Last updated on October 3, 2020
When you enter the world of computer security, the first thing you need to set up is your working environment. We must spend a good deal of time choosing where we will develop our hacking skills, and a good decision can make our journey a little easier.
Here I will introduce you to the two Linux distributions that I have used and analyze their pros and cons so that you can choose the one that is right for you.
Kali Linux OS
If you’re new to the world of hacking, when it comes to operating systems designed for computer security, you’ll probably only get one name in mind: Kali Linux.
Kali Linux is an open source operating system developed by Offensive Security, a global provider of computer security training and pentesting services. It is the updated version of another operating system called BackTrack, and after many years of life is the computer security operating system par excellence.
Parrot Security OS
This not so well-known operating system is the clear alternative to Kali Linux. Its name is Parrot Security, and it has been developed by the Italian hacker group Frozenbox Team.
Unlike Kali, this operating system is only 5 years old. It is Debian-based and is designed for pentesting testing, vulnerability assessment and analysis, forensic analysis, anonymity and cryptographic management. Again, we are faced with an open source operating system that makes it an all-in-one for a computer security professional.
Pros and Cons
When I first became interested in cybersecurity as a first-year college graduate, the first thing I did was install Kali Linux. With no idea whatsoever, it was the only thing that sounded familiar. Used to using Windows and Ubuntu, dealing with this distribution was complicated. Kali Linux is not user friendly.
I remember I found out because it was the S.O. that had a professor on his laptop. Today, I know that installing Kali Linux as the main operating system is simply… ridiculous. Kali Linux is designed to run on a virtual machine. With all the tools out there, it’s very easy to have problems with some of them and to crash the system. In a virtual machine, you simply back up before you do something dangerous, and if you break it, you can restore and try again.
The same goes for Parrot Security. The simplest, safest and most useful thing for both a computer security professional and someone who is learning is to always work in virtual machines. However, Parrot Security is simpler and more usable because it uses the MATE desktop environment, while Kali Linux uses GNOME.
MATE seems to me an ideal environment, very comfortable and intuitive. All the usability problems I had were configurable and I was able to solve them. For example, the default appearance prevents you from seeing the scroll bars. However, it includes 6 different appearances, so I was able to change to another very similar one if I could see them.
Another disadvantage of this distribution was that the windows could only be resized by clicking on a certain point at the top right, something very unintuitive. But after googling for a while I discovered that all I had to do was press ALT + left mouse click and I could resize it from anywhere.
The last one of my discomforts was caused because being used to Windows systems where the minimize, maximize and close icons are on the right, being on the left annoyed me a little. Again, I discovered that it was completely configurable, and customizable. That’s how my environment was after the changes:
I consider this to be one of its main advantages over Kali. Anyone who works minimally on Ubuntu can use it. That’s why I see it as more user-friendly, being able to use it as the main operating system to perform other tasks and jobs (it includes all LibreOffice, KeepNote, programming environments, file manager and more).
Kali has a much bigger team behind him than Parrot, and is world-famous. This is an advantage over the fact that it is very likely that all the problems you have encountered have already been experienced by others before and are on the Internet.
However, the Parrot team is more active in terms of updates and invests a large part of its effort in maintenance, bug fixes and improvements. And most importantly, if you need to contact the team, either because of a problem or a suggestion, it’s much easier with Parrot than with Kali.
Both systems have an impressive amount of tools installed, but while Kali focuses on pentesting, Parrot also offers powerful cryptography and anonymity tools (Anon Surf is a clear example). But this is only an advantage if you are interested in researching these fields.
Finally, in terms of hardware requirements, they are practically the same: 32-bit and 64-bit architectures, Dual Core 1GHz CPUs (minimum), and Legacy&UEFI hardware. However, Parrot consumes far fewer resources than Kali: it requires 380MB of RAM compared to 1GB for Kali, and in terms of secondary memory, it recommends 16GB for Kali compared to 20GB for Kali.
For this reason, if your computer does not have very good features, Parrot may be a good option.
So, which one to choose?
There is no easy answer. Most people prefer Kali Linux. Maybe it’s because it’s been more stable than Parrot so far and didn’t have so many bugs. And because it is so well known, there are many people who simply use it because they do not know of other alternatives. In my case, having tried both, I stay with Parrot Security.
In fact, it’s the operating system I currently use in my work. But I’ve been with Kali Linux for several years and the only real difference I’ve noticed is the environment. After all, the tools remain virtually the same, perhaps some more curious or specific than in Kali.
However, I think the best option is to download both and try them yourself. Analyze your needs and act on them. And of course, I recommend that you use the one you use, get used to snapshots before any update.
Here are some links for you to access both distributions.