The importance of penetration testing in Linux

Penetration testing forms a critical part of cyber security services. Penetration testing can help identify security vulnerabilities in a system and provide information about how to fix them. It can also help prevent attacks by showing what types of attacks are possible and how to defend against them. With cyber threats becoming more sophisticated and dangerous to businesses, it is important that penetration testing is as thorough and advanced as possible.
19.10.23 Charles Griffiths
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Linux penetration testing

Linux is often used for this type of testing because it is an open-source operating system and provides many tools that can be used for security analysis.

Penetration testing is an important part of security for any system, but it is especially important for Linux systems because they are often used in critical environments. Linux systems are used in many industries, including healthcare, finance, and government. They are also often used as servers for websites and email.

The benefits of penetration testing with Linux

Security

Linux is considered more secure than other operating systems, mainly because of its open-source nature. This makes it easier for security experts to find and fix vulnerabilities. The fact that Linux is less popular than Windows means that there are fewer targets for attackers.

Cost

Linux is free and open-source, so you don’t have to pay for a license. This can save you a lot of money, especially if you’re running a business.

Customisability

Linux has a huge variety of operating systems (called distributions or ‘distros’ for short) to choose from, meaning users can find a system that best suits their needs. The code for most of these is customisable, so you can make your own adjustments and tailor the OS to your needs. This is perfect for penetration testers, as they often need to customise their tools and environment.

Reliability

Linux is known for its reliability. Bugs and security issues are often found and flagged by the community so they can be fixed quickly. This makes it a good choice for systems that need to be up and running all the time, such as servers.

For penetration testers, reliability is key as they need the best tools that won’t malfunction in the middle of an engagement.

Compatibility

Servers and other critical IT infrastructure need to constantly run with no downtime. This means systems, such as a database server operating system, benefit from the reliability that Linux offers.

This means it is easier to pen test with Linux-based software, cutting the time and cost of engagements. In addition, Linux is compatible with many different types of hardware and software, meaning it can be used in a wide variety of computer systems.

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What is the best penetration testing distro?

While penetration testing can largely be done with any distro, using a specific penetration testing focused Linux distro can give testers access to better tools that can more thoroughly test system security. Listed below are five distros that are perfect for penetration testing.

Kali Linux

The Kali Linux distro is one of the most advanced and well-known penetration testing systems available. It is based on Debian and contains extensive documentation to help both new and seasoned penetration testers use the distro to its full potential. Kali comes with over 600 testing tools pre-installed, making it a great choice for penetration testers.

Penetration testing with the Kali Linux distro

Kali Linux was designed with penetration testing in mind. It includes a large range of tools that can be used to test the security of systems. Other Linux distros can have pen testing tools installed and configured, but Kali Linux cuts the setup time and enables developers to get to work quickly.

Kali Linux is compatible with a range of devices and software, including Docker, mobile devices and Amazon Web Services. With its powerful tools, Kali Linux can be used to test the security of a range of applications, such as Microsoft SQL server software, web applications and more.

Highlights

Customisable: Kali Linux was built with pen testing and ethical hacking in mind, giving developers plenty of tools with which to fine-tune their engagements.

Detailed documentation: Kali Linux contains detailed documents that help with everything from navigating menus to using tools. Its large, active community help ensure these guides are kept up to date.

Stable: Systems are usually a few versions old, meaning the software has been more thoroughly tested.

Watch out for

Not as many tools available as competitors: While the developers have ensured that only the best tools have been included, there may be some use cases where Kali Linux struggles or other distros would perform better.

Slower than other distros: There are reports of Kali Linux lagging, particularly on older and lower-spec machines.

BlackArch Linux

BlackArch is a distro that is based on Arch Linux and can be installed over this operating system for a seamless experience. At the time of writing, the catalogue of tools numbers 2809, giving BlackArch users a far more comprehensive library of security testing tools than many of its counterparts.

Penetration testing with BlackArch Linux

The developers of BlackArch have put together an exhaustive list of tools for testers, making it a great choice for those who want access to as many testing tools as possible. The tools are well-documented and easy to use, giving testers the ability to get up and running quickly.

In addition, BlackArch supports multiple architectures, meaning it can be used on a wide range of systems. This makes it a versatile distro that can be used in many different engagements.

Highlights

Huge number of tools: With such a large catalogue, pen testers using BlackArch are sure to find the perfect tool for their needs.

Perfect for Arch Linux users: BlackArch can be installed over the existing distro, meaning users familiar with Arch will find this distro easy to set up and configure.

Watch out for

The organisation isn’t optimised: Tools are sorted into large lists with few categories, which can make navigation cumbersome
Not as established as other distros: BlackArch is a relatively new project, so may have some issues

Relies on lightweight window managers to draw desktop: This may restrict the audience for the distro, as many Linux users won’t have the managers installed – however, the fact it gets out of the way to let developers work could be seen as a benefit.

BackBox

BackBox is based on Ubuntu and includes a range of security tools that can be used for everything from penetration testing to network vulnerability tests. Where other distros have a core group of developers maintaining the code, BackBox markets itself as a ‘Free Open Source Community Project’ that aims to demonstrate the power and potential of the community.

Penetration testing with BackBox

One of the main features of BackBox is its organisation. Tools like security scanners and vulnerability assessment tools are neatly sorted into three sections. The first contains tools to help users gather information about the environment. The second has tools to help you with social engineering and reverse-engineering programs. The third has tools for analysis.

Highlights

Organisation: The neat menus make BackBox easy to use.

Tips: Popups next to tools are great for helping newer users navigate and choose the most suitable applications

Tor: For those who like their privacy, BackBox contains a script that can route all Internet-bound traffic from the distro through Tor.

Watch out for

Less tools than counterparts: While it contains most of the main security tools used in penetration testing, other distros have a more comprehensive library to choose from.

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Parrot Security OS

Based on the same Debian architecture as popular pen-testing distro Kali Linux, Parrot Security OS is a lightweight distro that aims to do more than its counterparts. To this end, it is a more rounded operating system, incorporating privacy tools that mean users can remain hidden when working.

Penetration testing with Parrot Security OS

As it is based on Debian, Parrot Security OS is portable, so can be used on everything from a desktop to a mobile phone. One of the main features of this distro is the Forensics mode; activating it means no information is mounted on system hard drives or partitions, leaving no effect on the host system. This stealth mode is perfect for penetration testers looking to leave no trace of their activities.

Highlights

Runs well even on older hardware: This is a lightweight distro, meaning it doesn’t use many resources and allows for more programs to run simultaneously, even on older hardware.

Anonsurf: This comes pre-installed, giving users the ability to become anonymous at the click of a button.

Supports major cryptocurrencies: Parrot’s focus on privacy means it supports cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, so users can use blockchain to secure their transactions.

Watch out for

Fewer tools compared to counterparts: While Parrot is more rounded and useable outside of pen testing compared to others in this list, that comes at a cost; there are other distros that have far more tools than what Parrot offers.

Conclusion

While Windows is the recommended OS for penetration testing, the customisability of distros makes Linux useful for pen testers. This customisability is unmatched; users can define external configuration files and change the user interface to suit their needs.

Penetration testing is a critical part of robust cyber security. Ensuring the tests are as thorough as possible means malicious actors are less likely to be able to hack systems. Using a Linux distro aids this.

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