Hacking and security penetration, by nature, require an in-depth understanding of the systems and platforms you’re infiltrating. And whether you plan to do some ethical hacking on your own time, or you work for an Information Security team tasked with beefing up the protection of an organisation, the outcome is the same.
You need to have quite a lot of knowledge to build upon, and that means working directly with some of the most secure – and insecure – software around. Wouldn’t you know it — there is a variety of Linux distributions perfect for ethical hacking, security audits and penetration testing. If you know where to look, the distros can help you develop the skills and experience needed to make a living as an ethical hacker. Linux offers full control, flexibility, added power and customisation.
The key element there being, of course, that you know where to look. To help, we’ve put together a list of some of the best Linux distributions for ethical hackers, security analysts and IT professionals.
Parrot Security OS
If you’re a fan of Debian, then you’ll feel right at home with the Parrot Security OS. It is both cloud-friendly and versatile, which is unique to this type of software. But what makes Parrot Security OS so valuable to hackers is the suite of computer forensics, cryptography, ethical hacking and pen testing tools bundled within. At its core, the platform is a healthy mix of Frozenbox OS and Kali Linux, with more of an emphasis on cybersecurity and its resulting data, obviously.
As you’d expect from a Linux distro, it’s highly customisable. You can not only tailor the system to your liking but also change its appearance, tools and core components as well. More importantly, there is an incredibly active community behind the distro that you can turn to for help. It’s perfect for software development and wireless (air-based) security testing.
If you don’t have a strong backbone in computer forensics, IT, and security, then you might want to look elsewhere, however. Parrot Security OS is a bit more on the advanced side and requires existing knowledge and skills to utilise.
Often lauded as one of the best and most coveted operating systems for hacking purposes, Kali Linux is developed and maintained by Offensive Security. They designed the OS as a rewrite of BackTrack, but if that makes little sense to you don’t fret. All you need to know is that it has a strong backbone in security and computer forensics.
Kali is Debian-based, a lot like Parrot Security, but the biggest difference is it is both minimalistic in appearance and much more functional. Out of the box, you have access to over 500 pen testing tools and apps. They are also incredibly flexible and open for further development and enhancements if you want to get your hands dirty.
Of particular note, the tools with Kali Linux tap into platforms like ARM and VMware that you might need or want direct experience with — especially when it comes to security and network penetration. So many professional and commercial suites rely on platforms like this. Therefore, it is a good place to start if you’re jumping into that side of the cybersecurity market.
All in all, Kali Linux is an ideal place to buff up your knowledge and skills and test out existing software and apps that you’re working on.
DEFT is an open-source Linux distro built upon Ubuntu, and its interface looks a lot like its brethren. The acronym stands for Digital Evidence and Forensic Toolkit, which is quite fitting.
Like many of the other distros here, DEFT comes bundled with a wide variety of forensics tools and documents or guides that ethical hackers and penetration testers can reference. The guides bundled within are helpful and informative for anyone looking to learn the ins and outs of the system. Once you know how to work with Linux regarding security and penetration, you can work with nearly any OS, including Windows and OS X.
DEFT is available as a live CD, and in early February, the dev team launched a stable version of the latest iteration, called DEFT Zero. It is a redesigned and super lightweight extension of DEFT that is specialised for forensic acquisition and the analysis of digital evidence. It does make use of the LXDE desktop environment and WINE, which allows you to execute and reference Windows tools in Linux.
As you can guess, the DEFT development team focuses on providing useful support to Law Enforcement and related agencies.
Caine is an Ubuntu-based distribution and is currently available as a live disk. Similar to BlackArch, it comes bundled with a huge selection of tools to aid in computer forensics and security analysis. Some of those tools include memory auditors, digital forensics, database analysers and network analysis apps.
The name Caine stands for Computer Aided Investigation Environment. The distro can be run as a portable OS, directly from a bootable USB drive that makes running and deploying the system super convenient.
The community, documentation and resources are not as expanded as some of the other distros discussed here. Nevertheless, Caine is an incredibly useful system for ethical hackers.
BlackArch Linux is another great Linux distro for security researchers, analysts and ethical hackers. It includes just about everything you’d ever need and then some. The distribution is based on the Arch Linux Foundation but has some added spice too. Plus, you can install from over 1,800 BlackArch Linux security tools, all thoroughly tested and updated from a central codebase.
Every day the distro continues to grow, with more tools, more features and more hacking purposes. The system has been designed from the ground up with penetration testers and security researchers in mind. Furthermore, the live ISO comes bundled with a variety of window managers, which are convenient for security penetration and analysis.
Documentation is extensive and available in languages from English to Turkish. BlackArch has a diverse community of developers, as well, that offer some of the best support you’ll find. That’s not an exaggeration either, reach out via the community forums, and you’ll have a response within minutes.
All revisions are pushed via GitHub, as you’d expect, from an open source operating system such as this.
Ethical hackers have plenty of options when it comes to Linux Distributions. If you want one of the best, take a look at these five quality distros.