Hands-On with Kali Linux on the Raspberry Pi 4: A Match Made in Heaven

Kali Linux Raspberry Pi

My search for the perfect operating system on the Raspberry Pi 4 computer continues today with Kali Linux, the famous distro dedicated to ethical hacking and penetration testing.

I think everyone knows Kali Linux these days, so let’s get straight on with the review, shall we? Kali Linux supports a wide-range of ARM (32-bit and 64-bit) devices, among which the popular Raspberry Pi family of single-board computers (SBCs).

For Raspberry Pi 4 devices, Kali Linux is available in two variants, a 32-bit image and a 64-bit image. For this review, I’ve downloaded the 64-bit (AArch64/ARM64) image due to the obvious reason that the 64-bit processor in Raspberry Pi 4 performs best with 64-bit software, and my model has 8GB of RAM.

Besides supporting the Raspberry Pi 4, both the 32-bit and 64-bit Raspberry Pi images of Kali Linux also support the Raspberry Pi 2 Model B (version 1.2 is only supported by the 64-bit image), Raspberry Pi 3 Model B, Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+, and Raspberry Pi 400. Support for older, first-generation Raspberry Pi and Raspberry Pi Zero/Zero W models is available as well, as separate images.

Installation and first impression

Installing Kali Linux on the Raspberry Pi 4 is as easy as downloading the image and writing it to a microSD card with an SD card flashing utility, such as Raspberry Pi Imager. Once the image is written to the microSD card, the SD card may be ejected and you can simply insert it into the Raspberry Pi to boot the operating system.

During the first run, Kali Linux doesn’t ask anything, it just works. It doesn’t reboot, it just takes you to the login screen where you will have to use the kali/kali username/password combination, which you’ll be using from here on for any administration (root) command. After that, you’re ready to start hacking on whatever you want or just simply relax and enjoy the gorgeous Xfce desktop environment.

The first thing I always do when installing a new Linux distro is to update it. The latest Kali Linux 64-bit image for Raspberry Pi is part of the Kali Linux 2021.1 release, which arrived at the end of February 2021, so you can imagine that there are quite some updates to apply.

The good news is that Kali Linux for Raspberry Pi uses the latest Xfce 4.16 desktop environment by default. The Kali Linux team did a very good job customizing the Xfce desktop, and I bet you’ll fall in love with it from the first click. All your favorite hacking tools are in place and easily accessible, just like on the desktop flavor.

The not so good news, for some of you, is that the system uses the Linux 4.19 LTS kernel by default, which is forked from the Raspbian (Raspberry Pi OS). This means that you might not get full hardware support, but the Kali Linux team told me that it’s more stable than Linux kernel 5.10 LTS, which is used on the desktop build.

Raspberry Pi OS already switched to Linux 5.10 LTS by default at the end of March 2021, so the next Kali Linux release might ship with Linux kernel 5.10 LTS by default for the Raspberry Pi 4 64-bit image too.

What works or doesn‘t work (with workarounds): Sound doesn’t work out of the box. It looks like it works, but you won’t hear anything on your speakers or headphones connected through the 3.5mm audio jack of the Raspberry Pi because Kali Linux uses HDMI output by default. Thankfully, there’s a simple workaround and all you have to do to hear the audio is to run the sudo amixer -c 0 set numid=3 1 command in a terminal emulator.

Kali Linux Raspberry Pi

Bluetooth doesn’t work out of the box either. The Blueman Bluetooth connection manager utility and BlueZ daemon are installed, but you will have to manually enable the Bluetooth daemon the first time with the sudo systemctl start bluetooth.service command in a terminal emulator. The Bluetooth icon will immediately appear in the system tray and you can now connect your Bluetooth devices.

Kali Linux doesn’t mount exFAT formatted drives by default. It just doesn’t work, even if the necessary packages are installed, so you’ll have to manually mount your exFAT formatted drive with the sudo mount.exfat-fuse /dev/sdaX /media/kali command (where X is the location of the drive you want to mount e.g. /dev/sda2).

You’ll probably not use Kali Linux to watch Full HD (1080p) movies, but just in case, you should know that 1080p YouTube video playback and local video playback appears to work well, but not so much in full-screen mode.

Final thoughts

I think Kali Linux on the Raspberry Pi 4 is a match made in heaven, despite the little things that aren’t enabled or don’t work out of the box. After all, Kali Linux is a specialized distro targeted at ethical hacking, digital forensics, and penetration testing.

What I like about Kali Linux is the fact that it follows a rolling-release model where you install once and receive updates forever (or until you broke the system and have to reinstall). I think it’s as good as Manjaro Linux ARM, but you’re also getting a whole bunch of hacking tools.

One thing I don’t like is that the official Raspberry Pi Configuration (raspi-config) utility isn’t installed by default. I found a guide on how to install it here, but it doesn’t work as expected. In conclusion, I find the Kali Linux and Raspberry Pi 4 combination the perfect tool capable of handling any hacking work you may throw at it.

Last updated 3 years ago

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