5 offensive open source security tools for red teaming

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The red team is one of the most difficult areas of cybersecurity to develop and maintain a skill base. For those on the offensive side of the security equation – for example, penetration testers – it can be difficult to establish an initial set of skills and keep them up to date over the long haul.

Other than large companies, few organizations can afford full-time Red Teams. So, unless you are employed by a service provider such as a consulting firm or MSSP that offers offense-based services to clients, there are few positions compared to advocates.

Offensive skills training is also somewhat specialized, as the skills taught are less directly applicable to blue teams. In addition, specialized training can be expensive. This results in organizations reluctant to hire and train someone rather than hire someone with a fully developed skill base.

How then does someone who is considering a career path in the Red Team acquire foundational skills? One way is to hone and maintain the skills associated with the use of offensive security tools. But which ones?

Here are five popular open source offensive security tools for you to consider. There are many great business tools out there, but these open source options are available to everyone. This allows cybersecurity professionals to start practicing and develop their skill base immediately.

An important caveat: just as these tools can help develop fundamental and necessary skills in a legal and ethical manner, they can also be used for illegal and unethical purposes. Users are responsible for ensuring that their use is both legal and ethical.

The differences between penetration testing and the red team

1. Metasploit framework

The Metasploit framework provides a common and standardized interface to many services of interest to pen testers, researchers and red teams. This includes working with exploits and payloads, as well as ancillary tasks that do not use payload.

Vulnerability researchers have historically written exploit scripts or proof of concept code for exploits they have discovered. This often resulted in usability issues as some scripts were poorly documented, included non-standard usage conventions, or were unreliable when it came to using them as a test harness to validate issues. The Metasploit framework has remedied these problems.

Metasploit is the de facto standard interface for working with operating code and payloads. It standardizes the way red teams and pen testers interact with exploit code. From the perspective of the red team, it streamlines work by providing important services such as payloads – i.e. shellcode – so that the red team can focus on the vulnerability itself. . For the tester, this also provides a standard way to interact so that they can focus on the problem they are testing and not on the thoroughness of running the exploit code itself.

To get started with Metasploit, try the Metasploitable companion project. It provides a deliberately weakened VM for testing usage and developing skills.

2. Zed Attack Proxy (ZAP)

Offense involves more than just being able to perform feats. Especially with web applications, it is important to be able to see and manipulate the requests that occur between a browser and a web server. One category of tools that facilitate this are attack proxies. These tools sit between a browser and a remote web server so that users can examine and even manipulate the traffic between these devices. Likewise, attack proxies often contain automated mapping and exploration tools, automated website analysis tools, and information tools such as URL, Hex, and Base64 encoders and decoders.

OWASP’s Zed Attack Proxy (ZAP) is an attack proxy.

3. Browser Operating Framework (BEeF)

An attack proxy is great for exercising the functionality of a remote website, but what if you want to attack a given user more directly? For example, to test the resilience of users’ browsing habits or to test whether they would notice any warning signs of being part of an attack chain.

One way to do this is to use tools that hook one or more tabs in a target’s browser and provide some level of control to an attacker. This in turn can be used as an advanced “staging area” by an attacker to gain more traction in an environment or move sideways. The Browser Exploitation Framework (BeEF) allows red teams to do just that.

4. Atomic Red Team

The Atomic Red Team project is a set of scripts that can be used to simulate the activity of an attacker. The project provides a set of portable tests, each mapped to the Miter ATT & CK framework, which can be used to exercise protection and strengthening strategies in an organization.

Atomic Red Team is a useful tool for red and blue team members. For the blue team, it is a useful way to validate the controls protecting the environment. On the attack side, deconstructing attacking techniques can help Red teams understand how those techniques work and how to apply them.

5. Social Engineer Toolkit (SET)

An often overlooked area is testing user resilience against manipulation, coercion, and cunning. The Social-Engineer Toolkit (SET) provides mechanisms to quickly create artifacts that may appear legitimate to a user and that can be used to test different scenarios. With it, Red Teams can send legitimate-looking emails to target users, attempt a spear phishing attack containing malicious attachments and fraudulent SMS messages.

Other offensive security tools to try

These five are a small subset of the many great tools available. Other offensive security tools to learn include Wireshark to help examine network activity and special-purpose tools like Mimikatz and Molehunt.

To dig beyond this list, look for Linux distros that focus on penetration testing such as Kali, BlackArch, or Parrot. These distributions bring together hundreds of specialist tools in one place, which can help Red Teams know which tools do what.


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