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How To Install Kali Linux On USB (And Boot Your Computer from USB)

Today you'll learn step by step how to install Kali Linux live on a USB flash drive, and how to boot your computer from USB so you can run Kali Linux at any time using only a USB stick.

By the end of this post, you'll have a USB flash drive with Kali Linux pre-installed that you can boot from any computer.

Why You Should Create a Kali Linux Bootable USB stick

  • You'll have a ready to use copy of Kali Linux wherever you go (pre-installed in a USB drive)
  • You can run Kali Linux at any nearby computer (that supports boot from USB)
  • No need to install anything or make changes to the host computer

You simply plug in your USB, boot the computer from USB, and you're ready to get hacking.


Download a Live Image of Kali Linux & Universal USB Installer

First, you’ll need to download a free program called Universal USB installer. This free program allows you to install any Linux distribution on a USB flash drive. If you're on a MacOS, you can use Etcher or UNetbootin.

Next up, we need to download a live image of Kali Linux from the Kali website. There are 3 types of Kali Linux images you can download on their site, make sure you download the live image which is what we need to install Kali on a USB.

The live image is what is needed to install and run Kali Linux on a USB stick or CD/DVD. The Installer and NetInstaller images are only used  if you plan to do a full install of Kali Linux on your hard drive. 

install kali linux live usb

Install Kali Linux on USB Using Universal USB Installer

Now that we've downloaded Universal USB Installer, our next step is to install the Kali Linux image onto our USB using the program we just downloaded.

If you haven’t already, plug in your USB flash drive now.

Then, start the Universal USB Installer. Once you’re at the selections page, follow these steps:

  1. Select Kali Linux
  2. Select “browse” then select the Kali Linux ISO image (you downloaded)
  3. Select your USB flash drive, then click “Create”
install kali linux universal usb installer

Before you proceed:

Double check to make sure you selected the correct USB drive. If so, click “yes.”

universal usb installer set up kali

Now we wait.

Depending on the write speed of your flash drive, this process might take awhile so just be patient.

You’ll know it’s complete once you see this:

universal usb install complete

How To Boot Kali Linux From USB

Next up, we'll need to boot our computer from USB. The process of getting your Windows or Mac to boot from USB drive is fairly straightforward. Here are step by step instructions on how to boot your computer from a USB flash drive. 

Booting from USB on Windows PC

If you’re on Windows, here’s how to boot from USB:

1. Insert USB flash drive into a USB slot on your Windows computer.

2. Reboot  your Windows PC (or power on if off).

3. Immediately hit the key to change the BOOT option/device. It's usually ESC/F10/F12

NOTE: Your boot option key might be different, so pay close attention to the bottom part of the screen during the initial boot up. This is how mine looks like:

how to boot windows from usb

4. Once in the boot menu, use your arrow keys to select boot from USB (if it asks you to select which media, select the USB you used to install Kali then hit enter).

windows boot option menu

Booting from USB on Mac

If you're on a Mac, here's how to boot from USB:

1. Insert USB flash drive into a USB slot on your Mac computer.

2. Power on your Mac (or restart if it’s already on)

3. Immediately press AND hold down the Option/alt key until you see the Startup Manager window.

4. Use the arrow keys or pointer to select the USB drive you wish to boot from and then hit enter/return.

how to boot mac from usb

Getting Started: Kali Linux Live USB

After booting from USB, wait for it to start up until you see the Kali boot menu.

Select the default (Live) then hit “Enter”

kali linux live boot persistence usb

What is Kali Linux Live?

During a live session, any changes you make, files you download, packages you install, etc – all of it will be deleted the moment you end the live session and unplug the USB.

Each time you start a new live session, you’re starting from a clean slate.

In order to save any data or changes you make during a live session, you need to configure Persistence on your USB which I’ll be covering on a separate post.

The default login for Kali Linux is: root / toor

That’s it! Now you have Kali Linux in your pocket (or wherever you keep your flash drive), and you can launch it at any time and at any nearby computer (that supports booting from USB).

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