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How to install Kali Linux on Apple Silicon Macs

It's not as smooth as it could be, but it can be done.
Kali Linux running on an Apple Silicon M1 MacBook Pro and macOS Ventura

Kali Linux running on an Apple Silicon M1 MacBook Pro and macOS Ventura

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

I've had messages from a number of people asking me for information on how to install Kali Linux on Macs running the M1 and M2 Apple Silicon chips.

Also: The best Linux desktops for pros

On the face of it, I thought it would be simple -- install virtualization software onto the Mac, download a Kali Linux installer, and install it into a virtualized system on the Mac.

Yeah, as it turns out, it's not that easy.

I tried a number of different virtualization platforms, and messed around with a lot of settings before I finally got it to install.

What is Kali Linux?

Kali Linux is an advanced penetration testing Linux distribution used for penetration testing, digital forensics, ethical hacking, and network security audits.

Also: Mabox Linux: Old-school Linux with a new-school look and feel

How to install Kali Linux on M1 or M2 Macs  

Here's what you need

  • UTM: This is virtualization software for Macs. You can download this for free direct from UTM (it's also available from the Apple Mac Store, where it will set you back $10 for the same thing).
  • A Kali Linux installer: Head over to the Kali Linux website, find the installer images, and download the one for Apple Silicon. I'm using the latest 2022.4 installer.

Step 1: Install UTM

This is the easy bit. Install it using all the default settings.

Step 2: Fire up UTM and create a new virtual machine

You do this by clicking on Create a New Virtual Machine, and then select Virtualize

From the list of operating systems, choose Other, then click Browse… and find your Kali Linux installer that you downloaded earlier.

Once selected, click Continue, and I bring the Memory slider to 2048MB. You can assign more, but I find 2GB to be more than enough.

As for storage, I find that 32GB is more than ample for Kali Linux.

Once you get to the Summary page, give the virtual machine a name, check the box next to Open VM Settings, and click Save.

Create a new virtual machine

Create a new virtual machine

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

Step 3: Tweak some settings

There's one tweak you need to do on the settings panel. In the left-hand pane, click on New… and select Serial, and then click Save. This will add a terminal window to allow you to install Kali Linux properly.

Adding a Serial device, which allows the installation to properly run

Adding a Serial device, which allows the installation to properly run

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

Step 4: Fire up the virtual machine

Click the big play button to fire up the machine and kick off the installer. You'll notice two windows pop up, you want to work in the Terminal 1 window (the other window will do blank, which is the problem people seem to be having). 

Select Install and work your way through the Kali Linux install process.

Kicking off the installation of Kali Linux

Kicking off the installation of Kali Linux

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

A couple of points:

  • You may have to manually configure the time zone (click Cancel at this point to select the correct zone).
  • When it comes to partitioning, choose Guided – use entire disk (don't worry, this won't trash your macOS installation)
Don't worry, the partitioning doesn't affect your macOS installation

Don't worry, the partitioning doesn't affect your macOS installation

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

Step 5: When the installer is done, do these two things

Once the installer is done, close the terminal window and the window for the virtual machine, and carry out two tweaks.

  • Go into the settings for the virtual machine. Then right-click on Serial and click Remove.
  • Next, in the left-hand pane, go down to USB Drive, click on it and then click on the Clear button next to Path. When done, click Save.
Here's where to click to enter the Settings screen

Here's where to click to enter the Settings screen

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET
Remove the Serial device

Remove the Serial device

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET
Removing the installer file to allow the virtual machine to boot into Kali Linux rather than the installer

Removing the installer file to allow the virtual machine to boot into Kali Linux rather than the installer

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

And you're done!

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