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Tuck in Your Tails and Hide from Big Brother

Posted on April 29, 2014 3:50 PM by Stetson Smith
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In a world where everything and everyone is out to get your data, it is becoming increasingly hard to remain anonymous and not be tracked. Facebook, Google, and in a likely third place, the NSA, are all trying to track your personal data, know where you are, who you are talking to, trying to predict where and what you are going to do next. If that wasn’t bad enough, some of the above parties sell that information to 3rd parties (and hopefully it isn’t the last one on that list!)

What’s a self-respecting hermit to do?

One option is to use Tails, a relatively new operating system that just hit its 1.0 mark today. It is based on Debian, looks like Linux, encrypts all of your data, and is what is being dubbed a “live” OS, which means that it is meant to be booted from a USB or live CD.

Tails Logo

I have experimented with live OSes in the past using versions of Linux for permanent installations, and let me tell you that doing so is no joke. Getting some versions of an opensource OS working on one computer is a challenge, but trying to get a live OS working on several is a real trick, especially taking into account one of Tails’ key features: It resets to a clean initial boot every time you log off/turn off the machine.

That’s right, nothing is saved. That network config you had going? Gone. That plug-in you needed to get that one thing working? Gone. Everything is going, going, gone.

Why would anyone in their right mind do that? Tails is built to have very specific goals in mind, two of which are defined clearly in its “About” page: Amnesia and Incognito.

Amnesia is having nothing left behind between sessions that would allow any of the nefarious three above or any others to track you. Nothing you do past your current boot can pose a security risk the next time you boot. Turning it off or logging out is equal to the message at the end of a Mission Impossible communique, it’s gone.

Tails Linux Distro
Image courtesy of DistroWatch

The purpose is to eliminate potential back doors from the system initially, and kill any unintended back doors unknowingly created by the user. There are ways of adding programs and encrypted storage, but every new addition adds to potential security risks.

Being Incognito means that there are no digital footprints or ways to track where you go and what you do. To do this, the OS runs email through Claws Mail, browsing through Tor, which is then routed through a series of protective measures, and chat through Pidgin with Jabber.

All of these keep you as safe as a protagonist with the Ring of Power under the Cloak of Invisibility – but with a catch. The moment you sign into a service the Cloak flies off and the Ring finds a new master.

The more you try to connect, the more they plug into you. The good news for you social and data agoraphobics is that when you are finished with your computer session, the computer remembers nothing, and the tracking and data mining ends.

Although there were some recent cardiac issues, Tails is Free Software and with anything new there are some bugs. So if you be a brave, adventure-seeking, loner, then grab your trouble-shooting cap and hammer and start smacking at them like a game of whack-a-mole.

And remember, Big Brother is Watching. No, really, check the news.


  • http://techgage.com/ Rob Williams

    Fantastic post, and cool OS with interesting goals. It’s a bit too hardcore for me, but I respect it.

    • JD Kane

      What Rob said.

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