Kali Linux 1.0.6, hands-on

Kali Linux 1.0.6, hands-on

Summary: Exploring this Debian GNU/Linux derivative that is tightly focused on security analysis and penetration testing - and it comes with a mind-boggling array of utilities for that pupose.


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  • Kali Linux Gnome Desktop

    I am always looking for interesting new developments in security analysis and penetration testing, and have been attending SANS Security conferences for a few years now, which has introduced me to several Linux distributions that I was not otherwise familiar with. 

    Initially the most popular was Knoppix, then focus moved to BackTrack Linux, and finally last year when it seemed that BackTrack might disappear,  Kali Linux picked up the torch.

    Although I have always installed whatever Linux they were using in the class on my laptop, I never seemed to keep it for very long afterward. Something always came up - either they weren't flexible enough, or updates were too difficult, or they were just based on a Linux distribution which was too old to begin with. 

    I have also tried to put some of the tools we used in the classes on other Linux distributions, and while that sometimes worked I all too often found that the tools were difficult to install/configure/update, and they generally didn't last either.

    So, when I read the Kali 1.0.6 release announcement, there were two things in it which really caught my eye.  First, it is now based on Debian 7 (Wheezy), and second, the Kali developers have made standard packages of all the tools included in it. I decided it was time to give it a closer look, in pretty much the same way that I look at any other Linux distribution, rather than waiting until I got to the conference this year.

  • Kali Linux Gnome Menu

    The Kali Linux downloads page has ISO images for standard Intel/AMD 32-bit and 64-bit images, and also for ARM processors. The AMD 64-bit image that I downloaded is just over 3GB, so be prepared for a potentially lengthy download.

    The Kali ISO is a Live image - you can burn it to DVD or dd it to a USB stick, and then boot and run it from there without ever installing it to a hard drive. This makes it well suited for use a emergency recovery/intervention media in a toolkit. 

    However, the ISO also includes the Debian installer, so you can easily install it to a hard drive, which is what I have done. For this purpose it is generally preferred to have a dedicated laptop, so you don't risk any confusion or contamination by booting other operating systems. I dragged out the old Fujitsu-Siemens Lifebook S2110 for this purpose. 

    This is the same system that I used for testing when openSuSE 13.1 was released, I just overwrote the entire disk with the Kali installation. Just saying that it is an "old" laptop is probably not strong enough - it's an AMD Turion 64 based system.

    One minor drawback that I ran into is that Kali Linux doesn't appear to support UEFI boot or installation yet.  For me that is not a problem, because I decided to use such an old system for it. Booting the Live image from DVD on the S2110 (USB boot not possible on this system) came up with no problem, and everything seemed to work, including both wired and wireless networking, display, keyboard, trackpad and USB ports. 

    That was enough to convince me to go ahead and install it; reboot and select the Kali installer, walk through that just like any other standard Debian installation, and give it plenty of time because 3+ GB of stuff is a lot to unpack and install. By the time it was finished installing, it was using 9.4GB of disk space. Whew. There's a lot of stuff included in this distribution.

    This release of Kali Linux has Linux kernel 3.12.6 which is good news for those who need the latest kernel to support some new hardware (certain wifi adapters and graphic controllers, for example).

    It uses the Gnome 3.4 'fallback' desktop, shown above, which will please those who are not happy with the latest Gnome 3 desktop. If you're not satisfied with that, there is a useful article in the Kali documentation the describes how to install other desktops (KDE/Xfce/LXDE/MATE etc).

Topics: Linux, Open Source, Operating Systems, Security

J.A. Watson

About J.A. Watson

I started working with what we called "analog computers" in aircraft maintenance with the United States Air Force in 1970. After finishing military service and returning to university, I was introduced to microprocessors and machine language programming on Intel 4040 processors. After that I also worked on, operated and programmed Digital Equipment Corporation PDP-8, PDP-11 (/45 and /70) and VAX minicomputers. I was involved with the first wave of Unix-based microcomputers, in the early '80s. I have been working in software development, operation, installation and support since then.

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  • Kali is the go-to tool for me

    I have been using Kali since BackTrack started to backslide and used Knoppix and Helix even before that. Nowhere else do you get the collection of tools that you need for forensics and data recovery as well as penetration testing and vulnerability assessments. I can't tell you the number of times that dc3dd has saved me when trying to recover data from a former employee's computer.

    One of the most important tools I use is Nessus in order to run periodic PCI SAQ D audits. I have not seen this ship with Kali yet, but it is simple enough to install and worth the price for the commercial license for scanning your infrastructure internally and externally. Just remember to put it on a laptop so you can do both without being encumbered. Being Debian based, it installs easily within Kali allowing the tester to start using it within minutes.

    I highly recommend Kali to anyone who does this for a living or anyone interested in learning more about IT security. It is darn near a requirement.
  • Sounds to me like Linux is basically becoming

    a one-trick pony OS. You want security, you install this OS. You want simplicity, you install that OS. You want server-side, you install this OS. Here's a thought. How about a Linux that is, you know, just an operating system foundation and you add APPLICATIONS to do the various things you want.
    • One-trick-pony?

      I'm not sure what you mean by that, but it's quite possible to do exactly that. Nothing that's in Kali Linux is impossible on another system. You could just install the latest Debian and have exactly that, a standard operating system with which you can add whatever applications you desire, including those pre-installed on Kali. The fact that there are many specialized GNU/Linux distributions does not mean there aren't general-purpose versions still.
      • What I mean is that

        it seems you don't install Linux then install apps, you install the distro that does what you want. Like embedded software. So, it's like: Here's your security Linux. Here's your Server Linux. Here's your old hardware Linux. Here's your Consumer Linux. Here's your Touch Linux. Here's your Small Business Linux. Here's your Enterprise Linux. Here's your Gaming Linux, etc. etc. etc. So we're basically told: Hey, want to game? Install the gaming distro. Then when we're ready to do office work, I guess we blow that away and install the Office Distro.

        That is what I meant. There are never any articles about taking Linux and MAKING it a security powerhouse by adding this, that and the other thing, or taking Linux and MAKING it a gaming powerhouse by installing this, that and the other thing. It's always: Install this distro, or install that distro.
        • You are mistaken

          Sorry, but you are mistaken and have not read widely or carefully enough. As one trivial example, I pointed out in this post that if you want "more" than the Gnome 3 fallback desktop, there are instructions on the web site for adding pretty much any other desktop you may want. As others have pointed out here, you could start with plain Debian, then add the tools which are in Kali, and then add all the multimedia applications you might like, to create an Office/Security/Multimedia system. There are essentially no limits to this, that is one of the biggest advantages of Linux, you can use it as a starting point and build anything you want. If you don't think there are articles about this, then you haven't looked very hard.

          Looking at the issue from the other side you mention, even if you start with whatever "specialty" distribution you like, whether it be Kali for Security, or AV Linux for multimedia, or Linux Mint for general office use, because the base is still standard Linux, you can add onto that whatever you want. I have personally added various of the security tools mentioned here to Linux Mint, for example.

          Thanks for reading and commenting. Hang around, and you are likely to see posts describing these sorts of things; or look back through my previous posts, because I have talked about it in the past.

        • Special Focus Distributions

          Sorry, one more thing that I should have said... the advantage of the "special purpose Linux distributions" is simply that someone else has done a lot of the hard work for you, evaluating the variety of options for whatever purpose, choosing what they consider the best, and then installing and configuring it for the distribution.

          Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • That is correct


      Yes and no depending on what your purpose is. The specialised distributions such as Kali already have a huge toolset installed and ready to use. And with virtualisation (VirtualBox for example), creating a VM with any distribution doesn't take very long at all. Fire up the VM, use it, and shut it down when done, without touching your primary operating system. But, you can also use a standard distribution and install the tools necessary, it is possible but involves more work.
      • Apparently it involves so much more work

        that its easier to just have a distro. That doesn't speak well to Linux being easy to configure/install apps onto.
        • Too much work for you, apparently not for others

          Look, if you don't have any experience or knowledge of this, then you just don't know what you are talking about and it is probably better to keep quiet. Speculating that it "apparently involves more work" just makes you look bad, especially here.

        • Moot point


          Not sure what your point is ... you either pick a mainstream distro and install the packages with some clicking (most have an easy to use software management application that makes this easy), or pick a distro that comes pre-packaged ready to go, like Kali in this example for security and pen testing. It usually takes about 10-20 minutes to create a VM and install a GNU/Linux distro where it's up and running. No other operating system offers this flexibility.

          If you install either Windows or OS X, you get what the vendor gives you and you must install the extra packages yourself. Which, by the way, is much more work than GNU/Linux, which connects to repositories to allow easy installation/uninstallation of all software on the system in one easy to use interface.

          My suggestion would be to pick one of the mainstream distributions since it's free and costs nothing but a little time, spin it up in a virtual machine using again a free VM manager like VirtualBox (or run the live media), and see for yourself.
    • There isn't just one 'Linux'

      The flexibility it gives to be able to create your own derivation of it is what makes it powerful.
    • If you want security...

      ...you install OpenBSD. There are Linux distros like Kali that are strongly focused on security and that's a good thing, but I don't think that can be reasonably generalized to all or even most Linux distros.
      John L. Ries
      • John L. Ries: "If you want security ... you install OpenBSD"

        Why not hardened Gentoo or Google's Chrome OS, which is based on hardened Gentoo?

        Chrome OS is easy, just buy a Chromebook or Chromebox. And, if privacy is a concern, use the Chrome browser's built-in incognito mode for web browsing. Or the built-in Chrome OS guest browsing feature.

        Want a hardened GNU/Linux server or desktop with access to a wide variety of applications? Hardened Gentoo is the answer and one can choose to enable both the Linux Security module, SELinux, and grsecurity/PaX. Like with OpenBSD, the Linux kernel, X.org and applications are installed from source and compiled.
        Rabid Howler Monkey
    • One-trick?

      I like that I can pick a distro that includes what I want, and fits my hardware. Twenty minutes after hitting "install" I am ready to get back to work.

      Sounds like you come from the windows world, where you first have to uninstall the crapware on your new machine, then start installing the tools you need.

      Choice is a good thing.
  • Excellent pen test toolset

    Great review on Kali. It definitely consolidates all of the tools used in GNU/Linux needed for good pen testing. A lot of professional pen testers use Kali as part of their toolset, and in fact the last security scan that I witnessed by a professional used Kali as well as a few additional tools on a Windows box (I'd say it was 80% Kali, 20% additional tools). I'm sure he could have used Wine to run the Windows applications, but I didn't want to go there. He used metasploit for quite a number of the tests, in Kali. Great stuff.
  • Most Linux discussion over heads of Microsofties

    Obviously commenter "baggins_z" is totally ignorant about the design and workings of the generic Linux Operating System (OS), which is a collection of libraries, kernel, applications, networking that integrates seamlessly to form GNU/Linux, and therefore is reason there are many "custom" linux configurations for specific types of uses.

    I use Debian Linux as a desktop and for some Servers, have in the past used Firewall/router/DNS Server/Mail Server and other specially configurations of Debian. However "you" an start with base OS and add any combinations of software you desire for you preferred application.

    You really should not be commenting - that immediately speaks very little or no technical knowledge - on a topic without learning about the issue first.
    • @wanderson, baggins_z is an Apple fanboi

      that prefers Apple's implementations of BSD, specifically, OS X and iOS, but likes none of the open-source BSDs upon which OS X/iOS are based (e.g., FreeBSD). Apple has its own one trick pony OS: OS X for desktops, laptops and servers and iOS for tablets, smartphones and high-end media players. I don't believe that one can simply install apps on iOS and turn it into OS X. Nor can one remove apps from OS X and turn it into iOS.

      In the BSD world, one can look to the FreeBSD ecosystem which starts with FreeBSD as the base OS used for both servers and desktops and includes FreeBSD-based OSs such as PC-BSD (and GhostBSD) as easy-to-use desktop systems, m0n0wall as "a complete, embedded firewall software package", and pfsense (forked from m0nowall in 2004) as "a free, open source customized distribution of FreeBSD specifically tailored for use as a firewall and router that is entirely managed via web interface ... in addition to being a powerful, flexible firewalling and routing platform, it includes a long list of related features and a package system allowing further expandability without adding bloat and potential security vulnerabilities to the base distribution". On a much smaller scale, this is actually quite similar to Linux with its various desktop and specialized distros.
      Rabid Howler Monkey
  • Not For Everyone.....

    As it is, Linux isn't for everyone. I myself ignored or brushed it aside when I was ignorant of its strength, but after being let's say..."disappointed" with Microsoft, and not being able to afford Apple products, I can honestly say that my move to a completely Linux based home office was the best decision I ever made. I'm not going to gush about all the benefits of using it, it should be already well know info that you get a free office suite that is compatible with Microsoft's offerings, and that is also workable with other Open Document formats, but when you throw in the free "pdf" viewer...free multimedia applications and the security, you can see it's a win-win situation. now in regards to installing a different distro for whatever purpose you might need, well that is the strength i was speaking about...you don't necessarily NEED a "customized" security hardened version...you could start with Debian...CEntOS....openSuSE...and a host of other "flavors" of Linux and then install what you need...but it seems to me that for those involved with securing networks and infrastructure, that to be able to go to one distro and have everything you need right there installed for you already?...well its a no brainer. To give you some comparison: you COULD buy the Ford F-150 with the "standard" options...and then go ahead and install all the "Heavy-Duty-Power-Lifting-Trailer" options on your own...but that would cost you time and money......and why would you go that route when someone has already installed all the "goodies" for you?...wouldn't it be simpler to just get the Ford F-150 that's already "tricked" out? The same can be said for Linux...most Linux users who are in a corporate atmosphere don't have the time needed to run around looking for every security-penetration testing application and package out there.....BUT if that's what they NEED they can go to one place and get everything they need in one shot. And finally, installing things in Linux might have been difficult back in the days...but in this day and age its as easy as going to get the package you need from a web-site like repoforge.com.....or rpm.pbon.net...or for Debian based distros apt-get.org....getdeb.net and a host of others. The days of having millions of terminals open just to get something done are gone....mind you...you can STILL go that route if its what you're comfortable with...unlike Microsoft...who decide FOR you what your desktop...and what apps it comes with will be. So for those who might not know enough about Linux, get to know it....read.....download a few distros....tinker around and discover the world of F.O.S.S....you'll find that your "old" way of doing things will become tedious when compared to the way its done in Linux-Land!
  • Ask your editor....

    Why this article is unacceptable and see if (s)he will tell you the truth.

    The whole thing goes into the trash - unread.
    Leo Regulus
  • pooh linux

    this is all linux users keep doing.
    install this update that NO consistency too many updates and the best of all,
    rather than improving the existing they sulk and finally ''fork'' and then ''fork'' again.

    the effort is so distributed it has no effect.

    now the point at hand the kali linux, why do they want a new distro ? they should simply contribute to an existing base linux like debian or fedora.

    this is why linux will never matter to consumer untill they fix this problem.

    PS. please dont bother giving the freedom talk, no one is in charge of linux is NOT a good thing thats why there is utter chaos.
    also android is not linux as you know it, google is in charge and that solves all the above problems and its success is for everyone to see.