Kali Linux review and a brief history of the BackTrack pentesting distro

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Home / Blog / Kali Linux review and a brief history of the BackTrack pentesting distro

Kali Linux review and a brief history of the BackTrack pentesting distro

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Update! April 23rd 2013This blog post was mentioned on the PaulDotCom Web Show! To watch the clip click here.

Looks like Kali Linux is a great success. Kali Linux is the successor to BackTrack, the much loved Linux Penetration Distro/ Operating System that is aimed at penetration testers and security professionals. Before we dive into our brief review – we thought it would be cool to give a brief history of how Kali Linux came to be.

What is the history of Kali Linux and BackTrack?
We are all very familiar with Backtrack, which has been around for the last seven years – created and managed by Offensive Security, but what is the history of this famous Linux penetration testing distribution?

Much like we trace our ancestors back to Africa, so we trace Kali Linux back to Knoppix! Knoppix was (I think) one of the first ever bootable Live Linux Distro’s. Still in existence, Knoppix is a classic distro with a loyal community. Over time the Knoppix project was forked into WHoppix (yes the WH are meant to be capitalized) that was then re-forked into WHAX. WHAX was then re-branded and streamlined into the BackTrack that we all used. There is a common thread throughout these distros, (Knoppix, which became WHoppix, and then WHAX and finally into BackTrack); that is that the lineage focused on intrusion detection and digital forensics. BackTrack expanded the scope and allowed for many more tools to be incorporated into the distro. In any event, BackTrack had a long reign of almost seven years as the pentesters and hackers distro of choice. However, as of March 2013 the venerated distro was decommissioned and replaced by Kali Linux. Phew. Long story – but the bottom line is that Kali Linux is the result of a rich and colorful history.

So why bother changing the name?
Kali Linux is so different that the fine folks over at Offensive Security thought that to solve the ‘inherent problems’ of BackTrack the authors needed a complete re-write. The main issue with BackTrack v1-v5 was that it was a headache for dependencies. Here was the problem: too many pentesting tools embedded within BackTrack all struggled to co-exist within the dependencies. Many pentesting and security tools where not regularly updated by their creators so the result was that trying to update the entire OS often caused conflicts and tools would simply stop working, crash or even cause other tools to crash. A good example of this is Ettercap which was not updated for a long time.

The solution was to rebuild the distro bottom-up by making Kali Debian based. Before with BackTrack there was a /pentest/ folder, whereas now it is all updated and managed by Debian packages.

Kali Linux has 300 tools which automatically work within the Kali ecosphere. Kali also has been created with the clean “File system Hierarchy Standard” and offers vast plug and play wireless support, with the only exception appearing to be broadcom.

ARM Support
Another interesting feature about Kali Linux is that it supports ARM architecture meaning that you can use the distro on Raspberry Pi’s and Chromebooks etc. Incidentally, you can also create your own .iso file with Kali through the Debian lifebuild feature.

In summary
Kali is a well thought out penetration testing distribution which had to address its’ previous problems with regards to updates. The distro has two modes: forensics and default, all of which run best (in our opinion) in gnome. All the usual pentesting tools work with the distro with ease and the file hierarchy is the same as previous BackTrack versions – so you won’t have a problem using this distro if you are previous BackTracker. Offensive Security still insist that you run the OS as root so this probably won’t be your day to day distro (for that we’d recommend BackBox, our favorite Linux OS). For pentesting Kali Linux is clearly an awesome OS with the world’s best pentesting suite of tools that can all be preconfigured. Couple that with the very large and loyal community, bug tracking service and attention to detail and yes, it is a solid pentesting Linux distribution. Go get it here.

  • TAM

    Well, i think the name Backtrack was way better then kali linux and the whole review is nicely written and well-detailed. I might bookmark your blog for more such reviews in penetration testing distros.

  • 26astr00

    “Offensive Security still insist that you run the OS as root so this probably won’t be your day to day distro” You can make a normal user account and connect with that account, no? I don’t see why it is impossible to make Kali your day-to-day distro.

  • alberthdez1

    is kali os stable ?

  • pela

    Why kali is based on debian and not ubuntu?!

  • Anonymous

    I just switched to Linux and Kali , to a newbie like me kali just looked like ubuntu with some software for hacking . Would you recommend me to use Kali as my main is or dual boot with some other os like fedora or Ubuntu?

  • DarkEugene

    I also liked the name BackTrack tons better than Kali Linux. FYI, BackTrack was created from a merger between WHAX and Auditor Security Collection not just WHAX alone; Web reference: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BackTrack.

    • DarkEugene

      The name of Kali Linux is growing on me though. I totally approve and enjoy Kali’s move from a Ubuntu background to a Debian background. I enjoy how a user can install and switch between desktop enviroments. I especially like Kali’s option to add, remove or customize the installed packages so as to expand the capabilities of Kali to the user’s liking; A maxed out Kali install will take up around 16GB, which is far more than a live cd/dvd, it’s so worth it!!

      • DarkEugene

        The customization aspect of an install is something I rarely read about in reviews about pentesting distros. Please add this info to the various pentesting distro reviews in the future; It’s something I especially look for in the pentesting distro’s that I use…

      • Henry Dalziel

        Yes – it is a cool name. I’m not sure if Kali Linux is named after the Hindu God ‘Kali’ but it might be, not least because Kali (the God) is associated with empowerment – and the term (again in Hindu) also means “black, death, lord of death” – kinda fits in with the overall theme of ‘sinister hacking’ – but hey, these are just my thoughts!

  • Edd Douse

    Not to be too picky, but BackTrack being based on WHAX actually brings Slackware (SLAX) into it’s family tree, probably more than it would bring Knoppix/WHoppix.

    If memory serves, BackTrack was originally based on SLAX6.

    • Edd Douse

      Although I suppose you’d want Knoppix alongside Slackware as the parents….

      Either way, Kali is looking to be the best addition to this lineage and I’m looking forward to what the team does next.

  • IAmAliveInJesusChrist

    I think I agree with TAM that Backtrack was a way better than kali linux, because it has got a name that emphasises the hindu religion, and its bothering me badly from using it.

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