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Top Penetration Testing Tools and Methodologies

Chandan Gaur | 05 April 2023

Penetration Testing Tools

Introduction to Penetration Testing Tools

Penetration Testing, also termed as pen testing, is the process of finding vulnerabilities in a target environment. Further, it involves a testing network, web applications, APIs, endpoints, and other components that an attacker could exploit after finding weaknesses referred to as vulnerabilities. Furthermore, Penetration testing tools help assess the system's security and find the system's vulnerabilities before an attacker. Penetration testing is manually or with the help of specific tools. Professional cyber-security expert generally performs penetration testing. It helps to simulate real-world attack scenarios to discover potential security gaps and weak spots in the attack surface.

Penetration testing Safeguard the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of any computer resource. Source: Penetration Testing Benefits and Best Practices

What is the difference between Vulnerability Assessment (VA) and Penetration Testing (PT)?

Vulnerability assessment aims to find the vulnerabilities in an environment and measure their potentiality and severity, whereas penetration testing aims to find and exploit the vulnerabilities in the same way as an attacker does and infiltrate more in-depth into the environment.

Penetration testing is a broad and comprehensive approach to finding all the vulnerabilities in an attack surface. In contrast, Penetration Testing is an in-depth approach that helps penetrate the environment deeper and check the extent of damage caused. Thus, a vulnerability assessment is list-oriented, whereas penetration testing is goal-oriented.

Vulnerability Assessment is performed using automated tools. Still, penetration testing requires a cyber-security professional to get the best result as it requires in-depth analysis according to the environment attack surface.

Vulnerability Assessment comes into the picture when an organization knows that there are security loopholes or weaknesses in their system, and they need to identify and remediate those loopholes or deficiencies. On the other hand, one must perform Penetration Testing when an organization has all the security postures and controls. They want to test whether an attacker could break into their systems and the risks associated with such intrusion activities. In other words, VA helps to improve the security architecture, whereas PT allows to validate or verify the security architecture.

Vulnerability Assessment intends to find all the possible flaws in an environment. In contrast, Penetration Testing wants to see some potential drawbacks and exploit those flaws to gain unauthorized access to information and resources and evaluate specific attack scenarios.

Vulnerability Assessment follows a breadth-over-depth approach, whereas Penetration Testing follows a center-overbreadth approach.

Application vulnerability is a defect that could  misuse to jeopardize the security of the application. Source: Application Security – Vulnerabilities Checklist

What are the Phases of Penetration Testing?

The entire process of penetration testing is in five phases or stages. They are:

  • Planning and Information Gathering (Reconnaissance)
  • Scanning
  • Gaining Access
  • Maintaining Access
  • Covering Tracks and Analysis

Planning and Information Gathering (Reconnaissance)

This phase of penetration testing involves defining the test's scope and goals, gathering information about the target and environment. In addition to this, it is essential to understand the functionality of the target and the underlying processes. Moreover, this step also involves the development of an attack plan and the pattern of engagement.


This phase involves scanning the target environment and gain potential information, i.e., weaknesses or vulnerabilities or security loopholes about the target and its underlying infrastructure. Adding further, in this phase, the attacker tries to understand the working of the target by analyzing its response to various scans and intrusion activities.

Gaining Access

In this phase, the attacker tries to gain access to the target system. The attacks attempt to exploit the vulnerabilities and perform various types of attacks. During this phase, the attacks also aim to find the extent of damage and the sensitive information to compromise.

Maintaining Access

In this phase, the attacker tries to keep access to the compromised system by making some changes to the target system and its environment. The main idea behind this is to have prolonged access to the target system and simulate Advanced Persistence Threat (APT) scenarios.

Covering Tracks and Analysis

This phase involves covering the tracks and eliminating any traces of the attacker's existence by deleting or manipulating files, logs, reversing the attacker's changes, and other such traces. In addition, this phase also includes the generation of the penetration testing analysis report by the attacker or tester. The report can consist of the discovered vulnerabilities, exploited vulnerabilities, disclosed sensitive data, and other information required as per the terms of engagement.

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What are the Best Penetration Testing Tools?

Many security professionals use Penetration testing tools to automate tasks as well as with the intention of improving testing efficiency. As per XenonStack Research, we come up with a list of various Penetration testing tools.

A good tool possesses the following features -

  • Easy to deploy, configure, and use.
  • Scan system easily.
  • Categorize vulnerabilities on the basis of severity that needs an immediate fix.
  • Automate the process for verification of vulnerabilities.
  • Generate vulnerability reports and logs in a detailed format.

The top 15 Penetration testing tools are as follows:

  1. Sublist3r – a tool to enumerate subdomains of websites
  2. Enumall – a tool to enumerate subdomains
  3. MassDNS – tool to resolve multiple subdomains quickly
  4. Parameth – a tool to brute discover GET and POST parameters
  5. DirBuster – a tool to brute force directories
  6. SQLMap – a tool to detect and exploit database vulnerabilities
  7. XSStrike – a tool to test websites for XSS vulnerabilities
  8. DOMxsscanner – tool for finding potential DOM-based XSS
  9. XSS hunter – a tool to find all kinds of cross-site scripting vulnerabilities
  10. Ettercap – tool for man-in-the-middle attacks on LAN
  11. OWASP ZAP – open-source web application security scanner
  12. Nikto – web server scanner
  13. Maltego – open-source intelligence and forensics tool
  14. Wpsploit – a tool to pentest wordpress plugins
  15. Fiddler – a web debugging proxy


To sum up, Penetration testing is a wonderful approach to protect critical information from an outsider or third-party who tries to gain unauthorized access to confidential data