How to Run BackTrack 5 From a Bootable USB Drive

Updated on September 19, 2016
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Sam works as a Network Analyst for an algorithmic trading firm. He obtained his Bachelors Degree in Information Technology from UMKC.

BackTrack is a very popular open source Linux distribution designed for penetration testing and digital forensics.

The system includes many different tools for information gathering, assessing vunerabilities, RFID analysis, forensics, and more.

There are several ways you can run the BackTrack operating system including a DVD, hard drive, virtual machine, or my personal favorite a bootable USB drive.

Running the OS from a USB drive is much more convenient than burning a CD or managing a VM. You can easily transport the thumbdrive to any computer and quickly boot into the distribution.

When you're finished using BT you can take the thumbdrive with you leaving no traces of on the host computer.

Things You'll Need

To setup BackTrack on a USB drive you'll need three things.

  1. A copy of the the ISO file.
  2. The UNetbootin program.
  3. A USB thumbdrive with at least 4GB of free space.

Downloading the ISO File

The first step in creating a bootable BackTrack USB key is to download the ISO file.

Both KDE and Gnome are offered as Window managers, personally I prefer KDE, but both window managers provide similar functionality.

You also have the option of selecting either the 32-bit or 64-bit version of the distribution. I always use the 64-bit version unless I'm running Backtrack on a system that only supports 32-bit software. The 64-bit version will allow the OS to address systems with over 4GB of memory.

Finally you can select between a torrent, or direct download. I've found that it is much faster to complete the download using Bittorrent. If torrent traffic is blocked at your location you can use the direct download option which uses HTTP.

The ISO for BT5 is about 2.6GB in size. While your waiting for the file to download you can move on to the next step.

Both 32-bit and 64-bit versions are available.
Both 32-bit and 64-bit versions are available.

Downloading UNetbootin

UNetbootin is a very useful utility that makes creating bootable drives easy. You can run the utility on WIndows, Linux or Mac OS X.

No installation is required to run UNetbootin, simply download the version of the utility for your operating system and run the executable.

UNetbootin also has the ability to download the BackTrack ISO automatically but the latest version can't automatically download version 5 R2 at this time. The best way to make sure you have the latest version is to download the ISO for the distribution directly from the BackTrack website.

Making the USB Drive Bootable

If you haven't done so already go ahead and plug the USB drive into your system.

Select the diskimage option and make sure that ISO is selected in the drop box to the right. Click on the button labeled "..." on the right side and browse to the ISO file you downloaded earlier.

Set the type to "USB Drive" and select the drive letter of your USB drive. Click OK to begin the process of transferring the OS to the USB key.

This process will not erase the target USB drive but it's always a good idea to backup any critical data from the drive before performing a procedure like this.

Use the disk image option in UNetbootin.
Use the disk image option in UNetbootin.

It can take about 10 - 20 minutes to load the BackTrack image on the USB drive depending on how fast the USB drive is that you are using.

When everything is complete the software presents the option to reboot or simply exit the program.

Booting BackTrack Linux

To test out the thumbdrive plug it into a computer and reboot the machine. You can configure the machines bios to boot from the USB device or access the one time boot menu for your system. For Dell computers the hotkey for the bootmenu is F12.

If the process worked you should see the boot menu. By default BT will boot into text mode after 30 seconds unless you make a different selection.

The default username and password for the operating system is root / toor.

The Root Shell Environment

After the system finished booting up it will drop into a root shell. From here you can launch any of the command line utilities directly.

BackTrack will automatically start a DHCP client and attempt to obtain an IP address from a local server. You can run the ifconfig command to confirm if an IP address was obtained.

Accessing the GUI Environment

To start the graphical environment from the command line run the startx command. This will load either KDE or Gnome depending on which ISO you downloaded.

I find the GUI environment much easier to work with than simply working in a text only shell. All of the utilities are very nicely organized in the KDE or Gnome environments.

To access the tools open the application launcher menu, which is basically the equivalent of the start menu in Windows. All of the utilities are separated into categories within the BackTrack submenu based on what purpose the tool is used for.

More Information on BackTrack

For more information and guides on using the OS check out the BackTrack Wiki.

You can also find several great videos on Youtube which can help you become familiar with the system.

© 2012 Sam Kear


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