How to Set Up a Personal Lab for Ethical Hacking?

Ethical hacking is a skill that is learned over time. It requires practice and patience to get to a decent skill level in this field. Having a lab setup handy can help you a lot in your learning. A lab lets you practice your skills in a controlled environment, reducing the risks that arise from practicing on real systems. Having your virtual lab will help you in many ways:

  • You can practice anytime as per your convenience.
  • You don’t have to put your data under the dangers of getting wiped because of malware infection.
  • You are also saved from legal troubles that may result from testing on a real website that you do not own.
  • You get the freedom to experiment and tweak around (mostly impossible with online labs).

The requirements for setting up the lab are hardware and software tools. Let’s go through the hardware requirements first.

1. Hardware Requirements:

  • A laptop or a desktop with as much RAM and processor power you can arrange.
  • A large HDD or SSD to store your tools and other important files.
  • A host OS for your computer system. It can be Windows, Linux( any family, any flavor) or Mac OS depending on your choice.
  • Latest security patches must be installed on your guest OS before you start.
  • A WiFi adapter that supports monitor mode. (Optional)

2. Software Requirements:

  • Virtual Machine Player or Hypervisor: This will be used to host all the guest operating systems, vulnerable virtual machines, and test servers. There are many free and paid options for hypervisors provided by many vendors. For example, VMware has VMWare workstation, Oracle has Oracle VirtualBox and Microsoft has HyperV. You can choose any of these depending on your choice and budget.
  • Guest Operating Systems: Guest operating systems will include unpatched versions of Windows and Linux. These will be installed to test for zero-days and other vulnerabilities for which patches, as well as exploits, have been released.
  • Vulnerable VMs: Vulnerable Virtual Machines are developed intentionally for being highly vulnerable. Most of the VMs are parts of hacking events and are released later online. These VMs are usually CTFs with hidden strings that are to be found after compromising (pwning) the VM. Some popular vulnerable VMs are Metasploitable, OWASP broken web application, DVWA(Damn Vulnerable Web Application), BadStore, De-Ice, and Multidae, etc.

3. Essential Tools:

Once you have found and installed your favorite vulnerable assets, it is now time to get the tools required for pwning them. Install these tools on your computer to get started.

  • Metasploit Framework (MSF): An open-source version of the Metasploit tool is used extensively for exploiting known vulnerabilities in systems and software. The exploit list is updates regularly with exploits of most recent findings that went public. Metasploit can be downloaded from: here.
  • WireShark: It is a tool used by network administrators but you can use it to supplement your hacking tools arsenal. For you as a hacker(ethical, of course) this tool will help in network pentesting by the same basic feature of network monitoring :it can help you harvest sensitive data like plaintext passwords over unencrypted connections(http, telnet), analyze malware behavior by figuring out the endpoints it tries to connect, and many more. We have done an introductory article on Wireshark which you can check out here
  • Nmap: One tool to rule ’em all, it is used by almost every penetration tester. It is a port scanner with a set of additional utilities like OS detection and network mapping(nmap stands for “network mapper” ). It can be automated by writing scripts in NSE(nmap scripting environment). Port scans are used to enumerate services and applications on the target. These enumeration data can be really useful in some cases for pwning the target. Get it here .
  • John The Ripper: It is a free and open-source password cracking tool which is highly popular among penetration testers. Popularity is the reason why it is available on fifteen platforms. The tools were initially designed for cracking UNIX password hashes. However, the latest stable release from May 2019 supports Windows NTLM, Kerberos and hundreds of other hashes.
  • Burpsuite or OWASP ZAP: Both are great all in one tool for penetration testing web applications. Learning about hacking web applications is crucial for an aspiring (ethical) hacker since most of the services are provided online. These two tool-sets contain all the tools you will need for hacking (ethically) into a web application.
  • Kali Linux: It is an operating system developed primarily for white hat hackers and penetration testers. This OS has a wide array of tools for almost every task before, during and after a penetration testing session. It contains all the tools mentioned above (No need for installing them manually). Kali Linux can be downloaded from here
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