So you want to become an ethical hacker and cybersecurity pro? That‘s awesome!
There‘s no better way to level up your skills than hands-on practice. And vulnerable web apps provide the perfect safe and legal hacking playground.
In this guide, I‘ll walk you through 8 amazing vulnerable web applications that will really put your abilities to the test. From beginner-friendly apps to gamified hacking challenges, we‘ve got something for hackers of all skill levels.
I‘ll also share my personal experiences and tips for making the most out of these apps.
So strap in, fire up Kali Linux, and let‘s get hacking!
Why You Need Vulnerable Web Apps in Your Hacking Toolkit
Before we get into the apps, let‘s first look at why vulnerable web apps should be part of every ethical hacker‘s toolkit:
Test and Improve Your Skills in a Safe Environment
The great thing about these apps is that they let you try out hacking techniques safely. You can experiment freely and really push your abilities without worrying about damaging any real systems or breaking laws.
It‘s like flight simulators for pilots – a safe way to learn and gain experience. Except in this case, you‘re hacking intentionally vulnerable apps instead of flying virtual planes.
Understand How Different Attacks Work Under the Hood
By looking under the hood of these apps as you hack them, you gain invaluable insight into how various attacks work in practice.
Nothing beats first-hand experience when it comes to information security. You get to see the actual code and exploitation steps rather than just theoretical concepts.
Identify Weak Areas in Your Skills
When you try hacking these apps, you may sometimes get stuck. This helps reveal gaps in your knowledge or weaknesses in certain skills.
Identifying these weak spots is itself hugely beneficial. It lets you focus your learning to strengthen those areas.
Practice Using Popular Hacking Tools Like Burp Suite
These apps are specifically designed to support common hacking tools like Burp Suite, sqlmap etc. This makes them perfect sandboxes to practice using those tools.
You can fiddle with the tools and get comfortable with them without fear of messing up any production systems. Ability to use tools effectively is an invaluable skill every hacker needs.
Prep Yourself for Careers in Cybersecurity
The skills you build through these apps will serve you extremely well in real world security roles.
Many practicing cybersecurity pros also use these apps to expand their skills. So they are a great way to prep for exciting careers in fields like penetration testing.
Demonstrate and Reference Your Skills
Some of these apps generate reports and stats that track your progress. These make great additions to your hacking portfolio and resume.
In interviews and applications, you can reference challenges you‘ve completed in these apps as proof of your abilities.
Lastly, hacking vulnerable apps is super fun! They turn learning into an engaging, game-like experience.
You‘ll love the thrill of spotting a clever vulnerability or bypassing a tough defense. And the challenges provide great motivation to keep improving your hacking talents.
So in summary, vulnerable web apps let you build vital skills safely while having a blast! They are invaluable tools for growth as an ethical hacker.
Top 8 Vulnerable Web Applications For Budding Hackers
Now that you know why you need these apps, let‘s look at some of the best options available today:
1. Damn Vulnerable Web Application (DVWA)
Damn Vulnerable Web Application is one of the most popular and often recommended vulnerable apps, especially for beginners.
It‘s an intentionally vulnerable PHP/MySQL web app that covers major security vulnerabilities seen in the wild. Let‘s look at some key features:
Realistic vulnerabilities: DVWA contains common vulnerabilities like XSS, SQLi, file upload flaws, insecure user auth etc. All the vulnerabilities are practical ones found in real apps.
Difficulty levels: A brilliant aspect of DVWA is that it supports multiple difficulty levels for each vulnerability. This helps you gradually improve your hacking game.
The levels range from beginner to impossible and modify security measures like disabling error messages, WAFs etc. to pose greater challenges.
Support for tools: DVWA is designed to work seamlessly with popular hacking tools like Burp Suite and sqlmap. This helps you get hands-on with using those powerful tools.
Hints available: Stuck on a challenge? DVWA provides useful hints to point you in the right direction. This makes it a bit more beginner-friendly than apps that leave you fully stuck when you hit a roadblock.
Open source: DVWA is open source. So you can review the source code as you hack to better understand the vulnerabilities.
Reports: It generates reports on your progress and success with the different modules. Helpful for tracking improvement over time.
In my experience, DVWA is one of the best places for beginners to get their feet wet with hacking vulnerable apps.
The clear structure, difficulty levels, and hints help ease you into the applications security mindset. After working through DVWA, you‘ll have a solid foundation to take on more complex apps.
To get started, simply install DVWA on a web server like XAMPP or LAMP. Then access it through the browser and you‘re all set to hack!
WebGoat is another beginner-friendly vulnerable web app that‘s extremely popular.
Maintained and regularly updated by OWASP, it aims to teach common web app vulnerabilities through lessons and exercises. Let‘s look at some of its best bits:
Lesson structure: The lessons are WebGoat‘s best feature. Each one walks you through how a specific vulnerability works, then challenges you to exploit it.
For example, the Cross-Site Scripting lesson first explains what XSS is. It then shows the vulnerable code. Finally, you have to craft a successful XSS payload to complete that lesson.
This structured learning path works wonderfully for getting to grips with each major vulnerability type.
Wide range of flaws: WebGoat covers vulnerabilities like SQLi, auth bypass, XSS, injection flaws, insecure configs etc. So you get exposure to many types of attacks.
Progress tracking: As you complete lessons, you earn points and can track your progress. Knowing how far you‘ve come helps motivate you to keep learning.
Support for tools: Like DVWA, integration with common hacking tools is baked in to help you gain practical experience.
Multiple languages: A nice little touch is that WebGoat has been translated into many languages like Chinese, Spanish, Russian etc. This makes it more accessible to non-English speakers.
On-demand and offline options: You can either hack the online WebGoat server maintained by OWASP, or run it offline using the GitHub repo. Having both options is handy.
With its guided lessons focused on each vulnerability, WebGoat is fantastic for systematically learning web hacking fundamentals. I‘d definitely recommend starting here even before DVWA.
3. Juice Shop
If you‘re finding DVWA and WebGoat a bit too beginner-friendly, Juice Shop offers the next level of challenge.
Juice Shop throws you into the deep end, with over 80 vulnerabilities of varying difficulty across an entire web app you have to hack. Let‘s see why it‘s so good:
Covers all parts of app: Juice Shop contains flaws across the client and server-side code, APIs, auth, frameworks – basically every component of a modern web app. This really tests your hacking chops.
Huge variety of vulnerabilities: With over 80 vulnerabilities, Juice Shop includes all kinds of flaws like XSS, XXE, SSRF, auth issues, business logic flaws etc. You name a type of web app vulnerability, and Juice Shop likely has it.
Gamified hacking experience: Finding and exploiting the vulnerabilities unlocks achievements, levels you up, and pushes you up the scoreboard. The gamification makes hacking Juice Shop addictive!
CTF-style challenges: Apart from finding vulnerabilities yourself, Juice Shop offers CTF-style challenges with clues that require you to exploit specific flaws. These challenges are super fun to solve.
Works with tools: You can bring your favorite hacking tools like Burp, sqlmap etc. to the party while hacking Juice Shop to make your life easier.
With its sheer volume and variety of high-quality vulnerabilities, gamified experience, and CTF challenges, Juice Shop takes vulnerable web app hacking to the next level.
4. Google Gruyere
Alright, you‘ve conquered DVWA, passed your WebGoat lessons, and pwned Juice Shop.
Time to try your hacking skills against Google Gruyere!
Gruyere is a deliberately vulnerable web app created by Google‘s web security team to educate developers about common flaws. Let‘s see what makes it stand out:
Google-quality challenges: You can expect high quality, well thought out vulnerabilities from Google engineers. The flaws accurately represent real world bad coding practices.
Covers top vulnerabilities: Most prevalent vulnerabilities like XSS, CSRF, SQLi etc. are covered across different challenges. A wide security surface for you to attack.
Source code provided: Gruyere‘s full source code is provided, so you can analyze the flaws in depth as you discover them. Very helpful for learning.
Cheesy gaming theme: Instead of a boring standard app, Gruyere is modeled after cheese with cheesy graphics, mouse cursors etc. The gaming angle makes hacking it more fun!
Hosted by Google: You don‘t need to install anything, since Google hosts a free instance of Gruyere for anyone to hack!
With its Google-grade challenges, gaming spin, and freely accessible hosted instance, Gruyere should definitely be on your checklist of apps to hack after the basics.
5. OWASP Security Shepherd
Once you‘ve gotten a taste of common vulnerabilities, it‘s time to level up your web hacking game further with OWASP Security Shepherd.
As its name suggests, Security Shepherd aims to guide you through sharpening your web app security talents step-by-step. Here are its standout features:
Structured lessons: Shepherd‘s lessons start at beginner level and gradually increase in difficulty. Each lesson builds on previous ones to expand your skills.
Coversadvanced topics: The lessons cover sophisticated vulnerabilities seen in the wild, like cryptography flaws, bot detection evasion etc. This helps elevate your skills.
CTF-style challenges: In addition to lessons, Security Shepherd offers fun CTF-like challenges to test your abilities. The challenges come in increasing difficulty.
Sharpen your web hacking fundamentals: While covering advanced topics, the lessons also revisit foundational areas like XSS, SQLi etc. This helps reinforce and sharpen those core skills.
Public instance or custom labs: You can either use OWASP‘s online instance, or run custom labs locally using the downloadable VM image. Flexibility is nice.
Think of Security Shepherd as an advanced extension of WebGoat, with its structured lessons. Except here the topics covered are more complex and the CTF challenges extremely hard!
6. Damn Vulnerable Bank
By this point, you‘ve likely gotten quite good at hacking standard web apps.
How about testing your skills on a bank application?
Damn Vulnerable Bank presents an intentionally hackable financial application, perfect for simulating attacks in the real world. Let‘s see what you can expect:
Very realistic: DVMB looks and works like an actual online bank app, with account registration, transactions, statements etc. This level of realism helps polish your skills.
Covers financial sector vulnerabilities: You get to exploit flaws specific to the banking world like encryption weaknesses, logic bugs around money transfers etc. These are great to know as a pen tester.
CTF-style challenges: DVMB offers fun hacker challenges requiring you to compromise accounts, leak data, transfer unauthorized money etc. Practical scenarios.
Custom difficulty modes: Depending on your skill level, you can hack DVMB in easy mode with plenty of hints or extreme mode with strict constraints. Nice flexibility.
Videos explaining flaws: The creators have made videos walking through each vulnerability in DVMB and how to exploit it. Very useful learning resources.
Hacking DVMB will make you adept at compromising financial systems, a highly sought after skill. The extremely realistic app is easily the closest you‘ll get to legally hacking real banks!
7. OWASP Buggy Bank
By now, your web hacking skills are likely quite sharp. Ready to test them against over 70 unique vulnerabilities?
OWASP Buggy Bank brings together flaws across 3 difficulty levels into a playground for honing your hacking talents even further.
Over 70 vulnerabilities: The huge number of flaws means tons of variety for you to sink your hacker teeth into. Just about every common vulnerability is represented.
Tutorials for each: Every single vulnerability has an accompanying tutorial walking you through how it works and how to exploit it. This turns Buggy Bank into a treasure trove of learning.
Color-coded difficulty: The flaws are color-coded as easy, medium and hard difficulty. This helps you gradually level up the challenge as your skills improve.
Recommended tools: The tutorials suggest tools like Burp, sqlmap etc. to make exploiting each vulnerability easier. Good nudge to use proper tools.
Runs locally or on VM: You can run Buggy Bank locally on a stack like LAMP or fire up the downloadable vulnerable VM image. Having options is useful.
With such an extensive collection of vulnerabilities and detailed learning guidance, hacking OWASP Buggy Bank is like an accelerated masterclass in web app security.
8. Damn Vulnerable IoT Application (DVIA)
I have one last app that will perfectly round out your hacking education – Damn Vulnerable IoT Application.
As hacking moves beyond just websites into IoT, you need to be able to hack insecure smart devices and ecosystem. That‘s exactly what DVIA lets you do.
Realistic IoT vulnerabilities: DVIA contains vulnerabilities like hardcoded passwords, insecure data storage, unencrypted traffic etc. commonly seen in IoT apps and devices.
Covers IoT-specific attack surfaces: You get to exploit flaws across IoT components like cloud APIs, mobile apps, embedded device firmware etc. This exposes you to the full IoT threat landscape.
Structured CTF-style challenges: The challenges are designed to walk you through exploiting different IoT vulnerabilities. Very helpful for learning.
Well-documented: Documentation explains each vulnerability and provides tips on how to exploit it. Nice guidance if you get stuck while hacking DVIA.
Downloadable VM image: DVIA comes ready as a VirtualBox virtual machine image. No need to install any components to get hacking.
With its extremely relevant focus on IoT platforms, DVIA is the perfect way to round out your hacking education and be ready for the future.
There you have it – my top recommendations for 8 vulnerable web apps that will kick your hacking skills into high gear!
We covered beginner-friendly apps for starting out, gamified hacking experiences to build core skills, extremely challenging variants to test your limits, and even an IoT hacking app for future-proofing your abilities.
These apps are amazing learning resources. Keep practicing with them and you‘ll gain the experience needed to be a talented ethical hacker.
So what are you waiting for? Fire up Kali Linux, get hacking, and have fun making these vulnerable apps beg for mercy! Just be sure to use your powers only for good 🙂
Good luck and may the hack be with you!