12 Penetration Testing Tools You Must Know About Before You Get Started

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Penetration Testing
by John Svazic/ on 07 Nov 2023

12 Penetration Testing Tools You Must Know About Before You Get Started

If you’re starting to plan for penetration testing, you’re on the right track. Some companies overlook this aspect of cybersecurity, yet for other companies, industry standards and requirements make penetration tests indispensable. In the financial industry, where rigorous pen tests are mandatory, only about 5% of attacks are successful.

Naturally, penetration testing requires a wide range of tools. Each of these tools costs money. And while to some extent, the expense can be the responsibility of the penetration tester, you still want to make sure that your tester is using the most suitable tools for your business. This article from EliteSec intends to give you a sneak peek at the best tools in the world of penetration testing.

What Are Penetration Testing Tools?

Penetration testing tools are used by penetration testers to evaluate the strength of your security posture and its vulnerability to attacks. Moreover, they’re used to exploit your systems in an attempt by the tester to simulate what a real attack would look like. Several penetration tools exist on the market and none of them are one-size-fits-all solutions. Rather, the penetration tester must combine the best tools for your use case.

How Penetration Testing Software Works

To understand how penetration tools work, you need to know how the penetration process works. Penetration testing starts with an information-gathering stage in which the tester collects as much information about your systems as possible to map out your network. At this stage, you would use information-gathering tools to help you figure out which of your computers connect to the internet, and therefore, what real-world links your data has to the outside.

Vulnerability Scanning Software

Afterwards, a penetration tester would conduct a vulnerability scan, which is a type of security testing that systematically accounts for each of your vulnerabilities. One thing you should note about these vulnerability scans is that they can only detect vulnerabilities based on a database of known vulnerabilities. As cyber hackers quickly evolve new tactics to breach your operating systems, security teams often find that vulnerability scanning is insufficient, and a degree of creativity is required, along with keeping an eye on current events in the cyber security space.

Exploitation Tools

After evaluating your system and conducting a thorough vulnerability scan, penetration tests transition to the next phase, wherein they attempt to exploit your system. We can break this down into two parts. Firstly, the pen tester will attempt to gain access to your system. But they won’t stop there, far from it. Instead, they will keep pushing on until they gain administrative access to your system, meaning that they will have full authority and control over your network. That’s a worst-case scenario for any company.

Exploitation tools are quite diverse. After all, there is a huge variety of different attacks for a pen tester to pick from. Some tools might attempt to gain access via password attacks or SQL injections, while others might be more comprehensive. Furthermore, some tools might assist with the softer side of hacking, like social engineering attacks, which are primarily facilitated by humans rather than computers and algorithms.

Pen testers know how to secure your computer systems

The Top 12 Best Penetration Testing Tools For Modern Businesses

Instead of ranking the top 12 pen testing tools from 1 to 12, we would rather present each tool to you based on its appropriate context. That is, we organized the tools based on their use case and presented the top 3 or 4 for each purpose. Let’s get started.

Exploitation & Network Penetration Testing Tools

Metasploit - Best Penetration Tool For Exploitation

By far the standout, Metasploit is the quintessential framework for system penetration testing, offering an extensive database of exploit code. The tool is ingeniously structured, allowing for the straightforward execution of vulnerability scanning and exploitation. Metasploit facilitates not just penetration tests but also aids in identifying system weaknesses. It seamlessly integrates with various other tools and is an indispensable asset for both offensive and defensive cybersecurity maneuvers. Its modular approach allows for custom exploit development, making it highly adaptable to nearly any penetration testing scenario.


  • Comprehensive exploit library.
  • Highly customizable, with extensive support for scripting and module development.
  • Integrates well with other tools, enhancing its utility in complex testing scenarios.


  • Can be complex for beginners to navigate and utilize effectively.
  • Primarily command-line based, which may deter users who prefer a GUI.

SQLMap - Best Tool For SQL Injection

SQLMap is an open-source penetration testing tool that automates the detection and exploitation of SQL injection flaws. Its capabilities are extensive, supporting a wide range of databases and possessing the ability to perform password hash recognition, file retrieval, and even take over database servers. SQLMap simplifies the process of database penetration, making it accessible for both novices and seasoned professionals. Its robust detection engine can identify and exploit even the most deeply buried SQL vulnerabilities.


  • Supports a wide array of database systems.
  • Automated detection and exploitation features save time and effort.
  • Capable of performing a multitude of actions, from data dumping to accessing the underlying file system.


  • Automated nature may lead to noisy attacks that are easily detectable.
  • Risk of damaging the database integrity if not used with caution.

Canvas - Best Commercial Vulnerability Exploitation Tool

As a reliable commercial pen test tool, Canvas offers a broad spectrum of exploits against various platforms. It delivers an intuitive GUI that allows testers to identify and exploit vulnerabilities with ease. Canvas is regularly updated, ensuring access to the latest exploits and security features. It caters to professional environments with its robust support and custom exploit development, making it a go-to tool for security professionals.


  • User-friendly interface that appeals to professionals who prefer GUI over command-line.
  • Regular updates provide new exploits and maintain the tool’s effectiveness against modern defenses.
  • Professional support and documentation are available.


  • Costly compared to free alternatives, potentially putting it out of reach for individual practitioners.
  • The focus on professional users may make it less accessible to the broader community.

JohnTheRipper - Best Tool For Password Attacks

With a focus on passwords, John The Ripper is an acclaimed password security auditing tool. Its audit framework is designed to detect and exploit weak passwords. It’s lauded for its versatility, supporting numerous hashing algorithms, and its ability to automatically adjust to the password hash types it’s uncovering. Its mode of operation ranges from basic dictionary attacks to more complex cryptanalysis. John The Ripper serves as a fundamental tool for system administrators and penetration testers aiming to identify and rectify password vulnerabilities within a system.


  • Wide range of supported hash types and algorithms.
  • Flexible attack modes (dictionary, brute force, rainbow tables).
  • Open-source with a strong community and frequent updates.


  • May require significant computational resources for complex passwords.
  • The user interface is primarily command-line, which might not be user-friendly for everyone.

Mimikatz - Best Post-Exploitation Tool

Mimikatz is a post-exploitation tool that has gained notoriety for its effectiveness in extracting plaintext passwords, hash values, and Kerberos tickets from memory. It is also capable of performing pass-the-hash, pass-the-ticket, or building Golden tickets. This tool is an essential component in the toolkit of both system administrators for troubleshooting and attackers for lateral movement within a network.


  • Capable of extracting a wide range of credentials from Windows systems.
  • Constantly updated to exploit recent vulnerabilities.


  • Usage can be detected by antivirus and security software, leading to potential forensic traces.

Information Gathering Tools

Nmap - Best Penetration Tool For Network Mapping

Renowned for its efficacy in network mapping, Nmap stands as an indispensable asset in a penetration tester’s arsenal. This robust tool is engineered to uncover devices operating on a network, detect the services they’re running, and identify the operating systems and types of packet filters/firewalls they’re using. Its adaptability and the depth of detail it provides make it a first-rate choice for the initial stages of penetration testing.


  • Offers detailed information about network structures.
  • Highly configurable, with a variety of scanning options.
  • Boasts both command-line and graphical versions, enhancing its accessibility.


  • The complexity of options can be daunting for new users.
  • Scans can be slow on large networks or when stealth is required.

For unraveling the intricate web of real-world linkages between digital entities, Maltego excels as a tool for link analysis in the cyber-realm. It can graphically represent relationships, such as those found on social media or within private networks. This tool is a boon for information gathering, capable of painting a detailed picture of a target’s footprint on the internet.


  • Visual mapping aids in understanding complex relationships.
  • Integrates data from various sources for comprehensive analysis.
  • Relatively user-friendly with a GUI that eases the process of link analysis.


  • The learning curve can be steep for effectively utilizing its advanced features.
  • Relies on external information sources which can sometimes provide outdated data.

Wireshark - Best Tool For Network Analysis

In the realm of network analysis, Wireshark is a prominent tool, revered for its ability to dissect and analyze network packets with precision. This tool digs deep into the details of network traffic, offering insights into the minutiae of each packet’s journey. For cybersecurity professionals and network administrators, it’s a powerful microscope revealing the hidden activities within network traffic flows.


  • Supports a vast number of protocols and is capable of decrypting many of them.
  • Real-time data packet analysis aids in immediate issue identification.


  • The sheer amount of data can be overwhelming without proper filtering.
  • Requires a good understanding of network protocols to analyze data effectively.

Vulnerability Scanning Tools

Nessus - Best Comprehensive Vulnerability Scanner

With a reputation for thoroughness, Nessus meticulously scans networks to uncover vulnerabilities that could be exploited by attackers. This tool is essential for those seeking a comprehensive security diagnostic, offering detailed reports that assist in prioritizing and addressing security weaknesses. Its breadth of scanning capabilities makes it a favored choice for security professionals aiming to fortify their networks against potential threats.


  • Extensive plugin library for new vulnerabilities.
  • Intuitive interface with detailed reporting features.


  • The cost may be prohibitive for smaller organizations or individual users.
  • Can generate false positives that require manual verification.

OpenVAS - Best Open-Source Vulnerability Scanning Tool

When it comes to open-source vulnerability assessment, OpenVAS stands tall as a potent alternative to commercial scanners. This tool is built on a framework of various services offering a robust scanning engine kept up-to-date by a dedicated community. OpenVAS serves as a pillar for those who need a reliable and accessible way to monitor their networks for security vulnerabilities.


  • Free and open-source, with a large community supporting it.
  • Regularly updated with new Network Vulnerability Tests (NVTs).
  • Modular architecture allows for easy extension and integration.


  • The setup process can be complex and may require technical knowledge.
  • The user interface isn’t as polished as some commercial alternatives.
  • May require more maintenance to keep the tool and vulnerability tests up to date.

Comprehensive Tools

Kali Linux - Best Base Penetration Tool Distribution

A cornerstone for penetration testing, Kali Linux is the preferred environment for many cybersecurity experts. This Debian-based distribution comes packed with a suite of tools that cater to various information security tasks, such as penetration testing, security research, computer forensics, and reverse engineering. Kali Linux is known for its offensive security approach, providing a toolkit for those ready to test systems and networks against the most current threats.


  • Comprehensive collection of security tools and utilities.
  • Regularly updated, ensuring tools are current with industry standards.
  • Wide support community and extensive documentation.


  • Not recommended for daily use as a general-purpose operating system.
  • It’s less secure for storing sensitive data

Burp Suite - Best Tool For Web Application Analysis

When evaluating your web applications, Burp Suite emerges as a great way to prevent a web application attack. This integrated platform facilitates a thorough examination of web applications, identifying security gaps and providing insights for remediation. Burp Suite’s range of features from automated scanning to advanced manual testing tools makes it a staple in the field of web application security.


  • Intuitive user interface streamlines the testing process.
  • Offers both automated and manual testing tools.
  • Highly extensible with a range of plugins available from the BApp Store.


  • The cost of the professional version may be a barrier for some users.
  • Some features have a steep learning curve to utilize effectively.

Which Tools Are Right For You?

This article gave you a range of suggestions that will help you prepare for a meeting with a penetration tester. However, you shouldn’t mistake it for comprehensive penetration testing knowledge. Attempting to conduct a penetration test yourselves could be a huge drain on resources for your company. And the risk of mistakes is higher if you don’t have a pen tester on your team already.

Fortunately, you don’t need to hire a full-time pen tester to gain the security advantages that they bring. Rather you can employ a part-time pen tester who can give your business a hand when you need it. Sit down with us at ElliteSec for a 30-minute consultation so we can get to know your security posture better, and point you in the right direction.

We’re happy to offer you a free 30-minute consultation where we can discuss these and other cybersecurity topics in more depth with you or your company. Book an appointment today!

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