It’s no secret that using GNU/Linux is generally safer than using Microsoft Windows, however, there are specific distributions of GNU/Linux that are even more focused on privacy and safety than the usual distros like Ubuntu. In a previous article, I showed of Qubes OS; and now it’s time to look at TAILS.
What is TAILS?
The Amensic Incognito Live System, is a Debian based distribution that routes all internet traffic through the TOR network, and leaves no trace of its existence or anything done on the system when the machine is shut down. The obvious aim in this, is to aid in keeping the user anonymous and private. Tails is not installed to a users computer, but instead is run strictly as a LiveUSB / LiveDVD.
TAILS does not utilize the host machines Hard Disk at all, and is loaded entirely into RAM. When a machine is shut down, the data that is stored in RAM disappears over the course of a few minutes, essentially leaving no trace of whatever had been done. Granted, there is a method of attack known as a Cold Boot Attack, where data is extracted from RAM before it has had a chance to disappear, but TAILS has you covered on that front too; the TAILS website says,
“To prevent this attack, the data in RAM is overwritten by random data when shutting down Tails. This erases all traces from your session on that computer.”
There are numerous other security minded applications found in a Tails install, which the website lists as:
- Pidgin preconfigured with OTR for Off-the-Record Messaging
- OnionShare for anonymous filesharing
- Thunderbird email client with Enigmail for OpenPGP support
- Liferea feed aggregator
- Gobby for collaborative text writing
- Aircrack-ng for wireless network auditing
- Electrum, an easy-to-use bitcoin client
- LUKS and GNOME Disks to install and use encrypted storage devices, for example USB sticks
- GnuPG, the GNU implementation of OpenPGP for email and data encyption and signing
- Monkeysign, a tool for OpenPGP key signing and exchange
- PWGen, a strong password generator
- Shamir's Secret Sharing using gfshare and ssss
- Florence virtual keyboard as a countermeasure against hardware keyloggers
- MAT to anonymize metadata in files
- KeePassX password manager
- GtkHash to calculate checksums
- Keyringer, a command line tool to encrypt secrets shared through Git
- Paperkey a command line tool to back up OpenPGP secret keys on paper
More applications can easily be installed as well, since Tails is based on Debian Stable, and has full access to the repositories. However, keep in mind that anything installed will disappear once the machine is shut down.
Installing Tails is not quite as simple as installing other distributions, and the method is a little different depending on if you’re using Windows, Ubuntu/Debian/Mint or other forms of GNU/Linux. For full instructions on how to install Tails, check out the guide found here.
So...Why would I want to use Tails anyway?
Tails is ideal for keeping yourself and your activities hidden as previously stated, which is absolutely perfect for those who want to do their best to have ‘big brother’ unable to spy on their activities, as much as possible. Another major use of Tails is to avoid censorship in places where internet use is carefully monitored; because Tails routes ALL internet traffic through TOR, you can be assured that you are able to freely surf the internet.
Tails is also used by some journalists, agencies, and whistleblowers. Edward Snowden for example, was using Tails to communicate with Glen Greenwald and others, when he released his famous leaks of classified information. The point being, that for those who are extremely privacy conscious, Tails is definitely worth looking at, even if you feel you have ‘nothing to hide’, having the peace of mind of knowing that if you DO ever need something like this; it’s easily accessible.