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The top 5 ethical hacker tools to learn

Ethical hackers have a wealth of tools at their disposal that search for vulnerabilities in systems. Learn about five such tools that should be part of any hacker's tool set.

Ethical hacking covers a diverse range of techniques used to discover vulnerabilities in an organization's cyberdefenses in order to help protect them against cyber attacks. As attacks come in many shapes and sizes, ethical hackers should make sure they mirror techniques used by criminals. Thankfully, various tools are available to emulate and automate some of the hacking process.

The following are five ethical hacking tools every hacker should know how to use.

1. Nmap

To hack a company, an ethical hacker needs to discover its weak spots and possible points of entry. Nmap is a free tool that scans an organization's infrastructure for open ports. If open ports are found, ethical hackers can then run scripts against them to determine vulnerabilities and whether the vulnerabilities provide an entry point into the organization's network.

Be aware that Nmap is just a starting point; ethical hackers need to have skills and knowledge to use the information Nmap scans return.

2. Gobuster

Gobuster is like Nmap for websites. Many websites have hidden links, for example, to extra login pages or administrative areas of the site. Gobuster scans for hidden areas not indexed by Google or discoverable through normal website interaction. These can provide alternative avenues to explore and lead to administrative interfaces that can be brute-forced or logged in to with credentials stolen from data breaches.

3. Burp Suite Professional

An essential component of any ethical hacker tool set, Burp Suite Professional is hands down the best tool for assessing a website's security. It is a proxy tool that intercepts requests and responses between a user's browser and the website, providing visibility into how the website functions. This enables ethical hackers to manipulate those requests to trigger vulnerabilities in the website or gain access to prohibited areas.

A free version of Burp Suite Pro is available, but it lacks many useful capabilities, such as automatically scanning websites for known vulnerabilities. The Pro version costs $449 per user per year.

4. Metasploit Framework

The key difference between a vulnerability assessment and a penetration test is the latter has an exploitation phase. In the pen testing exploitation phase, a vulnerability is discovered and then exploited to see if any further weaknesses can be detected.

Metasploit Framework, a penetration testing tool, has more than 2,000 exploits to test against a system. The tool goes well beyond demonstrating vulnerability exploitability. It also enables hackers to keep track of their targets and create custom payloads to evade antimalware.

Metasploit Framework is free; a Pro version is also available for commercial use.

5. Python

Although not a hacking tool per se, ethical hackers must be flexible and be able to tweak existing scripts or write their own scripts for each engagement. Python is the go-to tool for writing custom scripts. Learning how to use Python during pen testing should be high on every ethical hacker's agenda.

This was last published in October 2022

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