Free security tools that really work

Penetration testing, hack testing, and password cracking: Free utilities are out there to help you do all these tasks and more

I frequently thank vendors and developers for releasing cool, free, useful software to the masses. We computer security types need as much help as we can get.

Sysinternals is always at the top of my thank you list. Mark Russinovich and his partner, Bryce Cogswall, have been making cool utilities (such as Autoruns and Filemon) to help us for years. No single person knows everything about Windows, but Mark probably knows more than anybody.

It then comes as no great surprise that Microsoft bought Sysinternals a few weeks ago. Mark is a Microsoft employee now. It's kind of ironic, considering that Microsoft helped get him fired more than a decade ago for releasing intellectual product secrets to the public. Mark helped write a magazine article detailing the few small points that separated NT 4.0 Workstation from NT 4.0 Server, and Microsoft struck back -- or so the rumor goes. Ten years later and Microsoft pays him large sums of money for his company and expertise. How sweet is that revenge?

I, for one, am glad that Microsoft got another great mind. When it comes to securing the world’s most popular desktop OS, the more great minds working at Microsoft, the better. The past few months of patches have been as brutal as ever -- the number of patches, the patch bugs, and increasing number of zero-day exploits being released just after Patch Tuesday.

Unfortunately, there is a very real fear that Mark will never again release a cool utility. Mark is getting paid to think at Microsoft, and I’m not sure if thinking includes coding. Let’s hope that either way, Mark’s new position leads to better products and utilities and fewer patches.

Foundstone is another company I’ve given kudos to before. I must disclose that I do work for Foundstone, but I was a fan of their free utilities for many years before I went to work for them. I especially enjoy reading newsgroup postings with people saying they love Foundstone’s free utilities.

Many of Foundstone's tools became instant computer security classics, such as Superscan (an excellent port scanner), Fport (a port enumerator), stress testing tools, and all sorts of malware scanners. These are programs and tools that Foundstone’s own expert consultants and penetration testers use during security audits: When Foundstone has a security need that begs automation, one of its many excellent programmers codes a quick program. I’m still surprised by how many of our internal tools end up being given away on the Web.

But it is the last round of tools that have really caught my eye. If you haven’t taken a look at Foundstone’s free security tools in a few months, you really owe yourself another visit. Here’s a summary of my favorites:

-- Fscrack is a Windows GUI front end to John the Ripper. "John," as we pen testers like to call it, is the fastest free password hash cracker available. What it does, it does well. It has dozens of options and ways to customize, but as a command-line tool, user-friendliness isn’t one of its strong points. GUIs slow down command-line tools, but Foundstone made a GUI front end that makes configuration a snap, and the resulting syntax command then runs in the normal command-line mode. It’s similar to Nmapfe, if you are familiar with Nmap’s GUI front-end tool.

-- HackPack is a simple concept that allows security administrators to keep many of their most popular security tools up to date. Think RSS feeds for your security tools.

-- Hacme Platform (Hacme Casino, Hacme Bookstore, Hacme Shipping, and so on) is a collection of local virtual Web-based environments made just for hacking. You install and then learn how to exploit common vulnerabilities. Developed for a wide range of technologies (.Net, Java, ASP, Cold Fusion MX, and so on), the idea is to use these tools to teach your developers what not to do.

-- SiteDigger allows you to penetration-test a Web site by checking for vulnerabilities using information found in Google’s cache -- it requires use of a Google API license, also free. Yes, you can pen-test a Web site without the site ever being aware of your direct presence. SiteDigger checks for common vulnerabilities as identified by Foundstone and uses the even larger database collected at Johnny Long’s Google Hacking Database site.

-- WSDigger is a black box pen-testing tool for Web services.

Of course,’s Top 100 Network Security Tools Web site is the best security tool list on the planet. You can take a look at top network security tools as voted by nmap-hackers mailing list participants.

The listprovides a good summary description of each tool, displays the platform they run on, and tells you whether the tool is free or commercial. Most are free. Even if you’ve been doing computer security for years, if you haven’t visited this list, you will pick up a handful of utilities that you’ll use the rest of your career.

And as always, be sure to thank the vendors and developers who give us our excellent tools.