Tails: The amnesic Incognito Live System

Tails is an operating system like Windows or Mac OS, but one specially designed to preserve your anonymity and privacy. It allows you to use the Internet anonymously almost everywhere online and on any computer, but leaves no trace of what you have done, unless you want to.

Tails is a “live” system, that is to say, it is meant to be run from a DVD or USB stick independently of the system installed on the computer’s hard disk. It is free software based on Debian GNU/Linux. Tails comes with applications that have been configured with security in mind: web browser, instant messaging client, email client, office suite, image and sound editor and so on.

Use it everywhere, leave no traces

Using Tails does not affect the operating system installed on the computer. You can use it at home, at a friend’s or at the local library. Once you have removed the Tails DVD or USB stick from the computer, it can restart with its usual operating system. Tails is configured so as not to use the computer hard disk or even its swap space. The only space use by Tails is the RAM memory, which is automatically erased when the computer is turned off. So your use of Tails will leave no trace. That is why it is called “amnesic.” This allows you to work on a sensitive file on any computer and prevent the data being recovered after the computer is turned off. And you can of course always save your files on a USB stick or an external hard disk.

Although the Tails development community is doing its best to provide effective tools to protect your privacy when using a computer, there is no perfect solution to such a complex problem. Understanding the limits of the tools provided with Tails is a crucial step in, firstly, deciding whether Tails is the tool you need and, secondly, helping you to make good use of it.

Online anonymity with Tor

Tails relies on the Tor networks to protect your online privacy. All software is configured to connect through Tor and direct connections (that do not guarantee your anonymity) are blocked.

Tor is free software that allows you to protect your privacy and guarantee your confidentiality online. It protects you by sending your communications around a distributed network of relays run by volunteers all over the world. It prevents anyone who may be monitoring your Internet connection from discovering which sites you visit, and it prevents the sites you visit from discovering where you are.

Best encryption tools

Tails also includes a range of tools for protecting your data by means of strong encryption:

Learn more about these tools by reading the documentation.

The purpose of this handbook is not to explain how to create a Tails live CD or USB key but to provide an overview of the tool. If you want to go further, you can download Tails OS and have a look at the full user manual on tails.boum.org.

This article is freely based on the official Tails documentation. Like the original documentation, it is published under the GPLv3 public license.