As the stakes for securing online assets continue to rise, ethical hacking allows organizations to legally get insight into the workings of threat actors and improve their security posture through security professionals.
Ethical hacking tools simulate cyberattacks on systems, applications, and networks to expose vulnerabilities that hackers delight in exploiting.
The ever-rising sophistication of cyberthreats makes ethical hacking software and tools a necessity for businesses that value their cybersecurity.
Here are our 8 choices for the top ethical hacking software and tools:
- Nmap: Best for network discovery and mapping (Read more)
- Intruder: Best for cloud-based vulnerability scanning (Read more)
- Invicti: Best for web application security testing (Read more)
- Metasploit: Best for exploit development and testing (Read more)
- Nessus: Best for comprehensive vulnerability assessment (Read more)
- SQLMap: Best for SQL injection (SQLi) detection and exploitation (Read more)
- Wireshark: Best for network protocol analysis (Read more)
- Acunetix: Best for automated web vulnerability scanning (Read more)
Top ethical hacking software and tools comparison
Since there’s no shortage of ethical hacking software, it is crucial to understand the capabilities of the tools in consideration to make an informed decision. Here’s a comparison of our top picks based on their features and pricing.
|Network scanning||Web vulnerability scanning||SQLi detection||Exploit development||Protocol analysis||Cloud-based||Automated scanning||Starting price|
|Intruder||✔||✔||✔||✘||✘||✔||✔||$160/mo. for 1 application|
- Key features of ethical hacking software & tools
- How do I choose the best ethical hacking software & tools for my business?
- Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Best for network discovery and mapping
Nmap, short for Network Mapper, is a popular open-source tool for network discovery and security auditing. Network and system administrators can discover devices running on a network and find open ports along with various attributes of the network, among other services.
Nmap runs on all major computer operating systems, showing its versatility, which strengthens its position as a top choice for assessing the security posture of networks.
Nmap is open-source and free to use, meaning you can use and distribute according to the terms of their license.
- Host discovery to identify active devices on a network.
- Port scanning (Figure A) for the detection of open ports on network devices.
- OS detection feature determines the OS of networked devices.
- Version detection to identify application and service versions.
- Scriptable interaction using the Nmap Scripting Engine (NSE).
- Impressive network discovery and mapping capabilities.
- Supports dozens of mapping and scanning techniques.
- Open source network discovery tool.
- Command-line interface might be intimidating for beginners.
- Requires regular updates to maintain accuracy.
Best for cloud-based vulnerability scanning
Intruder is a leading cloud-based vulnerability scanner that helps users find cybersecurity weaknesses in their online systems before threat actors do. It proactively scans for new threats and provides distinctive threat interpretation to simplify vulnerability management and avoid expensive data breaches.
Intruder also offers a continuous penetration testing service, strengthening it as a great choice to find weaknesses before hackers without needing in-house expertise.
Intruder offers three plans: Essential, Pro, and Premium. Pricing for each of them varies based on the number of applications and infrastructure targets to be scanned, starting at $160 per month for one of each. You can use their pricing calculator, contact Intruder for a custom quote, or try a 14-day free trial of the Pro subscription.
- Automated external, internal, cloud, web, and API vulnerability scans (Figure B).
- Intelligent issue prioritization to visualize all vulnerabilities in a single platform.
- Continuous penetration testing service.
- Effortless reporting and compliance features.
- User-friendly interface that’s great for non-technical users.
- Regularly updated with the latest vulnerability checks.
- Delivers actionable insights and remediation advice.
- Pricing can be on the higher side for small businesses.
- Limited to online assets and cloud environments.
Best for web application security testing
Invicti, formerly known as Netsparker, is an automated application security testing software that helps enterprises secure thousands of websites and greatly mitigate the risks of attacks. With a strong focus on automation, it offers a suite of tools for exposing vulnerabilities in web applications and empowers enterprises with complex environments to confidently automate their web security.
Invicti offers two premium plans, Invicti Pro and Invicti Enterprise, though neither of them have transparent pricing models. The company also offers a free trial and a demo, and its pricing is based on the number of applications and APIs. Contact Invicti for detailed pricing.
- Automated web vulnerability scanning (Figure C).
- Advanced crawling and analysis of web applications, websites, and APIs.
- Detection of thousands of vulnerabilities with great scan accuracy.
- Detailed vulnerability reports with remediation advice.
- Vast coverage of web vulnerabilities.
- User-friendly interface with intuitive dashboards.
- Continuous scanning and real-time alerts.
- Might generate false positives that need manual verification.
- Pricing can be steep for extensive web portfolios.
Best for exploit development and testing
Metasploit is a penetration testing product by Rapid7 that allows users to safely simulate practical attacks on their networks to prepare their security teams to identify, mitigate, and stop real attacks. It has a vast database of payloads and exploits to increase the productivity of penetration testers, prioritize and demonstrate risk, and gauge security awareness using real-world attack scenarios.
Metasploit Framework is free and open-source, while Metasploit Pro offers advanced features with pricing available upon request.
- Extensive collection of exploits and payloads.
- Ability to craft and execute custom exploits.
- Auto, manual, and post-exploitation features.
- Vulnerability validation and risk assessment (Figure D).
- Regularly updated with the latest exploits.
- Integration with other popular security tools.
- Great for both beginners and advanced users.
- The command-line interface can frustrate non-technical users.
- It can be resource intensive during active scans or exploitation.
Best for holistic vulnerability assessment
Nessus, one of the most trusted vulnerability assessment tools in the cybersecurity industry, offers users a full assessment of their environment in a rapidly changing security world. It is a solution meant to simplify vulnerability assessment and offer users peace of mind in approaching vulnerabilities, resulting in less time and effort taken to assess and remediate issues.
Nessus offers two versions. Nessus Professional starts at $3,590 for the first year, and Nessus Expert starts at $5,290 — excluding support and training costs for each plan.
- More than 450 prebuilt policies and templates (Figure E).
- Internal and external network scanning.
- Configuration audits and malware detection.
- Integration with patch management solutions.
- Clean, user-friendly interface with detailed reports.
- Regularly updated vulnerability database.
- Supports custom plugins for tailored scans.
- Pricing may be steep for smaller organizations.
- Advanced configurations might require technical expertise.
Best for SQL injection (SQLi) detection and exploitation
SQLMap is an open-source penetration testing tool that offers automated detection and exploitation of SQLi flaws and gaining control of database servers. It possesses a powerful detection engine and has a dynamic set of features and switches covering database fingerprinting, which allows users to obtain access to underlying file systems and to enforce commands on operating systems through out-of-band connections.
SQLMap is free and open-source.
- Supports a wide range of databases.
- Automated detection (Figure F) of SQLi flaws.
- Data extraction, database fingerprinting, and password hashing.
- Support for 6 SQLi techniques.
- Thorough SQLi testing capabilities.
- SQLMap is regularly updated with new detection techniques.
- It’s a command-line tool with extensive documentation.
- Lack of a graphical user interface.
- Requires some knowledge of SQL for advanced exploitation.
Best for network protocol analysis
Wireshark is a renowned network protocol analyzer that allows users to capture and inspect packets traversing their network. With its deep inspection capabilities, Wireshark provides insights into network behavior, which makes it a great tool for network troubleshooting and security analysis.
Wireshark is free and open-source.
- Deep packet inspection and analysis (Figure G).
- Wireshark supports a wide range of protocols.
- Filtering capabilities for targeted analysis.
- Graphical and command-line interfaces.
- Expansive network analysis tool.
- It is regularly updated with support for new protocols.
- Extensive online documentation and community support.
- Can be overwhelming for beginners.
- It needs substantial system resources for large captures.
Best for automated web vulnerability scanning
Acunetix is an automated security testing tool that empowers smaller security teams to handle large application security problems, ensuring organizations manage risk across all kinds of web applications. It automates manual security processes and directly integrates into development tools to allow developers and security teams to work seamlessly and more efficiently.
Acunetix’s pricing is not publicly listed. Detailed pricing is available upon request.
- Detection of over 7,000 web vulnerabilities (Figure H), including zero-days.
- Integrated web application security with developer tools.
- Support for continuous integration.
- Widespread web vulnerability coverage.
- Intuitive, user-friendly interface.
- Offers continuous vulnerability scans.
- Can be expensive for organizations with extensive web portfolios.
- It isn’t immune to false positives.
Key features of ethical hacking software and tools
There is a wide variety of approaches taken by ethical hacking software. Depending on your use case, you should keep an eye out for most or all of the following features.
With network scanning, you can discover devices and services on a network and identify active devices, open ports and the services running on them. This offers a holistic view of the network’s topology, helping organizations understand potential entry points and weak spots in their infrastructure.
Web vulnerability scanning
This feature focuses on scanning web applications to expose vulnerabilities such as SQLi, cross-site scripting, and other web-specific threats. Since web applications are key to business operations today, web vulnerability scanning ensures their security to prevent data breaches and maintain trust.
Tools with this feature can identify potential SQLi vulnerabilities in web applications, which often leads to unauthorized database access. As SQLi remains a prevalent threat, these features are quite crucial to detecting vulnerabilities and protecting sensitive data stored in databases.
Exploit development and testing
Some ethical hacking tools can develop, test, and deploy custom exploits against identified vulnerabilities, simulating real-world attack scenarios. Exploit development and testing helps to prioritize patches and countermeasures.
Protocol analysis is about capturing and analyzing network traffic to understand the behavior of protocols and detect anomalies. Analyzing network traffic will help you detect unauthorized data transfers, ongoing cyberattacks, or other malicious activities.
Some ethical hacking tools operate in the cloud, offering scalability and remote access capabilities. The cloud migration that defines today’s technology landscape echoes the need for tools that can operate in or assess cloud environments and ensure consistent security posture across platforms.
The ability to scan without manual intervention gives organizations regular and consistent security assessments. Automation ensures that vulnerabilities are detected promptly, reducing the window of opportunity for attackers.
How do I choose the best ethical hacking software and tools for my business?
To identify the ethical hacking tool that is perfect for you, it is important to consider a few factors. You need to be aware of the scope of your infrastructure. For instance, is your infrastructure solely web-based? Are your network and computer security also in consideration? By asking these questions, you will gain a better understanding of your needs and the type of tool that satisfies them.
To narrow it down even further, you should consider the platforms supported by the tools in consideration. Are the platforms you use compatible with the tools you are considering?
The size of your organization and budget should also influence your decision. You need to be sure the selected tool will be well-suited to the size of your digital environment and whether you can cut costs by using open-source tools for some features that address your security needs.
Finally, always consider demos where available to give you a real feel of how the tools work.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Are ethical hacking tools legal?
Yes, ethical hacking tools are legal when used with proper authorization and for legitimate purposes like securing an organization’s own systems. Unauthorized use against systems without consent is not only illegal but also unethical.
Can I use multiple ethical hacking tools simultaneously?
Yes, many organizations use a combination of tools to ensure they cover their whole attack surface. Each tool might offer unique features or be best in specific areas, so using them in tandem can provide a more holistic security assessment.
Is it safe to use ethical hacking tools?
When used correctly and responsibly, ethical hacking tools are safe. However, only authorized personnel should have access to these tools to prevent misuse.
Do I need a background in cybersecurity to use these tools?
While some tools are user-friendly and designed for relative beginners, others might need a foundational understanding of cybersecurity concepts. It’s beneficial to have some knowledge or training, especially for more advanced tools.
We chose software tools that cover different aspects of ethical hacking then compared their features, usability, and pricing. We also assessed their product pages and compared their listed offerings with verified user reviews to understand how users respond to the listed tools.
Bottom line: Protecting your organization with ethical hacking tools
As hackers become more sophisticated, the ability to legally and ethically place oneself in their shoes with the aim to improve the security posture of organizations is a necessity today. Investing in these tools promises to level the playing field against threat actors, helping organizations better secure their digital assets and grow trust with their stakeholders.
There are ethical hacking tools for all sizes of teams, use cases, and budgets. However, these tools need to be used responsibly and with the right authorization to ensure that they don’t inadvertently become the threats they aim to combat.
To ensure your team has the expertise needed to use ethical hacking tools effectively, you may want to have them pursue a cybersecurity certification.