Burp Suite for Penetration Testing of Web Applications

May 8, 2024
| David Tidmarsh
| Penetration Testing

Penetration testing simulates an actual cyber-attack by scanning and exploiting vulnerabilities in an IT environment. This cybersecurity practice aims to identify and resolve security weaknesses before an attacker can find them. 

Safely exploiting vulnerabilities with penetration testing is a beneficial technique, so many pentesting tools are available on the market. You may see tools such as Metasploit, Nmap, Wireshark, OWASP ZAP, and others, although Burp Suite is one of the most popular solutions for penetration testing.

Now, what is Burp Suite? The creation of PortSwigger, Burp Suite is a set of software tools that professionals use for vulnerability scanning and web application pentesting. Burp Suite is a valuable penetration testing toolkit that every cybersecurity professional should know. This guide looks at Burp Suite’s tools and features, use cases, and functionality for professional penetration testing.

What Is Burp Suite Used For?

Burp Suite has a range of features and use cases for evaluating the security of web applications. One of its most well-known use cases involves scanning for many types of vulnerabilities. Burp Suite can identify common security flaws such as SQL injection, cross-site scripting (XSS), cross-site request forgery (CSRF), and more.

By sitting between the user’s browser and the web application, Burp Suite acts as a proxy server. This setup allows the software to intercept and inspect the user’s HTTP requests and the application’s responses, streamlining the process of manipulating and interpreting data sent and received.

In addition to running vulnerability scans and penetration tests, Burp Suite comes with reporting and analysis features. Users can specify a number of configuration options, making it easy to construct detailed reports that key stakeholders and decision-makers can understand.

Burp Suite also easily integrates with other cybersecurity software tools. For example, professionals can install it on Kali Linux, a security-focused Linux distribution that penetration testers and ethical hackers commonly use

Tools Offered by Burp Suite

Burp Suite’s range of tools, features, and functionality depends on which version of the software you’re using.

Community Edition

The Burp Suite Community Edition is free and comes with a handful of essential tools for vulnerability scanning:

  • Burp Repeater lets users manually alter and resend HTTP requests to a web application. Testers can alter the body, headers, and other components of the HTTP request to see how the application responds to different inputs.
  • Burp Decoder lets users encode and decode various data formats (e.g., URL, Base64, hexadecimal, and more). This functionality helps testers understand how the application processes input data and whether it’s susceptible to security issues such as data tampering.
  • Burp Sequencer lets users analyze the quality of random values and tokens an application generates. Testers can use Sequencer’s statistical techniques to search for patterns, predictability, and weaknesses in the randomness of these values.
  • Burp Comparer lets users compare two pieces of data (e.g., HTTP responses) and identify the differences. The tool helps uncover changes in web application behavior, such as differences between two webpage versions (e.g., the version with and without a security flaw).

Professional Edition

The Burp Suite Professional Edition offers more advanced manual and automatic testing features. The Professional Edition includes all the tools in Burp Suite Community Edition, plus additional functionality — such as software plugins and extensions, a web vulnerability scanner, and the ability to save your work.

Most notably, Burp Suite Professional comes with Burp Intruder, a tool for automating different types of attacks against web applications. Burp Intruder allows users to send large numbers of malicious HTTP requests to target web applications, crafting their messages to enable attacks such as SQL injections and cross-site scripting (XSS).

With Intruder, users can specify exactly where in the HTTP request they insert a malicious payload, offering fine-grained control over the attack. Burp Intruder can help identify vulnerabilities, test the strength of authentication mechanisms, and assess the security of cookies and session tokens.

Burp Suite Professional also includes Burp Scanner, a DAST (dynamic application security testing) scanner that performs automated scanning for web vulnerabilities (Bashvitz, 2023). Burp Scanner has features such as:

  • Recurring scans (e.g., daily or weekly)
  • Scalability to run multiple concurrent scans
  • Out-of-the-box configurations and bulk actions for easier automation
  • Scanning API endpoints and privileged areas to increase the attack surface

Enterprise Edition

The Burp Suite Enterprise Edition includes even more bells and whistles to enable thorough penetration testing of web applications. The Enterprise Edition offers multiple pricing tiers, including an “unlimited” option with unlimited scans, users, and applications.

Burp Suite Enterprise includes advanced features that make it well-suited for use in large organizations:

  • Integrations with third-party platforms for CI/CD, vulnerability management, and issue tracking
  • Software plugins and extensions (either write your own or download from the BApp Store)
  • Role-based access control (RBAC) and single sign-on (SSO)

Using Burp Suite for Penetration Testing

Burp Suite is a powerful and popular penetration testing tool. So, how can you get started using Burp Suite for penetration testing?

First, download and install the free Burp Suite Community Edition from the PortSwigger website (PortSwigger, 2024). You must also configure your web browser to work with Burp Suite. By default, Burp Suite listens on port 8080, so you’ll need to set your browser to use a proxy with the IP address and port number 8080.

Next, define the scope of the Burp Suite penetration tests. This scope includes specifying the URL of the target web application you want to test and which parts of the website you’ll evaluate for security vulnerabilities.

After this initial setup, you can use Burp Suite’s penetration testing features and functionality. Here are the common starting points:

  • Click on Burp Suite’s Proxy tab to intercept and inspect HTTP requests and responses. You can examine and modify these requests to test for vulnerabilities such as SQL injections.
  • Use Burp Suite’s Repeater tool to send and modify HTTP requests manually. With Repeater, you can test for specific weaknesses that attempt to bypass security mechanisms.
  • Hunt for cryptographic weaknesses using Burp Suite’s Sequencer tool. This feature allows you to analyze the quality of randomness in tokens or session identifiers that an attacker could exploit.

Penetration testing will run based on the parameters you set. Once testing is complete, use Burp Suite to generate comprehensive reports, including a list of any identified vulnerabilities, their severity, and recommendations for fixing or mitigating them.

If your penetration testing needs exceed the abilities of Burp Suite Community Edition, consider upgrading to a paid version such as Professional Edition or Enterprise Edition, which have added functionality for advanced users.

Learn About Burp Suite with the C|PENT

Whether you start with the free Community Edition or the full-featured Enterprise Edition, you can use Burp Suite’s robust tools for penetration testing and ethical hacking. Cybersecurity professionals should have a solid understanding of Burp Suite features and functionality to aid in their defense against cyber threats and attackers.

If you’re interested in becoming a penetration tester or ethical hacker, a Burp Suite certificate is an excellent way to show that you have the skills and experience necessary to succeed in real-world scenarios. EC-Council’s Certified Penetration Testing Professional (C|PENT) program teaches students everything they need to become a penetration tester.

Throughout 14 theoretical and practical modules, C|PENT students learn to identify weaknesses in various IT environments, from networks and web applications to the cloud and Internet of Things (IoT) devices. C|PENT is the most in-depth practical certification in the industry, offering various experiences with software tools such as Burp Suite in lab and cyber range environments.


1. Bashvitz, G. (2023, March 21). What Is Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST)? Bright. https://brightsec.com/blog/dast-dynamic-application-security-testing/

2. PortSwigger. (2024). Burp Suite Community Edition. https://portswigger.net/burp/communitydownload

About the Author

David Tidmarsh is a programmer and writer. He’s worked as a software developer at MIT, has a B.A. in history from Yale, and is currently a graduate student in computer science at UT Austin.   

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