BackTrack Open-Source Penetration Testing Tools

BackTrack for Open-Source Penetration Testing

BackTrack has been renamed Kali Linux since 2013

BackTrack The purpose of this research paper is to research information on the open source tool BackTrack that is used for several network security testing and information systems security testing through various means, and focusing on penetration tools found in BackTrack. BackTrack has hundreds of very complex set of tools and only a few set in the penetration testing section will be covered. Definition of what penetration testing is, and how it can be accomplished using available tools in the BackTrack is discussed. And some of the more common tools are listed with brief explanations about what they do. The topic of why open source software is a great place to start when considering penetration tools is also covered. The only part about ethic that will be covered is the fact that if you attempt to use Backtrack against anyone without there permission it is unethical and depending on the test, it is most likely illegal also.


BackTrack is a Linux distribution that was created from a mix between WHAX and Max Moser’s Auditor Security Collection. Both distributions focused on penetration testing. WHAX had more features and Auditor was more of a stable system.

Auditor had a good Graphical User Interface (GUI) with over 300 tools for trouble shooting, and strengthening network and information systems. Because of the user friendliness of the operating system, it created a better usable environment for penetration testing that lead to the creation of the BackTrack security testing distribution named after the search algorithm backtracking (BackTrack, n.d.).

WHAX gets its name from a combination of White-Hat and SLAX, it was distribution for security tasks. WHAX grew out of from Whoppix (White Hat Knoppox), part of the Knoppix distribution and was a distribution that was based on security. When Whoppix changed parent distributions from Knoppix to SLAX, the name WHAX was created to reflect the change. WHAX made it possible to do penetration testing and verify security measures of a network for computers located in multiple different locations (BackTrack, n.d.).

Backtrack was first released to the public in the beginning of 2007. Compared to the other security penetration testing toolkits available, it was a major advancement. Since 2007, Backtrack’s releases have become a standard, as a penetration toolkit throughout the world. SANS, FBI, and the National Institute for Science and Technology (NIST), have either referenced BackTrack or have used the distribution (BackTrack, n.d.). Currently BackTrack is on release version 5, packaged with the very popular distribution known as Ubuntu GNU/Linux. Possibly one of the best additional features in Backtrack 5 is the ability to go into stealth mode, where no visible network traffic is generated. Additionally users have the option during download to choose 32 or 64-bit installation with either the KDE or Gnome graphical environment. Backtack can also be installed on a bootable USB thumb drive, instead of a bootable DVD. The drive can keep changes as it is moved from one computer to the next and is easier to conceal than a bootable disk.

Open Source Software

Software is open sourced when it is free to redistribute, the source code is redistributed with it as well as in compiled mode. There are several variants of the open source licensing contract that can be reviewed at ( Some of the more widely known open source licenses cover the GNU(Graphic environment of sever Linux desktops), Mozilla (Firefox, Thunderbird), MIT, BSD (like Unix), and Eclipse (Eclipse IDE). The open source licensing was created to make the source code of a program readily available to anyone that requests it. By making the source code available for anyone to access it help in developing stable software because the whole community is able to create changes and redistribute there own version of the software. Open source software protects the original author of the software, does not discriminate in anyway on how it can be used, cannot be specific to a product or software, cannot restrict other software and has to be technology neutral (open source, n.d.).

Because of the lack of dependency on software vendors, open source software allows the software to transform and morph into potentially anything the users and developers need the software to do. It gives users the freedom to use it when they want, how they want and on their own terms.

The advantages of having source code that is open spreads not just to software that is being attacked, but also covers most vulnerability assessment scanners. Vulnerability assessment scanners lie penetration testing, intentionally look for vulnerabilities in configured systems. A Network Computing evaluation found that the best scanner (which, among other things, found the most legitimate vulnerabilities) was Nessus, an open source scanner (Forristal, 2001). Since Nessus version 3 it is now a closed source version.

Penetration Testing

Part of vulnerability assessment of an information systems or network security assessment involves analysis that is easily and often accomplished through the use of penetration testing. By having security system administrators preform controlled attacks on a system or network to try and either compromise or disrupt their systems by exploiting as many documented vulnerabilities as possible. Penetration testing is usually performed on a network from outside a network from a hacker’s point of view. If you fail to look at your own system from an attackers view point, you are failing to maintain readiness standards. The best tools to use are the same tools that are available to the hacker community (Whitman & Mattord, 2005, p. 67).

“There are a number of common problems also. People tend to complete a security test and then believe that they are secure, and do not need to do another test for a prolonged time. People lock systems down prior to test and as soon as test is complete the systems are opened up again” (Would your system survive, 2002). When considering using these tools in the real world it is also important that you get the proper legal paperwork out of the way so that you are not committing any felonies by accident. Let customers know about the attacks and preferably what IP addresses will be used, also an agreed time window that you are allowed to test a corporations security (Would your system survive, 2002).

Hackers that hack for a monetary value, usually do so because of the lack of money. The best way for a hacker to begin is with the same free open source tools that are available to everyone, and that is just another reason why Backtrack has grown in popularity.

Available Tools

There are several tools in Backtrack. Some tools are to review networks by using network sniffers and file integrity checkers. Analyze and identify targets by using application security testing, vulnerability scanning, wireless scanning and network port/service identifiers. Other tools that are used in BackTrack are for finding vulnerable targets with tools that crack passwords, test remote access and use penetration testing.

Additional tools that do not pertain to penetration testing that Backtrack also offers covers privilege escalation, maintaining access, reverse engineering, Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tools, stress testing, forensics, reporting tools, network services, and other miscellaneous tools. For this research paper we will identify some of the more commonly used penetration tools that come with Backtrack. Most of the tools in Backtrack are available for individual use on most common operation systems. The purpose of using Backtrack is to have a common distribution for communities to come together and learn how to use them in a same environment. Backtrack’s ability to be free, and run strait from removable media like a USB, or DVD allows and run on almost any computer also gives it a ease of use that cannot be found with closed source non-free operating systems. Some of the more common tools used for penetration testing on Backtrack are listed below:


• Of all the penetration tools that have the ability to be used as a weapon,, Metaspliot would have to be at the top of the list. Metasploit combines several of the listed penetration testing software into one tool that can be utilized by black or white hats. While it was designed to audit a networs security, it can just as easily be used to launch real attacks on a defenseless network. It was first launched in 2003 before ever being packaged and developed as part of the BackTrack distribution to find network exploits (Bradbury, 2010, para 1).

• Armitage is a GUI extension of Metasploit that allows the ease of use of Metasploit to help security analyst work with Metasploit (Armitage, n.d.).


• According to Kaven, (2003) “Nmap lets you perform stealthy half-open TCP SYN (synchronization) scans to emulate what a hacker using that type of scan might see”, and “bypass your firewalls and intrusion detection systems. You can enhance both scanning methods by using fragmentation scanning, a technique that splits the TCP header over several packets, making it harder for packet filters to detect a hacker’s intentions”.

• When connected to a service database, Nmap can attempt to figure out the version and type of communication going through a port and by using something called O/S fingerprinting can all determine the type of operating system that is running on the remote system through any port that is open.


• Like most penetration applications Wireshark is known for running on any operation platform available: Linux, Windows, Mac and BSD. Wireshark allows you to examine data from a live network or from a capture file on disk.

• It is so such a robust platform that the SANS institute offers a self paced course to full comprehend what can be done with Wireshark. “Intrusion Detection In-Depth,”


• As described in the Driftnet manual, it is a horrific invasion of privacy and shouldn’t be used by anyone, anywhere. It takes tcp packets and assembles then into the pictures that are being viewed by the user. While it is classified as penetration software, the only information that a hacker could possibly take, or use are limited (driftnet, n.d.).

• Driftnet also can capture MPEG audio data from the network and play it (driftnet, n.d.). Once Backtrack is installed all you have to do is type, man driftnet, from a command prompt to read the manual yourself. From a Linux command prompt this will work on most software packages that are non-graphical.


• Started out as a Unix tool like most of the penetration tools in Backtrack but sice then has been exported to Windows, Macs, BSD, and Linux. It is a network probe that shows network usage in a way similar to what the command top does to view computer usage of memory and processes, except with internet traffic (ntop, n.d.).

• Besides sorting traffic by network protocols it can also identify e-mail addresses of employees through a GUI dashboard to see who is on the network and what kind of information is being sent (Dubie, 2007).


• Man in Middle Attacts – Ettercap works by putting the network interface into promiscuous mode and by Arp poisoning the target machines. Then unleash various attacks on the victims. Ettercap has plugin support so that the features can be extended by adding new plugins (Mati, 2003).

• Password that an be collected by Ettercap, include: TELNET, FTP, POP, IMAP, rlogin, SSH1, ICQ, SMB, MySQL, HTTP, NNTP, X11, Napster, IRC, RIP, BGP, SOCKS 5, IMAP 4, VNC, LDAP, NFS, SNMP, Half-Life, Quake 3, MSN, YMSG (Mati, 2003). Newer internet applications like Facebook, Google+ and Twitter can also be compromised.


• Not only is Kismet a wireless network detector and intrusion detection application, it can also help hacker attack a 802.11 network to take control of a browsers cache, to poison it with false information in order to serve false web pages or steal a persons data at a later time using JavaScript files. (Messmer, 2010)


• A application that allows for the active and passive OS fingerprinting or a remote computer. It is capable of surpassing the limitations fo nmap but can also detect computers inside a network that is using a Network Address Translation (NAT) protocol. SinFP can usually guess the O/S on the remote side through one open TCP port and usually with only one to three tests done on the port (SinFP, n.d.).

SMB Sniffer

• Part of the combination of Metasploit packages, it is an application that is also useful when conducting penetration testing. SMB Sniffers allow hackers to capture files communicated within a LAN by SMB protocol.


• Is capable of capturing passwords from several different protocols while they are being used. “A hacker can use Dsniff to “read all of your e-mail, watch all of your instant messages and even synchronize his browser with yours so that it displays the Web pages you visit as you visit them” (.


BackTrack can be considered an all in one tool for penetration testing and network monitoring. While it is a pretty extensive set of tools for a security information systems manager to use, it is also necessary to look into other tools to test the security of your systems also. While open source security tool’s are abound, and you can take advantage of all of them, and avoid paying fees for commercial products, there are several additional tools that are available also. Because information security is such a vast field of study, it is important to not rely on just one set of tools and to research and test other methods to discover and/or remove security vulnerabilities.

Another set of free open source tools that can be utilized is on another Linux distribution called Knoppix STD. There is some several of the same tools on Knoppix STD that are on Backtrack, but it also has some tools that are not that can be used to work on cryptography, computer forensic and other sniffing tools.

All the tools discussed were created for use in a Unix or Linux based operating system. A lot of the tools have been ported to other operation systems, including Windows systems, to allow anyone to download the tools independent of what O/S that is being used and learn how to ethically or unethically hack a system.

Good luck with any future penetration testing you do, please make sure that it is ethical hacking (white hat), because if caught, the fines for hacking could leave in in prison for a long time, and you may be forbidden to even touch a computer again. Even if it doesn’t seem that the punishment fits the crime, even the simplest attacks for no monetary gain can leave you in a heap of trouble. Currently in the U.S. there are no crimes against scanning but attempt it at you own risk.


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About Adam M. Erickson

Geek, Dad, Life-Student, Biker & DIY Enthusiast Application Developer Attended Ferris State University Lives in Muskegon, MI
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