Table of Contents
Without privacy, there's a chilling effect on free speech and expression. Political figures, journalists, law enforcement, and government workers have been targets for blackmail, doxxing, smear campaigns, or other types of cyber extortion when their private communications are exposed. For these individuals and others, a breach of privacy isn't just an inconvenience; it could be a direct threat to safety.
More broadly, privacy violations allow for extensive profiling by companies. This data influences purchasing decisions, political views, and even personal beliefs. While targeted advertising might seem benign, the underlying manipulation of user behavior and choices can have profound societal impacts. The misuse of personal data can lead to significant economic consequences. If people can't trust online platforms due to privacy concerns, they might refrain from online transactions, stunting digital economic growth.
While protecting your online privacy can seem prohibitively complex and a never-ending process, there are push-button solutions for highly sensitive interactions, although they often come with tradeoffs. In this article we will explore Tails OS and how it enables push button privacy for high-security scenarios.
The Amnesic Incognito Live System (Tails OS)
Tails, or "The Amnesic Incognito Live System," is a security-focused Debian-based Linux distribution aimed at protecting the online privacy and anonymity of its users. With its focus on privacy and anonymity, Tails is aimed at helping journalists, activists, and individuals living in repressive regimes to communicate securely and avoid surveillance.
While no operating system or software can guarantee complete anonymity or security, especially if the user's behavior compromises these attributes, it is possible to take measures to increase privacy.
Tails OS Features
Live Operating System: Tails is designed to be used as a live operating system, which means it is run from a USB stick or DVD. It does not require installation on the host computer. This helps ensure that no traces are left on the machine after the system is shut down and that any malware or keyloggers operating on the underlying system will be circumvented.
Statelessness (Amnesic): By default, Tails doesn't retain any session data between boots. On shutdown, any session data is wiped clean, hence the term "amnesic." Each Tails boots, it starts from a clean state and all data is purged automatically when you shut down Tails.
Uses Tor By Default: Tails routes all its internet traffic through the Tor network, which helps users remain anonymous and bypass internet censorship. Tails OS conveniently enables the Tor network connection by default giving a leg up to the less tech savvy users.
Built-in Encryption: Tails comes with a suite of encryption tools. This includes the ability to encrypt files, emails, and instant messaging. Encryption prevents communication from being accessible to attackers who may have access to the files.
Avoids Hard Disk Usage: Tails OS avoids using the host computer's hard disk, ensuring that no traces of activity are left behind such as passwords, session tokens, or account information. The Persistent Storage is optional if you absolutely need to store files in between boots.
Minimal Application Profile: Tails includes only a minimal set of well-audited software to reduce potential vulnerabilities.
How To Use TailsOS
It's worth noting that while Tails provides a robust platform for privacy and anonymity, it's essential to use it correctly and understand its limitations. Using Tails OS involves several steps, including downloading the OS, creating a bootable USB drive, and configuring your computer's BIOS settings to boot from the USB drive. The official documentation is also available to take full advantage of Tails OS and its features.
Here are the detailed steps:
Step 1: Download
Navigate to the Tails OS website
Click on the "Install Tails" menu item to see the install instructions
Choose the appropriate download method based on your current operating system
Download the Tails OS ISO image file to your computer
Step 2: Create a Bootable USB Drive
Download and install a USB image writing tool like "Rufus" (for Windows) or "Etcher" for Mac or Linux
Insert a blank USB flash drive (with at least 8GB of storage) into an available USB port on your computer
Open the USB image writing tool you installed
In the tool, select the Tails OS ISO image file you downloaded in Step 1
Choose your USB drive as the target device (make sure you select the correct one, because data on the drive will be erased)
Click on the "Write" or "Start" button to create the bootable USB drive
Wait for the process to complete
Step 3: Verify USB Boot Is Enabled In Your BIOS Settings
Before you can boot from the USB drive, you may need to configure your computer's BIOS settings. The steps to access and modify BIOS settings vary depending on your computer's manufacturer and model, but here is a general guide:
Restart or power on your computer
As soon as the computer starts, repeatedly press a specific key to enter the BIOS setup. Common keys for accessing BIOS include F2, F12, Del, or Esc. Refer to your computer's documentation for the correct key.
Once in the BIOS settings, navigate to the "Boot" or "Boot Order" section
Change the boot order to prioritize the USB drive as the first boot option
Save your changes and exit the BIOS. Typically, this involves selecting "Save and Exit" or a similar option.
Step 4: Start Your System from the Bootable USB Drive
Ensure the bootable USB drive containing Tails OS is still inserted into a USB port on your computer
Restart your computer
Your computer should now boot from the Tails OS USB drive
Follow the on-screen instructions to start using Tails OS
Tails OS is designed to provide secure and private online browsing and communication. When you are finished using Tails OS, simply shut down your computer, remove the USB drive, and restart your computer to return to your regular operating system.
Is Tails A Good "Everyday" OS?
While Tails OS is an excellent choice for privacy and security-conscious users, it is not the ideal everyday operating system for several reasons. Firstly, its primary focus on anonymity and security means that it lacks many of the features and applications commonly found in mainstream operating systems, which can limit its functionality for daily tasks like office work, gaming, or multimedia.
Additionally, Tails OS operates from a bootable USB drive or DVD, which does not provide the same convenience as installed operating systems. Users need to go through the process of creating and booting from a live USB the first time they use Tails OS and reboot the system from that USB every time they want to use Tails. Also, because Tails OS operates from a USB thumb drive, its hardware profile is not as high performance as OS booted from a built-in SATA drive.
Furthermore, the heightened security measures incorporated into Tails OS such as using the Tor network and file encryption can also result in a slower user experience. While it excels in its intended purpose—protecting users' anonymity and data—it may not offer the seamless and feature-rich experience required for everyday computing tasks.
Tails OS, or "The Amnesic Incognito Live System," is a privacy-enhanced Debian-based Linux distribution designed to support online anonymity and security. With features like statelessness, automatic Tor routing, encryption tools, and avoiding hard disk usage, Tails offers robust privacy protection. To use Tails, you must download the OS from their website, create a bootable USB drive, and configure your computer's BIOS settings for USB booting.
While Tails excels in privacy and security, it does not serve the full functionality of an everyday operating system due to its limited features compared to mainstream OS options. Its reliance on bootable media and heightened security measures results in a less convenient and slower user experience, however, Tails remains the most available and de facto tool for safeguarding online privacy and security, especially in sensitive or high-risk situations.
Looking for more cybersecurity news and updates? Sign up for our newsletter for insights from our ethical hackers delivered straight to your inbox.
Sign up for our newsletter
Get the latest blog posts in your inbox biweekly!