Free

This is the Open Vulnerability Assessment System licensed under the GNU General Public License (GPL). It offers multiple services and tools for vulnerability scanning and vulnerability management.

OpenVAS automates the manual task of scanning and searching vulnerabilities within the target network. It supports performance tuning for large-scale scans and a powerful internal programming language for implementing any kind of vulnerability test.

Its scanner is backed by Greenbone Community Feed, which contains more than 80,000 vulnerability tests. The scanner starts by identifying the open ports and services, and then continues by querying the database for known weaknesses that might affect the target system.

Once the test is complete, OpenVAS generates a report showing a summary of vulnerability found in your system. The report includes technical details and risk level information for each network vulnerability, as well as insights explaining how to remove those security flaws.

9. Intruder

Pros
  • Intuitive user interface
  • Insightful reports that are easy to understand
  • Cloud Connectors for AWS, Google Cloud, and Azure
Cons
  • Scanner doesn’t have customizable options
  • It doesn’t explain how tests are executed and what those tests are

Price: Starts at $97 per month | 30-day free trial available

Intruder is a cloud-based vulnerability scanner that allows you to discover weaknesses in your technical environment before the attackers do. It proactively scans for new threats and offers useful threat interpretation tools that make vulnerability management easy and less time-consuming.

Its penetration testing tool checks for more than 10,000 security threats, providing effective protection for your critical systems. It checks for all the latest known encryption weaknesses, including VPN encryption weaknesses, SSL/TLS weaknesses, and Heartbleed.

Intruder offers a variety of penetration testing services. Whether you wish to review the security of your online application or need a comprehensive pen test to comply with security regulations such as PCI DSS and ISO 27001, the platform will deliver the service that fits your requirements.

Unlike conventional vulnerability scanners, Intruder interprets the outcomes it gets back from the scanning engine based on context. This helps you prioritize the issues that will have a significant impact.

8. Netsparker

Pros
  • Very easy to use
  • Risk management and vulnerability assessment
  • Variety of report templates to cover all your needs
Cons
  • Concurrent scans consume a lot of resources
  • Enterprise version is quite expensive

Price: Varies according to the project (Usually costs $4,000 per year)

Netsparker is one of the most powerful web application security scanners suitable for both small and large businesses. It can accurately analyze web applications and websites independent of the technology used to develop them.

You don’t need to have in-depth IT security knowledge to use this software. It identifies and shows the issues causing the vulnerabilities so you can easily fix or remove them.

Netsparker uses a Chrome-based crawling engine to detect vulnerability in Single Page Application and HTML5, Web 2.0 applications. It is powerful enough to uncover issues in popular libraries, frameworks, and open-source platforms such as WordPress and Drupal.

The software supports automated penetrations testing — it checks the web application for thousands of vulnerabilities, such as Cross-site scripting and SQL injection.

Moreover, Netsparker is available as an online service, a desktop tool, or an on-premises solution. It is trusted and used by many popular businesses, including Starbucks, Ford, and IBM.

7. Burp Suite

Pros
  • Scheduled and repeat scans
  • Intercepts everything your browser sees
  • Fine-grained control with a user-driven scanning methodology
Cons
  • Generates quite a number of false positives
  • Too many advanced option in UI may confuse beginners

Price: Free | Professional version costs $399 per year

Burp Suite is an integrated platform developed by the company named Portswigger. Its various tools function seamlessly together to perform security testing of web applications. The testing process involves everything, from initial mapping and examination to finding and exploiting security vulnerabilities.

Burp combines state-of-the-art automation with advanced manual techniques, making it easier for you to work faster and more effectively. The different functions available within this Suite include:

  • A proxy server to decode traffic and control its flow
  • A spider tool to follow links throughout the target websites
  • A scanner to detect potentially exploitable vulnerabilities
  • A repeater tool to perform brute-force attacks against user- and hidden-input fields
  • A sequencing program to target session tokens
  • An extender to enhance Burp’s capability by integrating external components

Its extensive feature list and ease of use make it a more suitable choice over other free penetration testing tools like ZAP and Nmap.

Burp Suite is very popular among bug bounty hunters and professional web application security researchers. It is used by more than 47,000 users at 12,500 companies (both small and large) in over 140 countries.

6. Wireshark

Pros
  • Captures all kinds of packet data in network traffic
  • Path analysis and improvement suggestions
  • Data Visualization
Cons
  • Doesn’t handle extremely large traffic very well
  • User interface is somewhat old fashioned

Price: Free

Wireshark is an open-source network protocol analyzer that ‘understands’ the structure of a wide range of networking protocols. It is absolutely safe to use. Corporations, government agencies, educational institutions, and non-profit organizations use this software for troubleshooting and teaching purposes.

Wireshark captures network traffic (from ethernet, wireless, Bluetooth, and frame relay connections) and saves the data for offline examination. It can help testers troubleshoot latency issues, dropped packets, and suspicious activities on the target network.

Administrators can use Wireshark to detect malfunctioning network equipment that is dropping packets, routing devices that are causing latency issues, as well as hacking attempts against the company.

Unlike most other penetration testing tools, Wireshark has the ability to detect some application layer protocols that are encapsulated with TCP sessions. It has a robust set of protocol definitions that make it easy to interpret different types of traffic.

The interface provides a granular view of each packet in a capture file. For less-technical management, there are plenty of graphical tools to visualize the statistics and spot general trends.

5. Acunetix

Pros
  • Scan for 50,000+ network vulnerabilities
  • Verify vulnerabilities by chasing down false positives
  • Schedule and prioritize full scans
Cons
  • Does not test WiFi security
  • Expensive for multiple target locations

Price: Starts at $4,500 | Free trial is available

Acunetix offers an advanced automatic web security testing technology to scan and audit all kinds of web applications including JavaScript, HTML5, and Single Page Applications.

It can identify more than 6,500 vulnerabilities such as weak passwords, exposed databases, Cross-Site Scripting misconfiguration, and out-of-band vulnerabilities.

Once the scan is completed, Acunetix (in most cases) provides proof that the vulnerability is real. You can either retest the detected vulnerability manually or simply trust Acunetix’s automated system and focus on other issues.

If you choose to retest, the Acunetix engine will crawl the entire web application and map its structure. You may then manually examine the structure of the application.

You can also use Acunetix with your existing issue trackers, such as GitLab and Jira, to manage an even wider range of cybersecurity issues. It can be integrated with other security tools. For instance, you can use it to set up temporary web application firewall rules before fixing the issue.

The software is known for its high performance and impressive rates of false positives. It is currently used by thousands of companies (including many Fortune 500 companies) in the banking, telecommunication, education, e-commerce sectors. 

4. Zed Attack Proxy (ZAP)

Pros
  • Easy-to-use interface
  • Granular options to fine-tune tests
  • Automatic updates and pull request analysis
Cons
  • Deployment is somewhat complicated
  • Too many false positive

Price: Free

ZAP is an open-source web app scanner maintained under the umbrella of the Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP). It is designed for both those new to app security and more experienced pen testers.

ZAP works as a “man-in-the-middle proxy.” It stays between the browser and web app, allowing testers to decode and analyze data sent between the browser and web app, alter the content if required, and then forward packets to the destination.

Even if you are not using the proxy to alter data, you can use it to snag information on variables being passed via POST variables or cookies.

The software features intercepting proxy, active and passive scanner, brute force scanner, conventional and ajax spider, port scanner, and web sockets. It can detect various vulnerabilities, including

  • SQL injection
  • Cross-site scripting
  • Broken authentication
  • Sensitive data exposure
  • Cross-site request forgery
  • Security miss-configuration

The ZAP desktop is built with a plugin architecture, which means you can add new functionality dynamically. And since it’s open-source software, anyone can see its source code and learn how the functionality is implemented.

3. Metasploit

Pros
  • Prioritize the biggest security risks
  • Hundreds of auxiliary modules for scanning, fuzzing and sniffing
  • Tool integration such as with Nmap
Cons
  • List of exploits may not be up to date
  • Explanations in documentation are not easy to follow

Price: Free | 14-day free trial of the pro version is available

Metasploit is a Ruby-based open-source framework built with anti-forensic and evasion tools. It provides insights into security vulnerabilities and aids in pen testing and IDS (intrusion detection system) signature development.

With this software, testers can use in-built or custom code and introduce it into the target network to detect and analyze weak spots. Once vulnerabilities are found and documented, the information can be used to address flaws and prioritize solutions.

Metasploit includes more than 2,050 exploits organized over 25 platforms, including Android, Python, Java, PHP, Windows, Firefox, Unix, and more. It also carries nearly 600 payloads, some of which include Command Shell and Static and Dynamic payloads.

And since it is an open-source frame, you can easily customize and use it with most operating systems. It will let you enter the mind of a hacker and use the same techniques for examining and infiltrating servers and networks.

Read: 12 Best Malware Removal Tools

2. Nmap

Pros
  • Supported by a large community of developers
  • Well documented
  • Runs on all popular desktop operating system
Cons
  • New and updated versions don’t pop up regularly
  • Can be difficult to learn and master

Price: Free

Nmap (short for Network Mapper) an open-source tool used to discover hosts and services on a network. It can perform a wide range of useful tasks, such as security audits, network inventory, monitoring host or service uptime, and managing service upgrade schedules.

This tool utilizes raw IP packets (in an efficient manner) to find available hosts on the network, services offered by those hosts, operating systems they are running, firewalls or packet filters they are using, and various other parameters.

Nmap is built to scan large networks (with hundred of thousands of machines) in a reasonable amount of time. During a scan, it can adapt to network conditions, including congestion and latency.

It has both conventional command-line and graphical versions. The GUI version, named Zenmap, provides hundreds of options to perform tasks such as save and compare scans, view all hosts on a network, view network topology maps, save scans in a database, and much more.

Overall, it’s a great tool for network engineers and enthusiasts. If you are looking for one-stop software for networking and penetration testing, look no further. There are very few that can match the speed, precision, and efficiency of Nmap.

Read: 30 Useful Bug Tracking Tools For Developers 

1. Kali Linux

Pros
  • Comes with over 600 penetration testing tools
  • Has a vibrant and active community
  • Generate an optimized version of Kali as per your needs
Cons
  • Not useful for general office works
  • Not easy for beginners

Price: Free

Kali Linux is an open-source, Debian-based Linux distribution. It is specifically developed to perform certain security tasks, such as penetrating testing, computer forensics, security research, and reverse engineering.

Although you can use testing tools on any Linux distribution, installing and configuring takes a significant amount of effort and time. Kali, on the other hand, comes with all the necessary tools required to conduct comprehensive penetration testing, from information gathering to final reporting.

It includes tons of tools and utilities that allow security and IT professionals to assess the security of the target system. Furthermore, Metapackages give you the flexibility to install a particular set of tools based on your specific requirements.

Read: 9 Different Types of Penetration Testing

Along with pen testers, Kali is used by security administrators, network architects, forensic engineers, and white hat hackers to discover and audit weaknesses that may present in the system.

What’s more? Kali Linux available for many different platforms, including mobile devices, ARM, virtual machine, windows subsystem for Linux, Amazon web services, and bare metal.

Written by
Varun Kumar

Varun Kumar is a professional science and technology journalist and a big fan of AI, machines, and space exploration. He received a Master's degree in computer science from GGSIPU University. To find out about his latest projects, feel free to directly email him at [email protected] 

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