1.4. Main Kali Linux Features
Kali Linux is a Linux distribution that contains its own collection of hundreds of software tools specifically tailored for their target users — penetration testers and other security professionals. It also comes with an installation program to completely setup Kali Linux as the main operating system on any computer.
This is pretty much like all other existing Linux distributions but there are other features that differentiate Kali Linux, many of which are tailored to the specific needs of penetration testers. Let’s have a look at some of those features.
1.4.1. A Live System
Contrary to most Linux distributions, the main ISO image that you download is not simply dedicated to installing the operating system; it can also be used as a bootable live system. In other words, you can use Kali Linux without installing it, just by booting the ISO image (usually after having copied the image onto a USB key).
The live system contains the tools most commonly used by penetration testers so even if your day-to-day system is not Kali Linux, you can simply insert the disk or USB key and reboot to run Kali. However, keep in mind that the default configuration will not preserve changes between reboots. If you configure persistence with a USB key (see Section “Adding Persistence to the Live ISO with a USB Key”), then you can tweak the system to your liking (modify config files, save reports, upgrade software, and install additional packages, for example), and the changes will be retained across reboots.
1.4.2. Forensics Mode
In general, when doing forensic work on a system, you want to avoid any activity that would alter the data on the analyzed system in any way. Unfortunately, modern desktop environments tend to interfere with this objective by trying to auto-mount any disk(s) they detect. To avoid this behavior, Kali Linux has a forensics mode that can be enabled from the boot menu: it will disable all such features.
The live system is particularly useful for forensics purposes, because it is possible to reboot any computer into a Kali Linux system without accessing or modifying its hard disks.
1.4.3. A Custom Linux Kernel
Kali Linux always provides a customized recent Linux kernel, based on the version in Debian Unstable. This ensures solid hardware support, especially for a wide range of wireless devices. The kernel is patched for wireless injection support since some wireless security assessment tools rely on this feature.
Since many hardware devices require up-to-date firmware files (found in
/lib/firmware/), Kali installs them all by default—including the firmware available in Debian’s
non-free section. Those are not installed by default in Debian, because they are closed-source and thus not part of Debian proper.
1.4.4. Completely Customizable
Kali Linux is built by penetration testers for penetration testers but we understand that not everyone will agree with our design decisions or choice of tools to include by default. With this in mind, we always ensure that Kali Linux is easy to customize based on your own needs and preferences. To this end, we publish the live-build configuration used to build the official Kali images so you can customize it to your liking. It is very easy to start from this published configuration and implement various changes based on your needs thanks to the versatility of live-build.
Live-build includes many features to modify the installed system, install supplementary files, install additional packages, run arbitrary commands, and change the values pre-seeded to debconf.
Users of a security distribution rightfully want to know it can be trusted and has been developed in plain sight, allowing anyone to inspect the source code. Kali Linux is developed by a small team of knowledgeable developers working transparently and following the best security practices: they upload signed source packages which are then built on dedicated build daemons. The packages are then checksummed and distributed as part of a signed repository.
The work done on the packages can be fully reviewed through the packaging Git repositories (which contain signed tags) that are used to build the Kali source packages. The evolution of each package can also be followed through the Kali package tracker.
1.4.6. Usable on a Wide Range of ARM Devices
Kali Linux provides binary packages for the armel, armhf, and arm64 ARM architectures. Thanks to the easily installable images provided by Offensive Security, Kali Linux can be deployed on many interesting devices, from smartphones and tablets to Wi-Fi routers and computers of various shapes and sizes.