Kali Linux


Permission to use provided by http://kali.org

Kali Linux is the next evolution in penetration and digital forensics operating systems.  The distribution is funded by Offensive Security and offers a comprehensive collection of security tools that are essential to any security professional.  Flexibility and portability are a corner stone of the project as Kali can be installed on almost any device with a processor.  Besides the main Linux distribution there are over 13 builds that will install on devices ranging from a Raspberry Pi, CuBox,  BeagleBone, all the way to a HP Chromebook, and Galaxy Note. Kali can also be ported to almost any device that supports the ARM process by executing custom installation scripts.1

After being known as BackTrack for over seven years the project was reborn as Kali Linux.  Due to major development changes that included basing the distribution off of Debian, the Offensive Security team did a top down restructure of the popular BackTrack toolkit and named it Kali Linux.  Some people may think that the name may come from the Hindu Goddess of time and change.  However, any reference to a Goddess or God would be incorrect.  The team simply decided to use the name Kali.2

Kali offers a free and complete open source package for security auditing, penetration testing, forensics, and education.  Any and all of the code can be reviewed and audited on their Git tree located at git.kali.org.  This allows for a secure development process where all code changes and modules are digitally signed by each developer.  In addition, the distribution includes a large set of wireless device drivers and a custom kernel that has been patched to help with wireless injection.3


The formation of Kali Linux was an evolutionary process just like many other Open Source projects. Throughout the history of Kali Linux the adaptation of powerful tools has made each and every release an event for the Offensive Security team.  In my opinion, Kali’s success is based on assembling the best and popular tools in the industry into one package. This can be seen by the predecessor to Kali Linux, BackTrack, with the received hype in the security community with the plethora of press releases.4,5,6

The history of Kali Linux takes us back over a decade to one of the first bootable Linux distribution called Knoppix.7 The Knoppix toolkit is an open source Linux distribution that is completely bootable from CD, DVD, or USB device.  The Knoppix distribution allows users to access Linux based programs without having to install on a dedicated system.  The entire system was designed to be used by all ranges of skill sets including beginners and novices, and was a great way to learn Linux.8


Kali History Draft - 2 copy


The Knoppix toolkit was then ported over to a project called WhiteHat Knoppix, or WHoppix as a penetration Linux distribution designed by MUTS.9  In 2005 after its 3rd release the WHoppix project was then developed by Mati Aharoni and renamed to WHAX to show that it was now based off of a Slackware distribution called SLAX.10  The next step of the evolutionary process was the  cumulation of two security penetration testing distributions, WHAX and Max Moser’s Auditor Security Collection.11  Both WHAX and Auditor were popular distributions in the penetration testing community.  “While WHAX was packed with more features, Auditor was based on structure and stability.”  The combination of WHAX and Auditor led to a user-friendly, feature-rich, security testing package. Only a short year after the release of WHAX a new transformation occurred that based the toolkit off of Ubuntu.  Another name change was required and the popular BackTrack Linux was born, the first beta release occurred on February 5th 2006.12  The following major releases then followed:

May 25th 2006 BackTrack 1.0 Released13
March 6th 2007 BackTrack 2.0 Released14
June 19th 2008 BackTrack 3.0 Released15
January 9th 2010 BackTrack 4.0 Released16
May 10th 2011 BackTrack 5.0 Released17
August 13th 2012 BackTrack 5.0 R3 Released18
March 13th 2013 Kali Linux 1.0 Released19

With every great project there becomes a new beginning. A total re-build of BackTrack Linux was needed due to several challenges that plagued the operating system. One major addition to Kali is the adaptation of the Filesystem Hierarchy Standard (FHS). By adopting the FHS it resolved issues keeping packages updated and current. BackTrack stored many of the tools and programs in the /pentest/ directory. Users often had difficulty installing or updating applications within a non-standard directory structure. The Offensive Security team made the decision to base Kali Linux off the Debian distribution and the full application repository, rather than the Ubuntu distribution that BackTrack used. This gives great flexibility in adding new applications, updating current applications, and rolling out future upgrades. Several other features were also added such as; built in wireless device support, a custom kernel for packet injection, GPG signed packages, and full support for ARM based processors.20 Kali’s latest features include several metapackages that allow the customization of your operating system. The metapackages are subsets of packages and tools that are geared toward a specific purpose. At the time of this writing a few of the metapackages that are available are; kali-linux-forensic, kali-linux-pwtools, kali-linux-rfid, and kali-linux-wireles.21


Kali Linux has many educational and professional uses.  The main purpose of the project is to provide the perfect collection of tools and resources to help a White Hat hacker perform their duties with minimal effort in building their own system.   Kali Linux comes with several penetration tools preconfigured ready for use:

  • Wireshark as a network packet analyzer
  • Dsniff as a network traffic analysis tool
  • John the Ripper & Hashcat as a password cracker
  • Nmap as a network and port scanner
  • Aircrack-ng as a Wi-Fi scanner and analyzer

These tools in combination with over 300 others give the most powerful penetration testing tools in one downloadable package.22


Having a collection of the best hacking and forensics tools in one operating system is invaluable to any penetration tester or student alike. Additionally the diversity of supported platforms gives Kali Linux a level of flexibility that is next to none in the security community. The Offensive Security team has based the evolution of Kali on user feedback, adaptation of best practices, and learning from their mistakes. By working through their problems of the past, and willingness to start anew Kali Linux has already become a common name in the security community.

This focus of this project is to demonstrate the ease in which Kali Linux can be installed and used as a penetration testing tool. In my opinion there are two images of Kali Linux that have a distinct advantage to any Pen Tester; the Raspbery Pi and the Utilite ARM images. Both devices offer extreme flexibility and great processing power. The Raspberry Pi’s low power consumption offers a solution that can be powered by a battery for an extended period of time. The Utilite offers greater processing power, dual network cards, and extreme portability.

The process of learning the different tools can be overwhelming at first. However, picking just a few tools at the start and learning how to use them well can be a great benefit. This allows a new user to understand where things are located, where to find answers, and increase the familiarity of the operating system. Download a virtual machine and give Kali Linux a try. You won’t be disappointed by over ten years of development.


  1. Kali Linux. (n.d.). About Us. Retrieved February 1, 2014, from Kali Linux: http://www.kali.org/about-us/
  2. MUTS. (2012, Decmber 12). The Birth of Kali Linux. Retrieved February 1, 2014, from Kali Linux: http://www.kali.org/news/birth-of-kali/
  3. Kali Linux. (2013, February 25). What is Kali Linux ? Retrieved February 1, 2014, from Kali Linux: http://docs.kali.org/introduction/what-is-kali-linux
  4. JasonK. (2010, January 12). JasonK’s Blog. Retrieved March 2, 2014, from WordPress.com: http://jasonk2600.wordpress.com/2010/01/12/news-backtrack-linux-4-released/
  5. Charles, K. (2013, March 13). ‘Kali Linux’ or ‘BackTrack 6′ has been released with more than 300 penetration testing tools, completely free. Retrieved March 2, 2014, from SecurityOrb: http://www.securityorb.com/2013/03/kali-linux-backrack-6-released-300-penetration-testing-tools-completely-free/
  6. Nestor, M. (2012, March 2). BackTrack 5 R2 Linux Officially Released. Retrieved March 2, 2014, from Softpedia: http://news.softpedia.com/news/BackTrack-5-R2-Linux-Officially-Released-256139.shtml
  7. Fitzpatrick, J. (2009, February 22). Five Best Live CD’s. Retrieved March 2, 2014, from Livehacker: http://lifehacker.com/5157811/five-best-live-cds
  8. Knoppix. (2014). Welcome to Knoppix.net. Retrieved February 1, 2014, from knoppix.net: http://knoppix.net/
  9. WHoppix. (2004, October 13). Whitehat Knoppix – Whoppix 2.4 – Official Release. Retrieved February 1, 2014, from WHoppix: http://web.archive.org/web/20041013042334/http://whoppix.net/
  10. Remote-Exploit. (2010, February 9). BackTrack History. Retrieved March 2, 2014, from Remote-Exploit. Internet Archive WayBackMachine: http://web.archive.org/web/20100209051754/http://www.remote-exploit.org/?page_id=160
  11. Remote-Exploit. (2006, February 2006). BackTrack. Retrieved February 1, 2013, from Remote-Exploit. Internet Archive WayBackMachine: http://web.archive.org/web/20060203044016/http://www.remote-exploit.org/index.php/BackTrack
  12. Remote-Exploit. (2010, February 9). BackTrack History. Retrieved March 2, 2014, from Remote-Exploit. Internet Archive WayBackMachine: http://web.archive.org/web/20100209051754/http://www.remote-exploit.org/?page_id=160
  13. Remote Exploit. (2006, May 25). BackTrack – Mainpage. Retrieved February 1, 2014, from Remote Exploit: http://web.archive.org/web/20060615204908/http://www.remote-exploit.org/index.php/BackTrack
  14. BackTrack Downloads. (2007, March 14). Retrieved March 2, 2014, from Remote-Exploit. Internet Archive WayBackMachine: http://web.archive.org/web/20070314033316/http://www.remote-exploit.org/backtrack_download.html
  15. BackTrack Downloads. (2008, June 21). Retrieved March 2, 2014, from Remote-Exploit. Internet Archive WayBackMachine: http://web.archive.org/web/20080621032145/http://www.remote-exploit.org/backtrack_download.html
  16. BackTrack. (2010, January 9). BackTrack 4 Final Released : BackTrack Linux – Penetration Testing Distribution. Retrieved March 2, 2014, from BackTrack: http://www.backtrack-linux.org/backtrack/backtrack4-release/
  17. BackTrack. (2011, May 10). BackTrack 5 Release : BackTrack Linux – Penetration Testing Distribution. Retrieved March 2, 2014, from BackTrack: http://www.backtrack-linux.org/backtrack/backtrack-5-release/
  18. BackTrack. (2012, August 13). BackTrack 5 R3 Released! : BackTrack Linux – Penetration Testing Distribution. Retrieved March 2, 2014, from BackTrack: http://www.backtrack-linux.org/backtrack/backtrack-5-r3-released/
  19. MUTS. (2013, March 18). Kali Linux Release Aftermath. Retrieved March 2, 2014, from Kali Linux: http://www.kali.org/kali-monday/kali-linux-release-aftermath/
  20. Kali Linux. (2013, February 25). What is Kali Linux ? Retrieved February 1, 2014, from Kali Linux: http://docs.kali.org/introduction/what-is-kali-linux
  21. DOOKIE. (2014, February 26). Kali Linux Metapackages. Retrieved March 2, 2014, from Kali Linux: http://www.kali.org/news/kali-linux-metapackages/
  22. MUTS. (2013, 3 25). Bleeding Edge Kali Linux. Retrieved February 10, 2014, from Kali: http://www.kali.org/kali-monday/bleeding-edge-kali-repositories/