1. Qubes OS
Qubes OS uses the Xen Hypervisor to run a number of virtual machines, compartmentalising your life into ‘personal’, ‘work’, ‘internet’ and so on for the sake of security. This means if you accidentally download malware on your work machine for instance, your personal files won’t be compromised.
The main desktop uses colour-coded windows to show different virtual machines, making it easy for you to tell them apart.
All connections are routed through the anonymity network Tor, which conceals your location. The applications in Tails have also been carefully selected to enhance your privacy – for example, there’s the KeePassX password manager. There are also a small number of productivity apps such as Mozilla Thunderbird and the powerful LibreOffice suite.
You can install more applications from Debian repositories via the command line, but they will take some time to download as they pass through the Tor network.
3. BlackArch Linux
The distro is constantly updated, with new ISO images being released on a quarterly basis. These are very large in size (currently 7.5GB) due to the amount of pre-installed programs, but note that there's also a much smaller Netinstall version which is only around 500MB.
BlackArch can be run live from a USB stick or CD, or installed onto a computer or virtual machine. It can even be installed onto a Raspberry Pi to give you a portable pen-testing computer that you can carry anywhere.
Kali’s reputation is so formidable that its creators offer training through the Kali Linux Dojo. Lessons include customising your own Kali Linux ISO and learning the fundamentals of pen-testing. For those unable to attend the training, all educational resources from the classes are available on Kali’s website free of charge.
This is known as 'garlic routing', a process whereby I2P establishes one-directional encrypted tunnels to protect your data. This is theoretically much safer than Tor's 'onion routing' which transmits data over established 'circuits', meaning they can be targeted for surveillance.
Booting a Live operating system is a nuisance as you have to restart your machine, while installing it to a hard drive means there’s a risk of it being compromised. Whonix offers an elegant compromise by being designed to work as a virtual machine inside the free program Virtualbox.
7. Discreete Linux
This intentionally misspelled distro is the successor to the awesome Ubuntu Privacy Remix. The OS contains no support for network hardware or internal hard drives, so all data is stored offline in RAM or on a USB stick. It can be run in Live mode, but when booting from a volume also allows you to store some of your settings in an encrypted ‘Cryptobox’.
8. Parrot Security OS
Parrot is based on Debian 10 (Buster), the testing branch of this OS, so you might encounter stability issues. However, note that Parrot has much more colourful backgrounds and menus than its parent OS. As such, its hardware requirements are rather more demanding than other pen-testing distros such as Kali.
9. Subgraph OS
A specialised firewall also routes all outgoing connections through the anonymous Tor network. Each application has to be manually approved by the user to connect to the network, and to access other applications’ sandboxes.
The public version of TENS is specifically designed to be run in Live mode, meaning that any malware is removed on shutdown. It includes a minimal set of applications but there is also a ‘Public Deluxe’ version which comes with Adobe Reader and LibreOffice. All versions include a customisable firewall, and it’s also worth noting that this operating system supports logging in via Smart Card.
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