A hacker is a highly skilled computer operator who uses bugs and exploits to break into computer systems and networks. An ethical hacker, on the other hand, identifies vulnerabilities in computer systems and networks, and plugs these holes. Here’s a round-up of the 20 best hacking operating systems for ethical hackers and penetration testers.
Hacking has been part of computing for over five decades and is a very broad area, covering a range of tasks. The term hacker originated in 1960 at MIT. Hacking is regarded as a process of locating all possible back doors that exist in a computer system or network and, finally, intruding into it. In simple terms, it is regarded as an unauthorised activity to gain access to a computer system or network, to harm it or prevent its normal functions and to steal sensitive information available on computing systems.
On the other hand, hacking can also be a legal activity when it is used to discover back doors and weaknesses in computer systems in order to patch them. This is called ethical hacking.
In today’s cyber world, lots of varied attacks occur every hour and are achieved by professional hackers, virus writers and crackers. The most basic tool required by every hacker is a hacking operating system. Usually, the operating systems specializing in hacking are based on the Linux kernel. These operating systems are regarded as advanced working systems, which include lots of ethical hacking and penetration testing tools.
In this article, the 20 best hacking operating systems used by ethical hackers and penetration testers are featured. All of them are free, open source, are based on the Linux kernel and are bundled with many hacking tools.
1. Kali Linux
Kali Linux maintained and funded by Offensive Security Ltd. is first in our list. Kali Linux is a Debian-derived Linux distribution designed for digital forensics and penetration testing. Kali is the one of the best and favorite hacking operating systems of hackers. It was developed by Mati Aharoni and Devon Kearns of Offensive Security through the rewrite of BackTrack, their previous forensics Linux distribution based on Ubuntu.
Kali Linux has a dedicated project set-aside for compatibility and porting to specific Android devices, called Kali Linux NetHunter. It is the first Open Source Android penetration testing platform for Nexus devices, created as a joint effort between the Kali community member “BinkyBear” and Offensive Security. It supports Wireless 802.11 frame injection, one-click MANA Evil Access Point setups, HID keyboard (Teensy like attacks), as well as Bad USB MITM attacks.
Features : BackTrack (Kali’s predecessor) contained a mode known as forensic mode. This capability was carried over to Kali via live boot. This mode is very popular for many reasons such as many Kali users already have a bootable Kali USB drive or CD, and this option makes it easy to apply Kali to a forensic job.
There are however some changes to forensic mode over the regular operation of the system, such as forensic mode doesn’t touch the hard drive or swap space and auto mounting is disabled. However, it is recommended by the developers that if Kali is going to be used for real world forensics that these things be tested in that environment.
Supported Platforms : Kali Linux is distributed in 32- and 64-bit images for use on hosts based on the x86 instruction set and as an image for the ARM architecture for use on the BeagleBoard computer and on Samsung’s ARM Chromebook.
Kali Linux is already available for BeagleBone Black, HP Chromebook, CubieBoard 2, CuBox, CuBox-i, Raspberry Pi, EfikaMX, Odroid U2, Odroid XU, Odroid XU3, Samsung Chromebook, Utilite Pro, Galaxy Note 10.1 and SS808.
BackBox is an Ubuntu-based Linux distribution penetration test and security assessment oriented providing a network and informatic systems analysis toolkit. BackBox desktop environment includes a complete set of tools required for ethical hacking and security testing.
Features : It includes some of the most used security and analysis Linux tools, aiming for a wide spread of goals, ranging from web application analysis to network analysis, from stress tests to sniffing, also including vulnerability assessment, computer forensic analysis and exploitation.
Part of the power of this distribution comes from its Launchpad repository core, constantly updated to the latest stable version of the most known and used ethical hacking tools. The integration and development of new tools in the distribution follows the open source community, particularly the Debian Free Software Guidelines criteria.
3. Parrot Security OS
Parrot Security OS (or ParrotSec) is a GNU/LINUX distribution based on Debian. It was built in order to perform penetration tests (computer security), Vulnerability Assessment and Mitigation, Computer Forensics and Anonymous Surfing. It has been developed by Frozenbox’s Team. Like Kali Linux Parrot Security OS is also hackers favorite hacking operating systems.
Parrot is based on Debian’s stable branch (jessie), with a custom hardened linux 4.1 kernel with a grsecurity patched branch available. It follows a development line of rolling release kind.The desktop environment is MATE, fork of Gnome 2, and the default display manager is LightDM.
The project is certified to run over machines which have 265Mb of RAM at least and it is suitable to both 32bit (i386) and 64bit (amd64), with a special edition it works on old 32bit machines (486). Moreover, the project is available for armel and armhf architectures. It even offers an edition (both 32bit and 64bit) developed for servers only to carry out cloud pentesting.
Features : Parrot Security OS is a security oriented operating system designed for Pentesting, Computer Forensic, Reverse engineering, Hacking, Cloud pentesting, privacy/anonymity and cryptography.
4. DEFT Linux
DEFT (Digital Evidence and Forensics Toolkit) is based on GNU Linux and DART (Digital Advanced Response Toolkit), a forensics system comprising some of the best tools for forensics and incident response. DEFT Linux is especially designed for carrying out forensics tasks and runs live on systems without tampering with the hard disk or any other storage media. It consists of more than 100 highly-rated forensics and hacking tools.
It is currently developed and maintained by Stefano Fratepietro along with other developers, and is available free of charge. It is used actively by ethical hackers, pen testers, government officers, IT auditors and even the military for carrying out various forensics based systems analysis.
Features: It is based on the Lubuntu distribution comprising open source digital forensics and penetration testing tools, Full support for Bitlocker encrypted disks, Android and iOS 7.1 logical acquisitions, Consists of Digital Forensics Framework 1.3.
5. Live Hacking OS
Live Hacking OS is a Linux distribution packed with tools and utilities for ethical hacking, penetration testing and countermeasure verification. It includes the graphical user interface GNOME inbuilt.
There is a second variation available which has command line only, and it requires very less hardware requirements.
6. Samurai Web Testing Framework
Samurai Web Testing Framework primarily focuses on testing the security of Web applications and comprises lots of Web assessment and exploitation tools. The credit for developing the Samurai Web Testing Framework goes to Kevin Johnson, Justin Searle and Frank DiMaggio.
The Samurai Framework provides ethical hackers and pen testers with a live Linux environment that is preconfigured to run as a virtual machine to perform Web penetration testing.
The Samurai Web Testing Framework includes popular testing tools like Fierce Domain Scanner and Maltego for Reconnaissance, WebScarab and Ratproxy for mapping, w3af and Burp for discovery, and BeEF and AJAXShell for exploitation.
The framework is based on Ubuntu 9.04, is fully open source and receives regular updates with regard to products.
Features: Contains many tools for reconnaissance, mapping, discovery and exploitation, especially focusing on Web penetration testing, Equipped with SVN to provide updated security tools, and syncs with active development tools.
7. Network Security Toolkit
The Network Security Toolkit (NST), based on Fedora, is a live bootable DVD/USB Flash drive consisting of the top 125 open source security tools provided by insecure.org to perform network security, penetration testing, network diagnostics and monitoring of day-to-day tasks.
The main objective behind the development of NST is to provide network/systems administrators a combined set of open source security tools to carry out operations like network traffic analysis, intrusion detection, network scanning and security patching.
NST has been developed by Ronald W. Henderson and Paul Blankenbaker. It provides a Web interface known as NST WUI and all the tools can be accessed via the Web page. NST is equipped with intelligent package management capabilities based on Fedora and maintains its own repositories of additional packages.
Bugtraq is an electronic mailing list dedicated to issues about computer security. On-topic issues are new discussions about vulnerabilities, vendor security-related announcements, methods of exploitation, and how to fix them.
It is a high-volume mailing list, and almost all new vulnerabilities are discussed there. Bugtraq team is experienced freaks and developers, It is available in Debian, Ubuntu and OpenSuSe in 32 and 64 bit architectures.
9. BlackArch Linux
BlackArch is an Arch Linux-based security and penetration testing distribution, which consists of more than 1600 tools and is regarded as the first choice distribution among security researchers to do Web and applications based security testing. It is a strong alternative to Kali Linux and Backbox in terms of the variety of its tools and ease of use.
BlackArch is basically a lightweight extension to Arch Linux for security researchers, as the tool set within the former is distributed as the Arch Linux unofficial user repository and can even be installed on top of existing Arch Linux.
Arch Linux can be installed on 32-bit and 64-bit machines including ARM based development boards like Raspberry Pi, BeagleBone, etc.
Features: GUI interface is powered by Fluxbox and includes i3, WMii, Spectrwm, Awesome, dwm and Openbox window managers, Has modular package groups, Installation can be performed from source.
NodeZero is an open source Linux kernel-based operating system derived from the world’s most popular distribution of Linux, Ubuntu, and designed to be used for penetration testing operations. The distro is available for download as a dual-arch Live DVD ISO image, which will run well on computers that support both 32-bit (x86) and 64-bit (x86_64) instruction set architectures.
Besides the fact that it allows you to start the live system, the boot menu contains various advanced options, such as the ability to perform a system memory diagnostic test, boot from a local drive, start the installer directly, as well as to boot in safe graphics mode, text mode or debug mode.
NodeZero’s default graphical desktop environment is powered by GNOME, which uses the GNOME Classic interface. It features a two-panel layout, and uses Ubuntu’s default software repositories.
Keep in mind though, that you must first log into the live session with the username nodezero and without a password. With NodeZero you will have instant access to over 300 penetration testing tools, as well as a set of basic services that are needed in penetration testing operations.
Default applications include the Mozilla Firefox web browser, F-Spot photo manager, Rhythmbox music player, PiTiVi video editor, Transmission torrent downloader, Empathy multi-protocol instant messenger, and OpenOffice.org office suite.
11. Cyborg Hawk Linux
Cyborg Hawk Linux is regarded as the most advanced, powerful and well-managed Ubuntu based penetration testing Linux distribution created by Ztrela Knowledge Solutions Pvt Ltd. The distribution consists of more than 700 tools dedicated to penetration testing, and more than 300 tools for mobile security and malware analysis.
Cyborg Hawk Linux is completely open source and free to use, and the latest version comes with its own repository. The distribution is highly reliable and stable in the eyes of ethical hackers and pen testers for real-world stress testing of networks, malware analysis and finding out back doors.
Features: Full support for wireless devices, Can be installed as a virtual machine, Managed and well-sorted menus in the distribution, Bundles tools for exploitation, stress testing, reverse engineering, forensics, mobile security and wireless security, Secured and well patched kernel, Has full capability to run as Live OS.
Pentoo is a Live CD and Live USB designed for penetration testing and security assessment. Based on Gentoo Linux, Pentoo is provided both as 32 and 64 bit installable livecd.
Pentoo is also available as an overlay for an existing Gentoo installation. It features packet injection patched wifi drivers, GPGPU cracking software, and lots of tools for penetration testing and security assessment.
The Pentoo kernel includes grsecurity and PAX hardening and extra patches – with binaries compiled from a hardened toolchain with the latest nightly versions of some tools available.
GnackTrack is an Ubuntu based penetration testing Linux distribution which includes lots of utilities for penetration testing. It has a GUI based GNOME desktop for easy interfacing.
GnackTrack is an open source and free project, and contains various significant penetration testing tools like Metaspoilt, Armitage, wa3f and many more.
Features: Supports both 32-bit and 64-bit hardware platforms for installation and running live OSs, Standard boot menu for booting up live DVD OS, Inspired by Backtrack and the most useful choice for starters to learn and research penetration testing.
BlackBuntu is distribution for penetration testing which was specially designed for security training students and practitioners of information security.
BlackBuntu is penetration testing distribution with GNOME Desktop Environment. It’s currently being built using the Ubuntu 10.10 and work on reference BackTrack.
15. Knoppix STD
STD is a Linux-based Security Tool. Actually, it is a collection of hundreds if not thousands of open source security tools. It’s a Live Linux Distro, which means it runs from a bootable CD in memory without changing the native operating system of the host computer. Its sole purpose in life is to put as many security tools at your disposal with as slick an interface as it can.
STD is meant to be used by both novice and professional security personnel but is not ideal for the Linux uninitiated. STD assumes you know the basics of Linux as most of your work will be done from the command line. If you are completely new to Linux, it’s best you start with another live Distro like Knoppix to practice the basics.
STD tools are divided into the following categories authentication, encryption, forensics, firewall, honeypot, ids, network utilities, password tools, servers, packet sniffers, tcp tools, tunnels, vulnerability assessment, wireless tools.
Weakerthan is a penetration testing distribution which is built from Debian Squeeze. For the desktop environment it uses Fluxbox. This operating system is ideal for WiFi hacking as it contains plenty of Wireless tools. It has a very well maintained website and a devoted community.
Built from Debian Squeeze (Fluxbox within a desktop environment) this operating system is particularly suited for WiFi hacking as it contains plenty of Wireless cracking and hacking tools.
Tools includes: Wifi attacks, SQL Hacking, Cisco Exploitation, Password Cracking, Web Hacking, Bluetooth, VoIP Hacking, Social Engineering, Information Gathering, Fuzzing Android Hacking, Networking and creating Shells.
17. Matriux Linux
Matriux Linux – a Debian-based security distribution designed for penetration testing and forensic investigations.
Although suited best for hackers, it can also be used by any Linux user as a desktop system for day-to-day computing.
Matriux has more than 300 open source tools for penetration testing and hacking. Since its the new one, many security researchers claims that it is a better alternative to Kali Linux.
The other well-known Linux based Operating system is backtrack that is being used from few previous years and best known as the OS for network cracking and pen testing. And it’s also the one of the best OS that can perform various network hacks with privacy.
Features: One-stop-shop for all of your security needs, Metasploit for integration, Wi-Fi drivers supporting monitor mode (of mon mode) and packet injection, Cisco OCS Mass Scanner, a very reliable and fast scanner for Cisco routers to test default telnet and enabling password, A large collection of exploits as well as more conventional software such as browsers.
Caine is an Ubuntu-based security-focused distro that is available as a live disk. It stands for Computer Aided Investigation Environment and can also be run from the hard disk after installation. This Linux distro comes with a wide range of tools to help you in system forensics.
Caine comes with a large number of database, memory, forensics, and network analysis applications. This distro for ethical hacking also features common applications like web browsers, email clients, document editors etc. for usual computing purposes.
20. Arch Linux
Arch Linux is a Linux distribution for computers based on IA-32 and x86-64 architectures. It is composed predominantly of free and open-source software and supports community involvement.
Features: Arch Linux uses its Pacman package manager, which couples simple binary packages with an easy-to-use package build system, The minimal Arch base package set resides in the streamlined [core] repository, Arch Linux uses a “rolling release” system which allows one-time installation and perpetual software upgrades, Arch strives to keep its packages as close to the original upstream software as possible.
These are the best hackers operating system, but the final word for those who want to become a professional hacker or data security expert. These tools can not make you a hacker. Try to learn the real hackers vision, thought and service they provide for the world’s of information security and cyber space security.
That’s all!! If you think I forget to add some other favorite operating systems of hackers please comment below. And also soon we will add more hackers operating systems to the list.