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What is Metasploit: Overview, Framework, and How is it Used

With the remarkable evolution of cybercrimes, securing and protecting IT infrastructure and other sensitive online resources has become paramount for every business. Thankfully, there are solutions to address the growing menace that has affected practically every sector and industry in some way or the other. One such tool is Metasploit, an open-source framework based on the penetration testing system and is used to probe systematic vulnerabilities on servers and networks. Metasploit is a boon to businesses since it allows security professionals to discover system vulnerabilities before cybercriminals can exploit any defense breaches. 

This article will give you an overview of the Metasploit framework and its purpose as a tool to mitigate the risks of cyberattacks. 

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What is the Metasploit framework?

Metasploit is an open-source, Ruby-based penetration testing platform that allows users to write, test, and execute exploit code. A penetration testing system or pen test works by simulating a cyber attack to check for susceptible vulnerabilities. It is a form of ethical hacking where white hat penetration testers use various tools and strategies to identify weak spots that could compromise an organization’s security. Likewise, an exploit code takes advantage of a security flaw, enabling intruders to gain remote access to a network. The Metasploit framework comprises many tools, user interfaces, modules, and libraries that allow ethical hackers to perform penetration tests and develop exploits. However, Metasploit’s capabilities make the platform available for misuse by black hat hackers.

Metasploit Framework Components

Modules are primary components of the Metasploit framework. They are independent codes or software designed to accomplish a specific task and are responsible for the Metasploit functionalities. Below is a list of the fundamental modules of the Metasploit framework:

  1. Exploits: Exploits are computer programs that intentionally take advantage of vulnerabilities in the target system to deliver payloads and access sensitive information. 
  2. Payloads: Payloads are malicious bits of code (Meterpreter, Singles, Stagers, etc.) used for attacking target systems. A payload is executed following exploitation when the target system has been compromised.
  3. Posts: Posts or post-exploitation code enables the hacker to penetrate deeper into the target system and network to obtain specific information.
  4. NOP generator: NOP or “no operation in low-level programming” generator keeps the payload from crashing by producing a string of random bytes to dodge IDS and IPS NOP-sled signatures.
  5. Shellcode: Shellcodes are submodules in a payload for uploading malicious code and executing the commands in the payload. 
  6. Auxiliary: Auxiliary modules comprise additional commands and tools such as scanners, SQL injection tools, and DoS attacks. Penetration testers use auxiliary modules for understanding the target system before dealing with exploit modules. 
  7. Listeners: Listener modules are handlers that Metsploit creates to connect with the exploited machine. Listeners interact with sessions established by payloads, enabling pen testers to access information on the target system.
  8. Encoders: The job of the encoder module is to encrypt the exploit and payload to avoid recognition by any kind of security software on the target system. 

The Origin of Metasploit

With assistance from core developer Matt Miller, H.D. Moore initiated the Metasploit project in 2003 as a Perl-based portable network tool for creating and developing exploits. The framework was rewritten in Ruby in 2007 with the subsequent acquisition of the project by Rapid7 in 2009. Henceforth, Metasploit gained popularity as an information security tool for exploit development and mitigation. It has enabled remote testing and eliminated the need to manually perform pen-testing operations, including writing codes and introducing them onto networks. 

How does Metasploit work?

The Metasploit framework provides everything that users need to complete a penetration testing lifecycle which includes the following stages:

  • Planning and reconnaissance:

    Gathering information and defining testing goals.

  • Scanning:

    Understanding how a target responds to intrusions by using scanning tools.

  • Gaining access:

    Staging attacks to identify a target’s vulnerabilities.

  • Maintaining access:

    Imitating APTs to check if a vulnerability can be used to maintain access.

  • Analysis and WAF configuration:

    Configuration of WAF settings before rerunning the test.

Metasploit has components that go through every stage of the penetration testing lifecycle. The following pointers give a brief overview of how Metasploit works:

  • During the information-gathering phase, Metasploit integrates with various reconnaissance tools such as SNMP scanning, Nmap, Windows patch enumeration, etc., to spot the vulnerability in the system.
  • After identifying the weak spot, the pen tester chooses an exploit and payload from Metasploit’s extensive database to penetrate the breach. 
  • A successful exploit results in the payload getting executed at the target, and the pen tester gets a shell for interaction with the payload. Meterpreter is a widely popular payload to attack Windows systems.
  • Once on the target system, Metasploit employs its arsenal of post-exploitation tools such as pass the hash, privilege escalation, packet sniffing, keyloggers, pivoting tools, and screen capture. In case the target machine is rebooted, pen testers also can set up a persistent backdoor. 

The points above are only an outline of what Metasploit can do. Since Metasploit is easily extensible and modular, users can configure the framework as per requirements.

What is the purpose of Metasploit?

The wide-ranging applications of Metasploit make it a practical tool for security professionals and hackers alike. The open-source availability of Metasploit makes it a reliable and easy-to-install framework to detect systematic vulnerabilities. Metasploit includes over 1600 exploits and nearly 500 payloads organized over 25 platforms, including Java, Python, PHP, Cisco, Android, etc. 

Some of the Metasploit payloads include:

  • Dynamic payloads to bypass antivirus software
  • Command shell payloads to run random commands or scripts against a host
  • Static payloads to allow communications and port forwarding between networks
  • Meterpreter payloads to take over sessions and commandeer device monitors using VMC

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Benefits of Metasploit

Metasploit is the preferred choice as a penetration testing framework for the following reasons:

Open-source

Metasploit is open-source with an active developer community. It gives users access to its source code and allows adding their custom modules. 

GUI environment

Metasploit offers GUI and third-party interfaces like Armitage that ease the job of pen testers through services such as quick vulnerability management and easy-to-switch workspaces. 

Smart payload generation and switching

Metasploit makes switching between payloads a cakewalk. The set payload command allows users to quickly change payloads while the msfvenom application simplifies shell code generation.

Support for testing large networks

Metasploit handles penetrating testing on large networks with considerable ease. At the same time, the framework has easy naming conventions for its commands.

Cleaner exits

Metasploit makes a clean exit from systems it has compromised. On the contrary, custom-coded exploits typically crash the system during exits.

Conclusion

Penetrating testing is a deliberate attack on a computer system to find vulnerabilities and identify weak security spots. Thus, a penetration system is helpful to alert organizations of loopholes that could potentially jeopardize their security infrastructure. Further, pen-testing enables organizations to evaluate whether the implemented security controls are adequate to resist any attack and whether existing security measures need revamping. 

Metasploit offers some of the most reliable and efficient tools and methodologies for penetration testing. Open source and easy-to-use, Metasploit provides a comprehensive suite of surveillance and exploitation modules to find systematic weak spots. Besides, the framework can be scaled to support numerous hosts, automate pen-testing steps, and generate insights-rich and actionable reports to repair vulnerabilities quickly. 

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What is Metasploit used for?

Metasploit is a penetrating testing platform that investigates systematic vulnerabilities on servers and networks. It is an open-source framework and can be customized and used with various operating systems.

Do hackers use Metasploit?

Both hackers and security professionals use Metasploit. It is a robust framework that simplifies the task of black hat hackers and allows them to exploit ports and IP addresses.

Who owns Metasploit?

Massachusetts-based security company Rapid7 currently owns Metasploit. Rapid7 acquired the project in 2009.

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