Create Kali Linux bootable USB [3 Different Methods]

Kali Linux is one of the most popular Linux distributions focusing on penetration testing and security auditing. The OS prides itself on more than 600 free and open-source security tools. This post will give you a step-by-step guide on creating a Kali Linux bootable USB drive. There are two main reasons why you might need a bootable USB drive of Kali Linux.

  1. You want to install Kali Linux on your PC
  2. You want to run Kali Linux live.

 

Why run Kali Linux from a Live USB drive?

The latter (Kali Linux live) has its own advantages, and I have utilized it in several situations. Some of the advantages of running Kali Linux on a live USB include:

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  • It's non-destructive - This method does not have any impact on the host machine. Any stored data or installed OS is not affected unless you intentionally do it.
  • It gives room for customization and creativity - Like most Linux distributions, you can configure a Kali Linux image to suit your needs and run it from a USB drive.
  • It's portable - Instead of carrying your PC around, you can use a bootable Kali Linux USB drive and run it from any machine.
  • Persistency - You can set your kali bootable USB drive as persistent and save data to the USB drive.
NOTE:
Since Kali 2020.1 release, you will need to download both the Kali Installaler ISO file and the Kali Live ISO file separately. Previously, you could get both the Live and Install options together on one image.

 

Creating a Kali Linux bootable USB drive

There are various ways that you can use to create a bootable USB drive. This post will look at 3 methods you can use on Windows, Linux, or macOS.

  1. Balena Etcher (Windows, macOS, and Linux)
  2. Rufus (Windows)
  3. DD command (Linux and macOS)

 

Method-1: Create Kali Linux Bootable USB Drive with Balena Etcher

Balena Etcher is a famous tool used to create a bootable USB drive for Linux ISO files. The tool is free and open-source available for Windows, Linux, and macOS. In this post, we are running Etcher on Linux (Debian 10). To get started, install Etcher and launch it from the applications menu. With recent releases, Linux users can utilize the AppImage file instead of directly installing the application.

When you first launch Etcher, you will see a window similar to the one below.  Use Flash from file option and choose the downloaded ISO file (in our case, it's Kali Linux ISO) which you want to burn on your USB drive.

Alternatively, you can use the "Flash from URL" option, and Balena will download the file as it writes it to the USB drive.

Create Kali Linux bootable USB [3 Different Methods]

 

Next Select target to select the target USB drive which you wish to make bootable. When done, click the Flash button to start writing the image to the USB drive.

Create Kali Linux bootable USB [3 Different Methods]

 

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The flashing process might take quite some time; please be patient. When done, you will get the message "Complete!" on your Etcher window.

Create Kali Linux bootable USB [3 Different Methods]

 

Method-2: Create Kali Linux Bootable USB Drive with Rufus

Rufus (Reliable USB Formatting Utility, with Source) is another utility you can use to create a bootable USB drive. It's a free and open-source tool available for Windows systems. You can use it to burn both Windows and Linux ISO files on a USB drive. Unlike Balena Etcher, this utility contains many more options and can be a little confusing if you are not keen. To get started, download Rufus from their official website. You don't need to install it—double-click on the exe file to launch the application.

Create Kali Linux bootable USB [3 Different Methods]

 

Let's look at the different options available on the Rufus window:

  • Device: Use this option to select your target USB drive from the dropdown menu
  • Boot selection: Select the type of image you want to write to the USB drive. In our case, it's an ISO file.
  • SELECT: Click this button to select the download Kali Linux file on your system
  • Persistent partition size: If you want to set your bootable USB drive as persistent, drag the bar on this section to set the persistent size you wish.
  • Partition Scheme and Target system: These two options can be confusing since they need to be consistent. If your PC uses Legacy-BIOS, then you will select the MBR partition scheme. If it uses UEFI, then you will select the GPT partition scheme.

 

You can leave the other options as they are (default). Click the "Start" button at the bottom of the window to start writing the image on the USB drive. You can check the progress in the Status section.

Create Kali Linux bootable USB [3 Different Methods]

When the flashing process completes successfully, you will see the "Ready" bar on the status section. Click "Close" and eject your Kali Linux bootable USB drive.

 

Method-3: Create Bootable Kali Linux USB Drive with the dd Command

For Linux users who like running most of their tasks from the Terminal, here is one method you can utilize - the dd command.

To get started, you need to know the device path of your USB drive. For easier identification and to avoid writing the wrong USB drive, eject all USB drives connected to your system except the target drive you wish to make bootable. Then, execute the command below:

sudo fdisk -l

Your internal hard drive is always labelled with the path /dev/sda. Therefore your USB drive will either be /dev/sdb or /dev/sbc and so on. In my case, it's /dev/sdb as shown in the image below.

Create Kali Linux bootable USB [3 Different Methods]

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Ignore parameters such as /sdb1, /sdb2 etc., since these are the partitions on the drive.

 

Now that we know the USB drive path, we can proceed to use the DD command. I recommend opening the Terminal from the directory containing your ISO file. In my case, it's the Documents folder. Execute the command below.

sudo dd if=kali-linux-2020.3-installer-amd64.iso of=/dev/sdb bs=4M

After executing this command, you will see no output in the Terminal until the DD command has finished writing the image to the USB drive.

Create Kali Linux bootable USB [3 Different Methods]

 

If you want to see the progress as dd is burning the image, you will need to use the status argument as shown in the image below.

dd if=kali-linux-2021.2-live-amd64.iso of=/dev/sdb bs=4M status=progress

Create Kali Linux bootable USB [3 Different Methods]

 

Booting your PC from a Kali Linux bootable USB drive

Once you have created your bootable USB drive of Kali Linux, it's time to boot it on your PC.

Shut down the target laptop or machine and insert your bootable USB drive. Power your PC and change the boot order by pressing specific Function keys depending on the PC brand. For example, HP uses F9, Dell uses F12, and so on.

From the boot menu screen, select your bootable USB drive of Kali Linux and hit Enter. After a few seconds, you will be greeted by the Kali Linux installer menu.

Create Kali Linux bootable USB [3 Different Methods]

Next you can proceed to install Kali Linux on your setup.

 

Final Thoughts

In this post, we have looked at three different methods to create a bootable USB drive of Kali Linux. If you want a quick and straightforward method, opt for Balena Etcher. It has an intuitive user interface and is available for Windows, Linux, and macOS. If you want something more advanced with additional options, you should use Rufus or the DD command. Feel free to share your thoughts with us and share any other tool you use with our readers in the comments below.

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