Pentesters' fave Kali Linux turns 10 with version 23.1

The developers of specialized security-testing distro Kali Linux have released the first version of 2023, which marks the project's tenth anniversary... but only in this incarnation.

The new version, release 2023.1, appears exactly one decade after version 1.0 was released on March 13th 2013. Kali Linux is a rebuild of an earlier distro called BackTrack, first rolled out 17 years ago, which was based on WHAX, first out 18 years back, which is in turn based on Whoppix. Suffice to say, it goes back a long while.

Kali rates highly on Distrowatch - it's currently at number 18, pop-pickers - which we ascribe mainly to its appearances on TV show Mr Robot and the consequent perception that this is a cool tool for élite hackers penetration testers and other security professionals.

For the type of people it targets, it's a handy time-saver. It has a bewildering variety of tools, and when installing, you can choose whether you want them all built in, or just a core set. Frankly, the Reg FOSS desk is not an élite hacker and has never worked as a pen-tester - although he has warned some large companies about holes in their network security before now.

As such, this vulture is lamentably lacking in competence to judge Kali for the purposes for which it's intended. As a desktop distro, though, it looks pretty good. By default, you get the niftiest configuration of Xfce that we've seen since we looked at Zinc last year, complete with an immaculately catalogued app menu. It looks good and it works well. It has handy options such as configuring a separate /home partition in the installer, and when we installed it in VirtualBox, it automatically configured the graphics driver, so the desktop resized along with the window and so on. Even if you're just a hacker-wannabe, you could do a lot worse, and other distros could learn from the attention to detail here.

Similarly to the Debian-based siduction, it's a rolling-release distro. We got the latest kernel 6.1 and Xfce 4.18.1. But saying that, these days, Kali Linux is not so much a distro as a family of them. As well as the default Xfce version, there are also KDE (5.27) and GNOME (43) editions. Work is underway on a new, defensive- rather than offensive-security focused edition called Kali Purple which describes itself as a SOC in a box - as in, a Security Operations Center rather than a system-on-a-chip (SoC).

There is an almost bewildering variety of different editions of Kali. You can install it locally, with versions for both x86-32 and x86-64 PCs, plus Apple Silicon Macs. Alongside those, there are versions for the Raspberry Pi 1, the Pi 2 through 4, the Pi Zero W, and Pi Zero 2 W, plus the Newport and Ventana USB-key-sized SBCs from Gateworks, and the USBArmory mk II SBC from F-Secure spin-off WithSecure.

There's also an edition of Kali for the PinePhone and PinePhone Pro, plus there's a special version called NetHunter with editions for a range of Android phones. Alongside all these, there are separate VM images customized for VirtualBox, VMware, and QEMU, plus cloud editions, container editions, and a version that runs on Windows Services for Linux. The Kali development team hasn't forgotten its various roots in multiple live-CD distros, and there are also live editions that run direct from USB on x86-32, x86-64 and M1 Macs without installation.

There are more variants of Kali than arms on the Hindu Goddess of Death after whom it is named, and it is just as fearsomely capable as she. We may not have felt that way when we first approached Kali, but we backed away with considerable respect. ®

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