12 Best Hacking Operating Systems + Linux Pen Testing In 2021

hacking operating systems

It’s time to pause the archaic Windows vs. macOS vs. Linux discussion and switch over to some advanced operating systems dedicated to pen testing and ethical hacking. A security-focused operating system is a hacker’s best friend as it helps them to detect the weaknesses in computer systems or computer networks.

Fossbytes has prepared a list of best Linux distros for penetration testing. With the ever growing important of security, finding the perfect hacking operating systems is of utmost importance for an ethical hacker in 2021.

Here is the list of 12 best Linux distributions for hacking along with their download links. All of these are based on Linux Kernel and free to use. Let’s take a look:

12 Best OS For Hacking In 2021

Kali Linux:

Kali Linux: Hacking Operating Systems

Developed by Offensive Security as the rewrite of BackTrack, Kali Linux distro tops our list of the best operating systems for hacking purposes. This Debian-based OS comes with 600+ preinstalled pen testing tools that make your security toolbox richer. These versatile tools are updated regularly and are available for different platforms like ARM and VMware. For a forensic job, this top hacking operating system comes with a live boot capability that provides a perfect environment for vulnerability detection. Now Kali Linux is based on a rolling release model

Download Kali Linux

Parrot Security OS:

parrot security os 3.9
Images: Parrot OS Facebook Page

Debian-based Parrot Security OS is developed by Frozenbox’s team. This cloud-friendly Linux distribution is designed for ethical hacking, pen testing, computer forensics, ethical hacking, cryptography etc. Compared to others, Parrot Security OS promises a lightweight OS that is highly efficient. Along with its plethora of legally recognized tools, you also get the opportunity to work and surf anonymously.

For those who don’t know, Parrot Security OS is a mixture of Frozenbox OS and Kali Linux. The OS uses Kali repos for updating its tools, but it has its own dedicated repo for storing the custom packets. It comes with MATE desktop environment and the powerful interface is derived from famous Gnome 2. This highly customizable hacking oeprating system also comes with a strong community support.

Download Parrot Security OS


backbox linux 5
Image: Fossbytes

BackBox Linux is an Ubuntu-based operating system with its focus on security assessment and penetration testing. BackBox Linux comes with a wide range of security analysis tools that help you in web application analysis, network analysis etc. This fast and easy to use hackers’ favorite Linux distro comes with a complete desktop environment. The software repos of the hacking tools in this hacking operating system are regularly updated with the most stable versions.

Download BackBox Linux

Samurai Web Testing Framework:

samurai best hacking distro operating system

Samurai Web Testing Framework is basically a live Linux environment that comes pre-configured to work as a web pen-testing platform. The framework contains multiple free and open source hacking tools for detecting vulnerabilities in websites. It’s often called the best operating system for Web Penetration Testing.

Download Samurai Web Testing Framework

Pentoo Linux:

pentoo best hacking distro operating system

Based on Gentoo Linux, Pentoo is a pen testing operating system that is available as a 32 and 64-bit installable Live CD. You can also use Pentoo on top of an existing Gentoo Linux installation. This XFCE-based distro comes with persistence support that allows you to save all the changes you make before running off a USB stick.

This excellent hacking operating system comes with a wide variety of tools that fall under categories like Exploit, Cracker, Database, Scanner etc. This Gentoo derivative inherits the Gentoo Hardened feature set that brings additional control and configuration.

Download Pentoo Linux

DEFT Linux:

deft zero hacker distro text mode
Text Mode (Image: DEFT)

The open source Linux distribution DEFT stands for Digital Evidence and Forensic Toolkit. It’s based on Ubuntu and built around the DART (Digital Advanced Response Toolkit) software. It comes with many popular forensic tools and documents that can be used by ethical hackers, penetration testers, IT security specialists, and other individuals.

Download DEFT Linux


CAINE Linux Slideshow
CAINE Linux Slideshow

Caine is an Ubuntu-based security-focused distro that is available as a live disk. It stands for Computer Aided Investigation Environment and can also be run from the hard disk after installation. This Linux distro comes with a wide range of tools to help you in system forensics.

Caine comes with a large number of database, memory, forensics, and network analysis applications. This distro for ethical hacking also features common applications like web browsers, email clients, document editors etc. for usual computing purposes.

Download Caine

Network Security Toolkit (NST):

nst011 best hacking distro operating system

Network Security Toolkit is a Fedora-based Linux distro that runs on 32 and 64-bit platforms. This bootable live CD was created to give you an access to the best open source network security applications for pen testing purposes. This easy-to-use hacking distro easily converts the x86 systems into an ethical hacking machine that is helpful in intrusion detection, network traffic sniffing, network packet generation, network/host scanning etc.

Download Network Security Toolkit

BlackArch Linux:


BlackArch Linux is available as a complete Linux distribution for security researchers and ethical hackers. It’s derived from Arch Linux and one can also install the BlackArch Linux components on top of it.

The constantly growing repo of this useful operating system for hacking purposes is stuffed with more than 1400 tools that are thoroughly tested before being added to the codebase.

Download BlackArch Linux



Available in Debian, Ubuntu, and OpenSuSe, Bugtraq is famous for its electronic mailing list that is purely dedicated to computer security. The issues that are covered are vulnerability discussion, security-related announcements, exploitation methods, etc. The Bugtraq Team consists of experienced hackers and developers that offer a great service for ethicals and pen testers.

Bugtraq comes with tons of pen testing tools including mobile forensic tools, malware testing tools and other software developed by the Bugtraq-Community.

Download Bugtraq

ArchStrike Linux:

archstrike linux distro

ArchStrike is a great Linux distribution for hacking purposes. It’s a penetration testing and security layer on top of the popular Arch Strike Linux distro. This ethical hacking operating system follows the Arch Linux philosophy very closely. It should be noted that unlike other Linux-based distros on this list, ArchStrike isn’t a standalone Linux distro. Instead, it’s an Arch Linux repository for security professionals with tons of pen testing tools.

ArchStrike website

Fedora Security Spin:

Fedora Security Spin acts as a safe test environment for working on security auditing, system rescue, and teaching purposes. It’s maintained by a community of security testers and developers. Powered by the popular lightweight Xfce Desktop Environment, Fedora Security Spin comes with all the important security tools you’ll need. It has firewalls, network analyzer, password crackers, intrusion prevention, forensics, password tools, etc. Some of the featured applications in this Linux distribution for hacking are Etherape, Ettercap, Medusa, Nmap, Scap-workbench, Skipfish, Sqlninja, Wireshark, and Yersinia.

Fedora Security Spin website

Parrot vs Kali vs BlackArch? Which one to choose?

If you ask any beginner and experienced security expert or look online for best hacker Linux distro, you’ll find answers like — “Distro and tools don’t matter. It’s all about skills.” This statement is true to some extent, but not always. There’s a loyal following of popular options like Kali Linux, Parrot OS, BlackArch, etc., which proves that they have their own strengths that make them popular among the different set of users.

Out of these three, both Parrot and Kali are based on Debian. So, they are more similar to each other as compared to BlackArch. As compared to Parrot, Kali is older and there are tons of video tutorials and ebooks available on the web. On the other hand, many people prefer Parrot for its long list of tools and modern looks. While deciding between the two, you can also look for the reviews of their latest versions to get the idea of the current state of development, bugs, and new features. This will help you to make the decision easily. Another thing you can consider is the release cycle of these distros.

For BlackArch, making the choice is much easier as it’s based on Arch Linux. As a result, the workflow and commands are different. So, if you’re much comfortable in Arch environment, BlackArch could be your preferred hacking Linux OS.

Did you find our list of the best operating systems/Linux distributions for hacking purposes useful? Share your views in the comments below.

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