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What is Kali Linux?

Kali Linux is the favorable distribution amongst penetration testers and ethical hackers. Learn why in today's article.

Posted: 19 Mar, 21 Updated: 05 Mar, 23 by Antoniy Yushkevych 7 Min

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Every operating system has its own limitations. When it comes to performing video editing or content creation, we immediately think of MacOS. When it comes to development or programming, we think of Linux Distros. Similarly, when it comes to ethical hacking or playing with networking tools, the first Linux Distro that should come to your mind should be Kali Linux.


Kali Linux is a Linux distribution that is a derivation of Debian and is maintained by an IT company called Offensive Security. The main aim of building such a Linux distro is to perform advanced-level penetration testing and audition of security. It is also used for digital forensics. It’s a recreation of the BackTrack tool which was Knoppix-based and was mainly used for penetration testing. It’s an OS crafted specifically for penetration testers, forensic experts, network analysts, and similar professions. It completely follows the Debian standards meaning it does not use X11.


Kali Linux is the most favorite and sought-after OS for ethical hackers and other cyber professionals. There are several reasons behind it. The entire source code of Kali Linux is open-sourced. This allows cybersecurity experts and analysts to tweak the operating system based on their requirements. Moreover, it has more than 600 tools for penetration testing that comes pre-installed with it which makes it the swiss-knife of ethical hackers. Some of the most popular tools are Nmap, Metasploit, Armitage, Wireshark, OWASP ZAP, John the Ripper, Aircrack-ng, etc.


Some of the key features of Kali Linux that makes it immensely popular among cybersecurity professional, network analysts, and similar professionals are - 

  1. The entire code is open-sourced and is free to use.
  2. Mostly installed as a VM using tools such as VMWare, VirtualBox, etc. on existing machines such as Linux, Windows, Mac, etc.
  3. Most of the tools in Kali Linux have support for multiple languages.
  4.  It is highly customizable and can be tweaked according to its own requirements.
  5. Each package is signed by the one who developed it.
  6. It has more than 600 pre-installed tools for penetration testing.
  7. It contains hoks that by default disable the network services. 
  8. It has a kernel that is patched for injection that can happen wirelessly.
  9. By default, it has only a root user because most of the tools require sudo privileges.
  10. It is legal only if you use it for ethical purposes.


Installing Kali Linux is easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy. It cannot get any easier. The only important requirement is to have compatible hardware. Kali Linux can be easily run on i386, AMD64, and both the ARMEL and ARMHF platforms of the ARM processor. Let’s take a look at the minimal requirements to install Kali Linux. The better the hardware support, the better performance. However, the ones listed below are a must.

  • A minimum of 20 Gigs of Hard Disk space is sufficient to start with. However, try to keep it as much as you can if you want to install additional tools.
  • A minimum of 2 Gigs of RAM is a must in both the i386 and amd64 hardware if you want smooth performance.
  • You might need a USB stick that is bootable, or a CD/DVD drive, or a Virtual Box on any of the platforms.


For both the 32-bit and 64-bit architectures, the Kali Linux page has 3 types of images available for download. These are - 

  • Installer which is always the recommended one. You will get a local copy of all the packages and can perform the entire installation offline.
  • NetInstaller, which is quite small in size because it does not include the local copies of packages but will download them during the installation and hence, require a network connection.
  • Live using which you will be able to run Kali Linux without actually installing it. You can run it using a CD/DVD or a USB stick. It has a default config and doesn’t let you choose environments or allow packages to install.

Link for ISOs of Kali Linux.

Link for Virtual Images (VMWare and VBox) of Kali Linux.


As previously discussed, Kali Linux has more than 600+ pre-installed tools and programs that are used especially by penetration testers and analysts. Some of the top used tools among these are - 

  1. Nmap - Developed by Gordon Lyon, it’s a network scanner and is predominantly used to scan for services, hosts, etc. running on a system by transmitting packets and perform response analysis. It’s pen-source and hence, free. Also, it’s quite intuitive and easy to learn. It is heavily used to examine networks in PCs.

  2. Aircrack-Ng - It is a set of tools that are used to attack and manipulate WiFi networks. You can put your NIC to monitor mode and capture packets. It consists of packet sniffers, analysis tools for wireless LANs, WEP and WPA crackers, etc. The main steps it follows are monitoring followed by attacking. After that, it performs testing and then cracking.

  3. Wireshark - It’s an open-source protocol and packet analyzer tool that can be used to monitor and analyze the slightest of details on a network with features such as advanced warnings, triggers, reports, pcap file access, etc. You will view the results of the scan in a human-readable format and support more than 2000 different network protocols.

  4. Nessus - It is proprietary, developed by tenable, and is used for scanning vulnerability. It is used remotely and helps in bringing out architectures to allow seamless cross-linking using more than 1200 checks and displaying alerts where patching is required.


Here’s a list of a few points that you must understand before you get your hands dirty with Kali Linux.

  1. Background information such as Origin, history, target audience, legality, release cycle, support by the community.
  2. How to install and different ways to use desktop environments, package management, etc.
  3. Drivers, firmware, windows compatibility, and support for virtualization.
  4. Embedded, Android support, privacy, security, and other similar aspects.
  5. Degree of customization, documentation, and tools offered.


Kali Linux is typically famous among penetration testers for the plethora of tools that it provides. It’s privacy-focused, open-source, and can be an ideal companion for beginners as well as advanced security professionals. 

In this guide, we started with a basic introduction to Kali Linux, we skimmed through some of the key features of Kali Linux and why it is popular among Ethical Hackers. We discussed the minimal system requirements as well as the different methods of installation. Finally, we discussed a few among 600+ tools that Kali Linux has to offer and ended our guide with a checklist that you should go through before starting with Kali Linux.

We hope that this guide will help you get started with Kali Linux in the most seamless and effective way.

Happy Hacking!

Antoniy Yushkevych

Master of word when it comes to technology, internet and privacy. I'm also your usual guy that always aims for the best result and takes a skateboard to work. If you need me, you will find me at the office's Counter-Strike championships on Fridays or at a.yushkevych@monovm.com