Building a Home Cybersecurity Lab

Building a Home Cybersecurity Lab

⭐️ Introduction to This Guide

A home cybersecurity lab is a controlled environment that mimics real-world networks, allowing individuals to test and experiment with various cybersecurity techniques and tools. By building your own lab, you can gain hands-on experience with different aspects of cybersecurity, including identifying and mitigating vulnerabilities, analyzing network traffic, and detecting and responding to security incidents.

Whether you are a cybersecurity professional looking to improve your skills or a student just starting out in the field, building a home lab can be a valuable learning experience. With a well-designed lab, you can explore different cybersecurity concepts, practice with different tools and methodologies, and build your own customized training environment.

This guide will provide an overview of the key components and considerations involved in building a home cybersecurity lab for learning about CTI, pentesting, purple teaming, and forensic analysis. From selecting hardware and software to configuring your lab environment, we will cover everything you need to know to get started. So, let's dive in and explore the exciting world of home cybersecurity labs!

✅ Core Benefits of Having a Home Security Lab

Having a home security lab provides several core benefits, including:

  • Hands-on learning: A home security lab allows you to gain practical, hands-on experience with cybersecurity concepts and tools. This type of experiential learning is often more effective than reading or watching videos, as it allows you to apply what you learn in a real-world context.
  • Customization: You can customize your lab to meet your specific needs and interests. For example, you can focus on a particular type of attack or tool, or you can design a lab to simulate a specific network environment.
  • Flexibility: With your own lab, you have the flexibility to experiment with different techniques and tools without worrying about damaging a production environment or violating company policies.
  • Cost-effectiveness: Building a home security lab can be more cost-effective than paying for training courses or certifications. While there will be some initial investment in hardware and software, you can save money in the long run by using open-source tools and reusing equipment.
  • Career development: A home security lab can help you develop your skills and knowledge in cybersecurity, which can lead to career advancement opportunities or help you transition into a cybersecurity career.
  • Preparedness: By building and testing different scenarios in your home security lab, you can better prepare for potential real-world cyber threats, making you more confident and competent in responding to incidents.

While platforms like TryHackMe and HackTheBox are valuable resources for learning about cybersecurity, there are several benefits of having a home security lab as well, particularly for customization, flexibility, and the ability to simulate real-world systems better.

Overall, a home security lab provides a safe and controlled environment for cybersecurity experimentation and learning, helping you gain the skills and knowledge necessary to stay ahead of evolving cyber threats.

🧪 Various Types of Home Security Labs

There are several types of home security labs that someone learning about cybersecurity could set up. Here are the descriptions of some of the most common types:

  • Pentesting Lab: A pentesting lab is designed to simulate a real-world environment and allows individuals to practice and hone their penetration testing skills. In this lab, individuals can test different types of attacks on a network or system, identify vulnerabilities and misconfigurations, and develop techniques to exploit those vulnerabilities. A pentesting lab typically includes a network of virtual machines running different operating systems, vulnerable applications, and services, along with tools like Kali Linux, Metasploit, OpenVAS, and Nmap.
  • CTI Lab: A CTI (Cyber Threat Intelligence) lab is focused on collecting, analyzing, and disseminating intelligence related to cyber threats. In this lab, individuals can learn about different types of threats, threat actors, and their motivations, as well as how to collect, analyze, and disseminate intelligence. A CTI lab typically includes tools like Maltego, VirusTotal, and open source intelligence (OSINT) gathering tools.
  • Forensic Analysis Lab: A forensic analysis lab is designed to simulate a real-world environment where digital forensic investigations can be conducted. In this lab, individuals can learn about digital forensic analysis techniques, such as file system analysis, memory analysis, network forensics, and malware analysis. A forensic analysis lab typically includes virtual machines running tools like Autopsy & FTK Imager.
  • Purple Team Testing Lab: A purple team testing lab is designed to simulate the collaboration between red and blue teams in a real-world environment. In this lab, individuals can learn how to assess an organization's security posture by both attacking and defending a network or system. A purple team testing lab typically includes a network of virtual machines running different operating systems and tools like Cobalt Strike, Bloodhound and Caldera.

Overall, each type of home security lab serves a specific purpose and provides individuals with the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in different aspects of cybersecurity.

🛠️ Architecting A Security Testing Lab

📦 General Security Lab Components

There are several components that go into building a home security lab, including networking, virtualization, virtual machines, and software. Here's an overview of each:

  • Compute Hardware: A home security lab requires a computer system with adequate hardware resources to run multiple virtual machines and applications simultaneously. The system should have a high-speed processor, sufficient RAM, and storage capacity to run multiple virtual machines.
  • Networking Hardware & Solutions: A home security lab requires a network infrastructure that allows virtual machines to communicate with each other and with the outside world. A simple home network with a router and switch are typically sufficient, but a more complex network with VLANs may be necessary for more advanced lab scenarios.
  • Virtualization: Virtualization software is used to create virtual machines (VMs) on a physical host machine. This allows individuals to simulate a network environment with multiple machines running different operating systems and applications. Popular virtualization software includes VMware Workstation, VirtualBox, and Hyper-V.
  • Virtual Machines: Virtual machines are the key components of a home security lab. These are virtualized computers that run on top of the host operating system, allowing individuals to create multiple machines with different operating systems and configurations. This allows individuals to simulate real-world environments and test different cybersecurity scenarios. Popular virtual machines for security labs include Kali Linux, Parrot Linux, Ubuntu, and Windows Server.
  • Software: A variety of software is used in home security labs to simulate attacks, test defenses, and analyze network traffic.

Overall, building a home security lab requires careful planning and consideration of the networking, virtualization, virtual machines, and software components needed to create a realistic and effective environment for learning and experimentation.

💻 Compute Hardware

VirtualBox and Hyper-V on a home workstation will do in a pinch, but CPU locking, memory consumption and lack of network segregation will leave a lot to be desired. Also, remember, an old computer or two laying around may hold some potential. That said, when getting serious about building a cybersecurity lab. It’s important note that the below options are just a few choices out of a plethora of compute platforms that exist out there.

Compute Hardware

Raspberry Pi’s are very fun and great to have; and “Yes” you can run virtualization hypervisors on them (including VMWare ESXi), but the ARM CPU architecture, slow processor and slow storage is painful to utilize for any serious workloads.
DO NOT PERFORM FORENSIC ANALYSIS OF MALWARE ON A HYPERVISOR THATS RUNNING ANY PRODUCTION WORKLOADS!!! Remember, transient execution CPU vulnerabilities like Meltdown and Spectre exist. There have been many instances of malware capitalizing such vulnerabilities to compromise a virtualization hypervisor. Furthermore, always ensure the VMs your analyzing no virtual NICs so there is no network connectivity.

🌐 Networking Hardware & Solutions

For someone who may have a lot of extra computer (x86) hardware laying around or are willing to virtualize their firewall (which can be dangerous if you do not know what you are doing), pfSense, OPNSense and Sophos XG are excellent solutions. pfSense and OPNSense are open-source and have strong communities behind them. Sophos XG home is essentially a full featured business class firewall that can be utilized, it’s very feature rich but is commercial freeware. pfSense, OPNSense and Sophos XG can be acquired in prepackaged hardware solutions but the costs can get quite expense with exception to a few small Netgate firewalls. Mikrotik sell very inexpensive hardware that can be feature rich, but the learning curve is a bit higher and their software has been known to have lots of severe vulnerabilities. Ubiquiti hardware is inexpensive, easy to use, feature rich and performs very well; unfortunately it is closed source.

Networking SolutionProsConsCostSuggested Entry Model
Easy to set up and manageGood performanceAffordable
Limited features compared to other solutionsSome users report issues with firmware updatesClosed SourceLimited Hardware Options
Highly customizableOpen-sourceStrong community supportFeature RichVM Capable
Steep learning curve for beginners
Free (Community Edition), $499+ (Enterprise Edition), Requires Hardware
Fork of pfSense with more user-friendly interfaceOpen-sourceStrong community supportVM Capable
May not have as many features as pfSenseMay require more powerful hardware
Free (Open-source), Requires Hardware
Good performanceFeature RichVM Capable
Limited to 4 cores and 6 GB RAMRequires registration for free license
Free (With Limitations), Requires Hardware
Highly customizableGood performanceAffordableFeature Rich
Steep learning curve for beginnersMay require more powerful hardwareLots of Past Vulnerabilities
You can utilize your home firewall in a pinch, but it likely doesn’t support VLANs and when building a good cybersecurity lab you will want to have your virtual machines on a separate VLAN. Furthermore, the experience of deploying, configuring and monitoring the security of your firewall is important foundational experience. Be sure to utilize class A, then subnet that into small /24 networks. When assigning VLAN IDs, matching the subnet third octet to the VLAN ID makes tracking everything much easier. Be sure to set up inbound/outbound access control lists between security zones too!

⚙️ Virtualization Solutions

Oracle’s VirtualBox is usually one of first pieces of virtualization software anyone will hear about; mostly because it’s free, easy to use and can be installed on any operating system. That noted, VirtualBox doesn’t scale well, isn’t a bare metal hypervisor (poor performance) and has limited features. Microsoft Hyper-V is included on Windows 10/11 and Windows Server, it’s bare metal, more feature rich and only has a slightly higher learning curve. Window Subsystem for Linux (WSL) utilizes Hyper-V as the underlying engine and is easier to use but it trades off features and limited virtualization guest choices. Proxmox and Qemu\KVM are fantastic open-source solutions that are feature rich but come at a a steeper learning curve. VMWare ESXi can be acquired with a free license is very feature rich, moderately easy to use and high performing (bare metal) but requires dedicated compute hardware.

While tons of virtualization solutions exist like VMWare Workstation, many sit in a pseudo in between niche. For example, VMWare Workstation is commercial and costs money, but isn’t bare metal and doesn’t scale like ESXi. Furthermore fantastic solutions like CloudStack exist, but are usually aimed at more advanced users looking to manage many virtualization clusters across their environment.

Virtualization SolutionProsConsSourceEase of UseGuide
Built-in to WindowsHigh performance
Importing OVAs is annoyingrequires Windows Server
Closed source
Built-in to WindowsSupports nested virtualization
Importing OVAs is annoyingLimited scalabilityLimited enterprise featuresLimited Guest OS ChoicesNo Nested Virtualization Support
Closed source
Easy to useRuns on multiple platforms
Limited scalabilityTerrible performanceLimited enterprise featuresNo Nested Virtualization Support
Open source
High performanceScalableAccessible via web consoleSupports nested virtualization
ExpensiveRequires dedicated hardware
Closed source
Open sourceAccessible via web consoleSupports nested virtualization
Requires dedicated hardwareImporting OVAs is annoying
Open source
Want to practice Wifi Pentesting? You can utilize the USB passthru on VirtualBox and VMWare ESXi to pass USB wifi adapters to a Kali Linux virtual machine. Also, don’t forget to configure your vSwitches for various VLANs you have created for your lab.

🎛️ Virtual Machines & Software

Kali Linux is a Debian-based Linux distribution designed for digital forensics and penetration testing. It includes a vast range of tools that are widely used by penetration testers.
Pentesting, Forensic Analysis, CTI
Parrot is a popular operating system among penetration testers and cybersecurity professionals due to its extensive range of tools for penetration testing, ethical hacking, and digital forensics. It includes a variety of security-focused tools, such as password crackers, network scanners, vulnerability scanners, and more.
Pentesting, Forensic Analysis, CTI
OpenVAS (Open Vulnerability Assessment System) is an open-source vulnerability scanner used for network security testing and vulnerability management. It is designed to be used by security professionals, network administrators, and system administrators to identify security vulnerabilities in a network, server, or application.
Vulnerability Scanner
Metasploitable2 is a vulnerable virtual machine designed for testing and practicing exploitation techniques. It includes many well-known vulnerabilities that can be used to test your penetration testing skills.
Vulnerable Server Components
Metasploitable3 is a VM that is built from the ground up with a large amount of security vulnerabilities. It is intended to be used as a target for testing exploits with metasploit.
Vulnerable Server Components
WebGoat is a deliberately insecure web application designed for learning and practicing web application security testing. It includes many common web application vulnerabilities and attacks.
Vulnerable Web App
Wazuh is a free, open-source security solution that provides intrusion detection, log analysis, and security monitoring. It is designed to help organizations detect and respond to security threats in real-time. Wazuh is based on OSSEC, which is an open-source host-based intrusion detection system (HIDS).
Security Onion is a Linux distribution that is designed for network security monitoring, threat hunting, and log management.
Cuckoo Sandbox is an open-source malware analysis system that automates the analysis of malware samples.
Forensic Analysis
TheHive is an open-source security incident response platform that helps security teams manage and analyze security incidents.
A virtual machine that is pre-configured for analyzing and reverse-engineering malware. It includes a range of tools for analyzing and dissecting malware, such as Radare2, YARA, and more.
Forensic Analysis, Malware Reverse Engineering
OWASP Juice Shop is probably the most modern and sophisticated insecure web application! It can be used in security trainings, awareness demos, CTFs and as a guinea pig for security tools! Juice Shop encompasses vulnerabilities from the entire OWASP Top Ten along with many other security flaws found in real-world applications!
Vulnerable Web App
GNS3 (Graphical Network Simulator 3) is a network software emulator used for designing, testing, and simulating complex networks. It allows network engineers and administrators to create virtual network topologies by running virtual machines (VMs) and network devices on their personal computers.
Virtual Network Devices
Damn Vulnerable Linux (DVL) is a free and open-source virtual machine that is designed for testing and practicing security-related tasks. It is a vulnerable Linux distribution that includes a range of known security vulnerabilities that can be used for testing and learning purposes.
Vulnerable Server Components
Kioptrix is a series of intentionally vulnerable virtual machines (VMs) that are designed for practicing and testing penetration testing and cybersecurity skills. These VMs are created and maintained by a cybersecurity expert named Steven McElrea. The Kioptrix series includes a range of VMs that vary in their level of difficulty, from beginner to advanced. Each VM is designed to simulate a vulnerable environment that can be used to practice various cybersecurity techniques, such as penetration testing, vulnerability assessment, and exploit development.
Vulnerable Server Components
CALDERA is a cyber security platform designed to easily automate adversary emulation, assist manual red-teams, and automate incident response.
Purple Teaming, CTI

🚀 Other Helpful Related Resources

The Capsulecorp Pentest is a small virtual network managed by Vagrant and Ansible. It contains five virtual machines, including one Linux attacking system running Xubuntu and 4 Windows 2019 servers configured with various vulnerable services.

PimpMyKali is a great script to help fix all the broken packages and configurations in Kali.