Tails 1.0 : the amnesic and incognito live system
an article by Gabriel Avigdor
I. Tails 1.0
1.1 Version 1.0 released
It is official. Since the 29th of April 2014, the last baby of the Tor Project has ben released and is now available for download : Tails 1.0.
“Privacy for anyone anywhere”
Tails 1.0 is a live operating system that protects you against data gathering and increases your privacy on the Internet. It includes built-in open-source software and is bootable from a USB flash key or a DVD. This software has been used by Edward Snowden to evade the NSA and communicate with Glenn Greenwald in June 2013.
Its little name: the amnesic incognito live system.
Like Tails 1.0 is an amnesic operating system since it doesn’t record your data and erase your traffic information when you close the program. It is also incognito because your Internet traffic is confidential, secure and your data encrypted (files, emails, chat, etc.).
As well as other existing software (Bouldows for example), Tails is a live operating system and works can be launched from a USB flash key, an SD card or a DVD. When installed, Tails includes lots of open-source software usable for the Internet (Tor browser, Firefox, etc.), data encryption tools (such as Truecrypt) or simply office use (Open Office, Gimp, etc.). Tails 1.0 is distributed under a GNU/GPL licence including Creative Commons logos or coming from thenounproject such as the USB logo of Tails 1.0.
The official website says that it helps you to :
- use the Internet anonymously and circumvent censorship;
all connections to the Internet are forced to go through the Tor network;
- leave no trace on the computer you are using unless you ask it explicitly;
- use state-of-the-art cryptographic tools to encrypt your files, emails and instant messaging.
II. Tor Project & Cie
Tor Project regroups developpers that advocate for more open-source, security, anonymity, encrypted data and non-trackable, free software. In a few words non-commercial purpose and building software for confidentialiy and full privacy of the users on the Internet. Tor is an acronym for The Onion Router because of it refers to layers of encryption, nested like the layers of an onion, used to anonymize communication. As free software it enables online anonymity and censorship resistance. Tor directs Internet traffic through a free, worldwide, volunteer network consisting of more than five thousand relays to conceal a user’s location or usage from anyone conducting network surveillance or traffic analysis.
Parallel to Tor Project, Guardian Project is a good complementary resource for open-source Smartphone software for the public and developers.
Encrypted email applications, browser working with unique proxys or jumping ones, anonymous and encrypted live chat, coded messages sent though steganography principle, lots of software that are more accessible, more democratical and less elitist.
III. Tails : for who and for what use?
3.1 First test of Tails 1.0 (short overview)
When you start it, Tails seems to be accessible to anyone. You can be a Linux, Windows or Mac OS user, you will be guided step-by-step for installing it and use it. You lose a bit of your comfort zone by setting up the starting options and tools (such as keyboard, mouse, Wifi, admin password, etc.), but nothing really mad if know how to install an OS.
Windows XP users will fatly find their way with an original option : “Windows camouflage” which is simply Tails OS with a Win XP theme.
Mac OS users will have to bite the bullet, because its less intuitive. For my first start, it was impossible to access to the local data on my HDD of my Macbook! In addition, please use a mouse because the use of the Mac touchpad rapidly becomes a nightmare. (Do not forget to press alt key to boot Tails).
Globally, Tails is rather intuitive, with lots of comfortable options such as a persistent volume where some data and new software can be saved as well as your settings (otherwise you’ll have to start all over again every time you start Tails) and can be updated. This option only works with a USB flash key, because a DVD cannot stock and save any more data on it. Connection to the Internet is easy and the jumping system method of Tor lets you surf on Facebook or Gmail without any problem. Even without VLC, Totem video player is rather good and read almost without any problem a .mkv video file including H264 for video codec and AAC for audio with multilingual audio track and subtitles.
At this stage, we can say that Tails 1.0 is intended for a broad audience, not only for those who loves penguins. You don’t know programming or writing code lines in a terminal, it is not a problem. Nevertheless, in my opinion Tails will not be accessible to everyone and lots of patience is needed for a dayly use, especially if you always have to configure the settings again at every starts. But obviously, it is the very principle of a live operating system …
3.2 Multipurpose use
Tails 1.0 includes an interesting list of open-source software such as Iceweasel for the Internet (GNU version of Firefox), Claws mail for emails, Pidgin for chatting, Open office for documents, Gimp (Photoshop’s equivalent) or TrueCrypt for data encryption. But, this Operating System is not foolproof. The user is warned about the limits of the program, especially for data encryption and deciding how to act with the computer and the information spread on social network or the Internet. Choosing a good password and change it from time to time is a must.
Tor Browser is not a standard Internet browser. It is from far slower than any other browser because of its functions. Blocking Ads, scripts, spy software, cookies, run Internet trough jumping proxys or data encryption require times, slow your network and block most websites that do not match with that settings. Most of e-commerce websites, social network or standard websites will not work if specific blocking options are enabled. Same script when you use Firefox with too many add-ons or plugins such as Ghostery, Adblock Plus, Donottrackme, etc.
Thus, running Tails is rather simple and all the built-in software let you have a daily use, but not for everyone or anyhow. Installing more software on your USB flash card and saving settings are an indication of the longevity of the project. Will it be enough for a very broad use? A wide professional use in private or administration sectors is something even more uncertain …
Other projects like Guardian or Tor are necessary for helping the web community to protect user’s privacy and anonymity and other strong values of tomorrow’s Internet. Recent software developments allow to reach a wider and broader audience. In that context, the massive innovative efforts of the open-source developers must be welcomed. These projects encourage people and governments to promote, use or develop such software. The Swiss Federal Supreme Court is a great example with its project: “OpenJustitia” (only available in French or German).
However, few of these software are really used by a majority of the Internet users. First, these programs are not of public knowledge, and Internet users ofter do not know alternatives exists or do not want to know about. Second, for years these software have not been very “user friendly”. Problems of settings, installation or use may repell the average user motivated by more protection but do not have sufficient knowledge or do not understand the proposed tool. Finally, the very geek design may often rejects users in a media hype world where people think that because it’s nice, it’s better…
Visiting Tor and Guardian Projects websites may be very instructive. Lots of unknown software for PC, Mac OS or Android are available for download. Their use is often simpler as we could have thought and allows you to decrease Internet tracking (see my article about Panopticlic in french) and preserve anonymity.
What about you, have you or will test Tails 1.0 ?
More information and links
- Tor Browser;
- guardianproject.org with web apps for a better stay on the Internet;
- Orweb, Android version of Tor Browser;
- Orbot : Android app with proxys servers;
- Startpage : neutral search engine that do not give any information about you to third parties;
- JonDo and JonDoFox : Tor Browser alternatives;
- tens of others … !