Tails is an operating system that works from a USB Stick. It’s privacy oriented. It allows you to browse the internet without leaving traces on the computer or giving away your identity to the internet or to people that want to collect your data. Tails Linux uses TOR (The Onion Router) to achieve this.
How does TOR work?
TOR makes use of Relay Nodes. They consist of volunteers who donate a little bit of their computer power and internet speed to the TOR Network.
Normally, if you browse to http://google.com, the connection will be something like this: Computer > ISP > WWW > Google Server.
If you want to visit Google via TOR, the connection will look different. It goes something like this: Computer > ISP > Guard Relay Node > Relay Node > Relay Node > … > Exit Relay Node > Google Server. By connecting to Google using TOR Relay Nodes the visible IP address changes, which makes tracing the connection back to you almost impossible. To add another layer of security, the connection will also be encrypted multiple times.
You can easily install TOR on your Windows or Mac PC. Why would you use Tails?
- Windows and Mac OS leave a lot of information about themselves behind. Tails has been designed to not leave any traces.
- Windows and Mac OS contain several data collection techniques. Even if you are anonymous on the web, you computer will collect data. Tails is based on Debian Linux. Since Linux is open-source, we can be sure that Linux doesn’t contain such techniques.
- Windows is very vulnerable to malware. This is a big security risk. Since Tails is based on Linux, it’s a lot less vulnerable to malware.
- If you browse the web on a locally installed operation system like Windows, bits and pieces of your memory will be saved on the hard drive. Those pieces of memory may contain sensitive information, which even if they are deleted, can be found again. Tails doesn’t even mount your hard drive unless you tell it to. Everything stays in memory, which will be wiped once the computer reboots.
What do you need in order to use Tails?
All you need is a USB Stick of at least 2 GB, a computer with internet access and a copy of Tails, which can be downloaded here. Just follow the instructions on the site, and boot off the USB Stick. That’s how simple it is.
I think Tails is absolutely great. I am all for a project that gives people their freedom on the internet back. With the passing of CISA in the US, the citizens’ privacy is more and more in the hands of the government. Most people don’t care, but I think it’s fantastic that there are still some who care. Tails even allows non-computer savvy people to protect their privacy.
It also allows for uncensored internet access, and access to information everyone should have the right to know about in countries like China and North-Korea.
However, there are some downsides.
The anonymity also allows criminals to for example trade drugs and child pornography. The TOR network can also be used by terrorists. You could say that it’s better to give up some of your privacy than to give criminals the ability to do their thing, right? I don’t think so.
I like to compare it with a knife. There are multiple uses for knives. You could use one to prepare a lovely meal or to shave off that beard. You can also use it to murder someone. Do knives need to be banned because of that? No! In the end it is your responsibility to decide what you do with the knife, and this is something a lot of people don’t seem to understand.