Hey Internet Fans!
Today I'd like to share on one of my favorite tools: Tails OS.
A Free, Powerful, Simple, and Portable solution to Online Privacy!
With Tails, you can turn a USB drive or SD card into a Privacy Powerhouse!
What is Tails OS?
Tails is a Linux Operating System made specifically for Online Privacy and similar use.
It's meant to be portable, so you can put it on a USB drive, plug that into any computer, and boot off the USB. Meaning no changes are needed to made on your PC, and it can be used anywhere, even on a public computer.
Tails never writes anything on your hard disk and only runs from the RAM of the computer. The memory is deleted when you shutdown Tails, erasing all possible traces. This means you could keep your main Operating system installed, and boot off the USB whenever you want to use the features that Tails offers. Privacy when you need it without any sacrifice.
Tails runs independently from the other operating system and never uses the hard disk, so it keeps your main OS or hard disk safe from viruses. Though this doesn't keep Tails safe from potential viruses if you install it to the USB from an infected PC.
It's a great tool for when your online access needs to be Private or Secure. It also come prebuilt with several programs and apps, from a bitcoin wallet, to a web browser, to document editors and more. It pretty much has anything you'd need when browsing the web, sending funds, posting online etc...
It's not meant to be a permanent solution. When you remove the USB it erases any data that was downloaded or any changes that were made, though it is possible to enable functions which allow you to save files onto the drive. (Persistent Storage)
Image Source: https://tails.boum.org/index.en.html
Who uses Tails, and Why?
Really anyone could benefit from the use of Tails!
Personally, I have mostly used it for fun linux experiments, or to scout out a website or service to see if it is legit before using it on my main system.
This can also be used to bypass different restrictions or censorship, a big part to the great Tor functionality built in. Including built in features to help keep the fact that you are using Tor on the network hidden as well.
It's also handy for performing a secure or private transaction from a Bank or Crypto Wallet, especially if you lost access to your usual phone or PC and had to use a public computer.
To stay anonymous or to keep your location hidden. This can be useful, as seen in the graphic above, to activists, journalists and more who are working in places where going public with information or exposing location would be dangerous.
Image Source: https://tails.boum.org/install/windows/index.en.html
Tails is a powerful tool, but it's not perfect, and it still relies on basic safe practices.
Knowing the basics of internet safety, how to avoid fake sites, choosing secure passwords etc... is very important still. Tails is insanely powerful, so much so that it can be easy to assume that it's all you need. When I first discovered it back in 2015, I remember thinking that it was "unbeatable." While this is still somewhat true, it is still a tool. If you have bad safety habits, use the same password everywhere, and are giving out your own info online, then Tails can only do so much. The Tails Website has tons of great resources for learning about that sort of stuff too, and the community is very helpful as well.
Setting things up:
You're going to need a few things to get started:
- An 8GB or higher USB drive or SD card
- A PC to use for installing Tails onto the USB/SD
- About 1.3GB of disk space for the Tails OS file
- A way to flash Tails to the USB, I will be using balenaEtcher
Not as hard as it looks!
Tails OS is surprisingly easy to setup, not only does it take less than an hour to prepare and requires no command line or terminal magic, but there are plenty of resources and guides available!
First you'll want to grab your USB drive and set that aside. Just to make things as clean and quick as possible later, I like to format my drives first. Regardless, keep in mind any data on the USB will be lost when you make this install.
My most recent install was on the SD card above, the USB below holds an older installation I setup a few years ago
Next you'll want to head to the Tails website to download Tails. They will also have nearly the same instructions I show here, and much more in fact. I would definitely check the guides and resources there too. This is meant to be quick guide, and also to show people how simple it is!
Here is the guide I used, which shows you how to set Tails up from a Windows PC.
Now, you should have a nice 1.3GB or so file sitting on your PC, next is to go download balenaEtcher. This is actually something I've used countless times for various things, it's just a free, quick, open source flashing tool! They include a link to the latest Etcher version in the guide on the Tails website, but here's the link to download balenaEtcher if you just want that.
Now that you are here, you will want to select Flash from file, then select the file you downloaded from the Tails website. After that, be sure the middle option (which is where you will be putting tails) has the correct drive selected. You probably only have 1 USB device plugged in so it should auto-select it, but it's good to double check!
After that, you hit the "Flash!" button on the right. For my PC, it takes a couple minutes to do this part, but for most computers you can expect about 10 minutes of processing.
You now have Tails OS!
To use Tails, you'll want to put that USB or SD card into a PC, then restart the PC (or turn it on) and go to boot options. For most computers you can smash f12 to go to boot options, or you may need to hit f2 to go to the main menu, or even the delete key for some computers. Whatever it is, you'll need to do that so you can select the option to boot from USB. It's also possible that your PC may do this automatically for you when it detects a bootable USB plugged in, so there may be no button mashing required if you're lucky.
When you first boot up, you'll need to hit enter to start Tails, then it'll have a quick setup for language and keyboard settings, and after that you'll see something like the screen above. It's a pretty simple OS all around, it's really meant just for Privacy. Don't expect any gaming or otherwise blazing performance from this. That being said, it is well designed and has worked on every device I've tested it on, even ones 12 years old. Though they only claim it is meant to work on devices made within the last 10 years, and that's probably a good idea anyway. Really old devices could be weaker in terms of security too, so it's just a safer bet to use something newer if you have the option.
That's it! If you've done these steps, not only do you have a powerful tool, but you can say you use Linux!😂
I've used Tails several times over the last 7 or 8 years. The community and development is admirable, and the services and functions work as advertised. Like I said before, part of your own privacy and security is your practices. You can do the same thing Tails does in other ways with other operating systems, but Tails has most of what anyone would need in one portable package. I think for most people, Tails will work perfectly fine, and requires significantly less skills and technical knowledge than other alternatives too. I left most of the technical details out, but you can find everything easily on the website and in the source code if desired.
Nowadays, I feel it's more important than ever to have something like this as an option. Even for someone like myself, I don't need Tails for anything, but if I ever do I'll have it ready. Even if I don't have it ready, I know where to look and what to look for.
Check out the official Tails OS website: https://tails.boum.org/index.en.html
Check out belenaEtcher here: https://www.balena.io/etcher/
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