Kali Linux Tutorial 2024 (Beginners Easy Step-by-Step Guide)

Kali Linux Tutorial

Are you interested in using Kali Linux but don’t know where to start? You’ve come to the right place.

Kali Linux is a powerful tool for penetration testing and ethical hacking, offering many tools and resources.

This Kali Linux tutorial will show you how to download and install it, explain the desktop, and highlight critical areas you should know. Next, we’ll cover essential steps you should perform once Kali is installed, such as changing the default password.

We’ll show you how to find and install the necessary tools easily and provide you with a list of resources to learn some of the most essential tools.

Let’s begin.

What Is Kali Linux?

Kali Linux is a Debian-based distribution aimed at penetration testing, ethical hacking, digital forensics, and reverse engineering.

Originally known as Whoppix and WHAX, it was later renamed Backtrack before being rebranded as Kali Linux.

The distribution gained significant popularity outside of cyber security and in pop culture after being featured in multiple episodes of the TV show Mr. Robot.

Maintained by Offsec, the company responsible for the OSCP (Offsec Security Certified Professional) certification exam, Kali Linux's first version 1.0.0 "moto" was released in March 2013.

Since then, it has become a widely used tool among offensive security professionals and enthusiasts for its collection of security-focused tools.

Kali Linux Download

The first step is to visit the official Kali Linux website and navigate to the download page. You can choose the platform to install it on, such as virtual machines or a bootable USB drive.

Kali allows you to install it in many different environments, including in the cloud, on arm-based devices such as Raspberry Pi, and even through Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL).

This flexibility makes Kali accessible to many users with varying hardware preferences and needs.

Choose Your Kali

Before installing Kali Linux, you must meet the proper system requirements.

You should have:

  • At least 2 GB of RAM, although we recommend 4 GB or higher.
  • At least 20 GB of free disk space.

We’ll show you how to download the 64-bit ISO version and validate the checksums to ensure the file hasn’t been altered or corrupted during the download process.

To do this, head back to the download page, specifically the installer image section, and select the version you need for your system. If you intend to download a preconfigured virtual machine image, confirming the checksums is the same process.

Kali Installer 64-bit

Depending on the speed of your connection, it may take some time to download.

Validate Checksums

Before you run Kali Linux, ensure the file's hashes are the same. On the download page, select “sum” to see the ISO file's SHA256 hash.

We’ll be using the 64-bit ISO installer for this demo.

Kali Installer SHA256sun

On Windows, navigate to where you downloaded the Kali Linux file. Right-click on the downloaded file, select "CRC SHA" from the context menu, and then choose "SHA-256."

CRC SHA

This will initiate the process of calculating the file's SHA256 checksum.

Calculating Checksum

Once finished, you’ll be shown the file’s hash.

SHA256 Hash of Kali

The checksums match, but let's use PowerShell for verification.

Open a Powershell window in the same directory as the downloaded file and enter the following command:

(Get-FileHash Kalifile -A SHA256).hash -eq "original-file's-checksum"

Kalifile is the file you downloaded. The original file's checksum is the hash from the Kali download page.

If they match, a “True” will be returned.

Powershell Hash Check

How to Install Kali Linux

Now that you’ve downloaded Kali, decide where to install it. We have articles on how to install Kali on VMware, Virtualbox, and Raspberry Pi. You can refer to the following walkthroughs below.

How to Install Kali Linux on Raspberry Pi (And Why Do It?)

How to Install Kali Linux on VMware: The Ultimate Guide

How to Install Kali Linux on VirtualBox & Start Hacking Now

Kali Linux ISO USB

Next, let’s see how you can make a bootable Kali Linux USB drive on Windows so you can install on bare metal; Please note, using a virtual machine for your Kali instance is recommended in most cases.

We'll use the Rufus tool for this purpose.

First, go to the Rufus download page and download the latest version of the application.

Rufus Download

Next, plug in a USB drive to an open port on your computer and note which letter is assigned to it, such as E:

Once downloaded, click on the file to open it. Then, proceed with the following settings to create the bootable USB drive.

Device: The “Device” field should show the USB drive you want to use. Be absolutely sure it's the right one because everything on it will be wiped clean.

Boot Selection: This should point to your Kali Linux ISO file. Hit the “SELECT” button to browse and pick the right ISO.

Partition Scheme: Set the partition scheme to MBR, which is versatile and works for both BIOS and UEFI. It’s a safe bet for broad compatibility.

File System: Select FAT32. This is a good choice because it’s compatible with both BIOS and UEFI. Some systems prefer FAT32 for UEFI boot, so unless you know NTFS will work with your target system, FAT32 is safer.

Cluster Size: Set this to the default. For us, it’s 8192 bytes, which is the default for FAT32 on a 16GB drive in Rufus. It determines how much disk space a file will take up.

Volume Label: Put whatever you want to name the volume. You can call it “Kali Linux,” which helps quickly identify the drive.

Rufus Interface

Once you’re done with the settings, select “START.”

You might be shown an ISOHybrid image prompt.

ISOHybrid image detected

According to Kali's documentation, you should select “Write in DD Image mode.” This ensures the USB will be compatible and bootable on various systems, including Windows.

This mode is recommended for its reliability, as it creates a bit-for-bit copy of the image onto your USB drive, mirroring what's on the original Kali ISO.

Click “OK,” and you're all set!

Rufus will begin creating your bootable USB drive. Once it’s done, you’ll be able to utilize Kali Linux.

Kali Linux Installation

This tutorial follows installing Kali directly on a computer as the primary operating system using the USB we just created. In most cases, using a virtual machine on your regular computer is recommended—you can use the previously mentioned tutorials.

However, if you intend to use a machine solely for Kali, begin by shutting down the computer and inserting the newly created USB. You’ll need to go into your machine’s BIOS and change the boot order to start with the USB and not your hard drive.

Different motherboard manufacturers have different ways of doing this.

Most often, you’ll tap F12 or delete while the computer boots up. Check your motherboard manufacturer’s webpage for instructions on completing this process.

Once this step is complete, your machine will boot from the Kali installation USB and ask you how you wish to install it. Choose “Graphical install.”

Kali Linux Installer Menu

Kali will now begin loading files.

loading files

When asked, select your language, country, and keyboard layout. You’ll then be asked to choose a domain name—in most cases, you can leave this blank and click on “Continue.”

You’ll be asked to select a hostname, which is how this machine will appear on the network.

Configure the network

You’ll have to choose a username—which is how you’ll log into the machine.

set up user

And lastly, you’ll have to choose a password. We went with “kali” for everything.

set up passowrd

Now it’s time to partition your harddrive. Choose “Guided - use entire disk.”

Partition disks

If you only have one hard drive, that will be your only option. Otherwise, ensure you choose the correct one, as all content on that drive will be deleted. Click on Continue.

Partition disks SCSI2

After reviewing, select “Finish partitioning and write changes to disk” and click on Continue.

Partition disks overview

It’ll ask you to confirm. Select “Yes” and “Continue.”

Partition disks yes or no

Now, the base system will be installed.

Installing the base system

You’ll have the opportunity to select a desktop environment. Xfce is the lightest on resources and the most commonly used now. We also think it’s the best looking. Click on “Continue.”

Software selection

You’ll want to install the GRUB boot loader. Select “Yes.”

install the grub boot loader

You don’t need to set up the boot loader manually, so select the recommended hard disk and continue.

install the grub boot loader enter device manually

Kali will now reboot.

finish the installation

Once done, you’ll be taken to a login screen where you can use your credentials to log in.

Understanding the Kali Desktop

Now that Kali is up and running, let’s look at the main areas of the desktop, and we’ll walk you through updating it.

The desktop has a sleek and clean design, free from cluttered icons, creating an organized environment. The dark theme is easy on the eyes.

Kali Desktop Areas

Here are some of the most important areas of the Kali desktop.

  1. Application Menu: Click here to access all the available Kali Linux applications, system settings, and utilities.
  2. File Manager: This icon opens the file manager, where you can browse and manage the files and directories on your system.
  3. Web Browser: This shortcut will launch the default web browser, Firefox.
  4. Terminal: The terminal icon directs you to the command-line interface for performing various tasks and system operations.
  5. Workspace Switcher: This area allows you to switch between multiple virtual desktops or workspaces and organize your windows.
  6. Network Connections: This displays your current network status and allows you to manage network connections.
  7. System Options: From here, you can log out, lock the screen, reboot, or shut down the system.

How to Update Kali Linux

Before using Kali Linux—and every two to four weeks after—it's crucial to update your local package lists with the latest versions from the repositories and then upgrade all installed packages, including the tools, utilities, software, and security updates.

The first step is to update the repositories, and you can do this by opening a terminal and entering the command:

sudo apt update -y

Update Kali

Then, to upgrade, use the command:

sudo apt upgrade -y

Upgrade Kali

Essential Kali Setup

Now that everything is updated and ready to go, it’s a good time to perform some essential setup before using Kali. We’ll show you a few important things you should do.

Change Kali Password

You’ll want to change the default password for the “kali” user, which is also the password used to run commands as the root user.

To do this, open a terminal and enter the following command:

passwd

Follow the prompts to change the password.

Change Kali Password

Set Up a Firewall in Kali

It's highly recommended that you set up a firewall when using Kali. Enabling a firewall is a fundamental security practice that helps prevent unauthorized access to your system. The firewall rules can be adjusted based on your specific usage requirements.

We’ll show you how to install and set up the UFW firewall in Kali—which stands for uncomplicated firewall—which makes setting up a firewall super easy.

Head to the terminal and enter the command:

sudo apt install ufw

Once it’s installed, you can enable the firewall with the command:

sudo ufw enable

We recommend allowing all outgoing connections and denying all incoming connections to begin. You can enable required ports as needed. To do this, enter:

sudo ufw default allow outgoing

sudo ufw default deny incoming

UFW firewall

Remember: You'll need to open ports to catch reverse shells. This can be done with the command:

sudo ufw allow port/protocol

For example, to open TCP port 4444, you’d use the command:

sudo ufw allow 4444/tcp

sudo ufw status verbose

Opening ports can introduce security risks, so only open the ports you need and close them when no longer required.

Enable SSH in Kali

You'll want to enable the SSH service if you need secure remote access to your Kali machine. This allows you to establish encrypted command-line connections over a network. We'll quickly walk through the steps to get SSH up and running on your Kali system.

In a terminal, enter the following commands:

sudo systemctl start ssh

sudo systemctl enable ssh

Then, to verify whether SSH is running, enter the command:

sudo systemctl status ssh

Set up SSH Kali

You’ll now be able to access Kali via SSH.

SSH connection to Kali

Unzip Rockyou in Kali

The rockyou.txt file is a renowned wordlist frequently used as a default for various password-cracking tools. It is conveniently located in the /usr/share/wordlists/ directory on Kali.

It's a compressed archive containing over 14 million plaintext passwords exposed in the infamous 2009 data breach at the social platform RockYou. This massive password list remains highly valuable for penetration testing efforts despite being over a decade old.

You can easily decompress it by entering the following command:

sudo gunzip rockyou.txt.gz

Decompress Rockyou.txt

Finding and Using Kali Linux Tools

Next, we’ll show you how to find Kali's tools and easily open and start them.

All of the applications can be found under the application menu. These are divided into organized categories.

Kali Application Menu

Hovering over each category will show you the tools that belong to it. The screenshot above shows the tools included in the “Exploitation Tools” category.

To search for tools, use the provided search bar and begin typing the tool you’re looking for. In the example below, we’re looking for Wireshark.

Search for Wireshark in Menu

You can also search for tools in the terminal. If you begin typing the tool you’re looking for and then hit the tab key, the terminal will look for tools that begin with those letters and display suggestions for you.

Search for Wireshark Terminal

Some of Kali's most popular tools include Metasploit, Nmap, Wireshark, John, and Hydra.

We’ll show you how to start Wireshark from the menu and the terminal.

To open Wireshark from the menu, simply enter “Wireshark” in the search menu and click on “Run wireshark.”

Kali Run wireshark

You can also start it by entering "Wireshark" in the terminal and hitting "Enter."

Start wireshark terminal

This will open the Wireshark graphical user interface.

Wireshark Kali

Installing Key Kali Tools

While Kali comes preloaded with several tools that are sufficient for most, you may want to tailor your toolset to more specialized purposes.

Kali Metapackages

Kali provides convenient metapackages that bundle together groups of tools for different areas like wireless attacks, web application security, reverse engineering, and more.

We'll demonstrate how to install additional metapackages.

To see a list of all metapackages and the tools included in each, visit the Kali-Meta page.  

Kali-Meta Social Engineering

If you want to install the tools for social engineering, enter the following command:

sudo apt install kali-tools-social-engineering

If you want to install every tool, enter the following command:

sudo apt install kali-linux-everything

You can also install metapackages from the terminal by entering the command:

kali-tweaks

From here, you can choose which packages you want to install.

Kali-Tweaks Metapackages

Important Kali Tools

Next, we’ll show you some tools we think every user should have.

Install WinPeas and LinPeas

To install both WinPeas for Windows privileges escalation and LinPeas for Linux privilege escalation at the same time, enter the following command in the terminal:

sudo apt install peass

Then, anytime you need to transfer these files to a target, simply enter peass in the terminal to find their location.

Kali peass

Install Docker

To install docker, use the following command:

sudo apt install docker.io

Once finished, you can use it by entering docker into the terminal.

Kali docker

Install HTOP

HTOP is a command-line tool used in the Linux operating systems to monitor system resources such as CPU, memory, and disk I/O.

You can easily install it with the command:

sudo apt install htop

Once installed, enter htop in the terminal to start the program.

HTOP Kali

Install Code-OSS Code Editor

We’ll show you how to install the open-source code editor code-oss, which was built from Microsoft Visual Studio Code.

Head to the terminal and enter:

sudo apt install code-oss

Any time you want to open the code editor, enter vscode in the terminal.

Code-OSS Kali

Learning Kali Linux

The best way to learn to use Kali is to immerse yourself in hands-on practice by completing various penetration testing labs and challenges.

One way to do this is by creating your own virtual hacking lab, where you can practice different techniques and tools in a safe environment.

See How to Create a Virtual Hacking Lab: Ultimate Setup for four different difficulty levels that’ll gradually challenge you and allow you to continue growing as a penetration tester.

Also, see 10 Top Places to Practice Ethical Hacking on Your Own for build-your-own labs like Vulnhub and cloud-based labs like OverTheWire.

Another great resource is our Accelerator program, where you’ll gain access to courses and labs to further enhance your penetration testing skills and Kali knowledge.

How to Use Kali Linux: Beginner and Advanced Resources

Once you have Kali all setup and ready to go, you'll want to learn how to effectively use its tools. The following resources will allow you to gain the skills and knowledge needed for password attacks, network mapping, web application testing, and other key areas that the Kali's toolkit covers.

Command Line Resources

The following articles show you how to navigate the command line and make the most of your terminal experience.

Password Cracking Tools

If you want to learn the tools to effectively crack passwords, see the following articles.

WebApp Tools

These articles cover some tools needed for web app testing.

Vulnerability Scanners

Learn how to install and use Nessus with the following article.

Metasploit

The following articles show you how to use the exploitation tool Metasploit framework effectively.

Nmap

These next articles on Nmap will provide in-depth tutorials on using the tool for network scanning, vulnerability assessment, and more.

OSINT and Social Engineering Tools

Learn to use three Kali tools to help you with OSINT and social engineering.

Intercepting Tools

The following articles show you some of the best tools for intercepting and analyzing traffic on a network.

Active Directory Hacking Tools

These next articles show you how to effectively use tools for hacking Active Directory environments.

Conclusion: Your Kali Linux Tutorial for Beginners

After reading our comprehensive Kali Linux tutorial, you should have a solid foundation and a set up system. Now, you’re ready to dive into ethical hacking.

For ongoing learning, instead, consider joining the StationX Accelerator program. Through it, you can learn more advanced skills and techniques from industry experts through our wide range of courses. We also offer other perks like mentorships, roadmaps, and mastermind groups.

Stay curious and keep learning.

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  • Richard Dezso

    Richard is a cyber security enthusiast, eJPT, and ICCA who loves discovering new topics and never stops learning. In his home lab, he's always working on sharpening his offensive cyber security skills. He shares helpful advice through easy-to-understand blog posts that offer practical support for everyone. Additionally, Richard is dedicated to raising awareness for mental health. You can find Richard on LinkedIn, or to see his other projects, visit his Linktree.

  • Dilip Sawlani says:

    Hi there, thank you for sharing Kali Linux Tutorial 2024 (Beginners Easy Step-by-Step Guide). It is amazing. Some of my colleagues mentioned that they have applications till number 14, which SYSTEM SERVICE. However, in my own and many others have only 13, stopping at social engineering tools. Could you please shed some more light on this. Thank you.

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