The 5 Best Linux Distributions For Security Testing [Guide]

The Linux platform is one of the best when it comes to security and ethical hacking. Thanks to the open source community, anyone that wants to get into this field has all the tools they need, for free. If you’re looking for a good Linux distribution for security testing, there are a lot to choose from.

Since there are so many choices, we’ll sort through and rank the best Linux distributions for security testing, ethical hacking and etc.

Note: please do not download any of these Linux distributions to use them for malicious activities. They are tools for learning how to improve security practices, find bugs, exploits, and network problems.

1. Kali Linux

When most users think about “hacking”, they think of Kali Linux. It’s the name-brand for this kind of thing, and for good reason: nearly every tool one would need to inspect the security of networks, programs and find exploits is there.

Notable Features

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  • Customization feature lets users build their own version of Kali Linux.
  • LUKS Encryption support.
  • Supports FDE (full disk encryption) means sensitive data is protected.
  • Has a “forensics” mode that can run completely from USB, which is useful when inspecting other computers.
  • Comes with a full suite of penetration testing tools installed and ready to go.
  • Documentation includes “training” for would-be security experts.
  • Can be used as a traditional operating system, with a privacy focus alongside security testing.
  • Has a companion Android ROM which allows users to security test anywhere.
  • Use of Debian as a base gives users superior program support.
  • Custom kernel ensures support for a multitude of wireless devices via included drivers.
  • Support for ARM devices (armel, armhf, and arm64).
  • Kali allows users to create a “persistent” live USB version of the operating system, ensuring maximum security without the need to constantly re-setup the OS before each use.

2. BlackArch

BlackArch is an expansion to mainline Arch Linux with a focus on ethical hacking, penetration testing and security. Unlike a lot of other pen-testing distros, Black Arch gives users a choice to install the OS or to add a third-party software repo.

Notable Features

  • If users don’t want to install the BlackArch official distribution but still want to use the tools they can add the software to any traditional Arch Linux installation.
  • Arch Linux base ensures users always get the latest tools as soon as possible.
  • Has both Live ISO images and installable images to provide for multiple use-cases.
  • Supports ARM devices like Raspberry Pi.
  • Has downloadable VirtualBox OVA images to allow security experts the ability to quickly get a VM going to test in.
  • All BlackArch tools show users how to build software from source in detail on the web, ensuring users of Arch Linux derivatives the ability to install the tools as well.

3. Parrot Security OS

Parrot Security OS is a great penetration testing operating system with a reliable Debian base. The developers behind Parrot try to deliver a sleek, lightweight security distribution with a great set of tools.

Notable Features

  • Lightweight desktop environment means it will run on nearly any PC, which is a plus when doing forensics on aging hardware.
  • Sandboxing support means no private information leaks.
  • Comes with Bettercap, Tor, Wifite, and dozens of other penetration and security testing tools pre-installed.
  • Aside from security testing, Parrot is set up as a fully functional operating system centered around privacy protection.
  • Includes anti-forensics tools to ensure other people can’t get to your data.
  • Has a “stealth” boot option to allow maximum privacy.
  • Uses Debian 9 Stretch (stable branch) as a base for the OS for superior reliability.

4. WifiSlax

WifiSlax is a secure, Spanish Linux distribution with a major focus on wireless connections and Wifi security. It has support for various different wireless chips that may not be present on other security distributions. In addition to it’s focus on wireless, WifiSlax includes forensic, security and pen-testing tools.

Notable Features

  • Slackware base ensures maximum stability and reliability.
  • Support for dozens of different wireless chips means tons of Laptops can be put to use for wireless-related security/pen-testing.
  • Can run as a live ISO or install directly to the hard drive.
  • Ability to choose between multiple desktop environments directly from a live USB ISO without installing anything.

5. BackBox Linux

BackBox is a security and penetration testing Linux distribution with an Ubuntu base. Like many other distributions out there, it comes with lots of different tools, pre-installed to make security testing less about installing tools and more about using the software.

Notable Features

  • Ubuntu LTS base ensures users can keep the operating system installed without the need for constant upgrades between releases.
  • PPA support means alternative security tools not included with BackBox is easy.
  • Also available to use on Amazon AWS, perfect for professional security testers working with servers and enterprise environments.
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