Wouldn’t it be nice if there were an OS designed from the ground-up for privacy and security? If you’re willing to give a Linux-based platform a try, there is: The Amnesic Incognito Live System — better known as Tails OS. It aims to make private computing a plug-and-play affair.
Most mainstream operating systems do little to help users stay private. Indeed, modern versions of Mac OS X, Windows and even most big-name Linux distributions do the opposite by encouraging or requiring users to sign up for cloud-based services that may or may not keep their information and identity secure, among other things. And none of these systems comes with real privacy tools installed by default.
In contrast, Tails OS is designed to make it easy and simple to stay private and anonymous. The latest release — version 1.5, which debuted August 11 — does that in a number of ways:
- All network connections are funneled through Tor (a project that helps support Tails development), ensuring that no one can trace which sites you visit.
- All of the standard security-hardening tools come built in. That includes, for instance, AppArmor, which adds protection against exploits like buffer overflows to apps as well as the operating system core.
- The system runs as a “live” OS, which means it can be installed to a USB stick and booted into memory on any computer (or any one that supports booting to USB, at least, which basically every PC built in the last decade does). That feature not only allows users to bring Tails with them and run it instead of the installed OS on any computer they find themselves using, but also ensures that there is no trace of their having been on the computer after they leave. Since everything in Tails runs in RAM, shutting down the computer erases all the data, forever.
- Tails ships with a version of Mozilla Firefox that features a number of security add-ons, such as the HTTPS Everywhere extension and a feature that converts all cookies to session cookies.
- The Pidgin instant-messaging app, which supports all of the major protocols, comes pre-configured with an Off-the-Record plugin. The tool encrypts conversations to prevent eavesdropping.
- The Claws Email app comes with GNU Privacy Guard support available, allowing users to encrypt emails easily.
If that’s not enough of a reason to give Tails a try, consider also that it was reportedly the platform Edward Snowden used when communicating with journalists regarding government data he leaked to the press. Tails assured his privacy — long enough to get his data out and get him out of the country, at least — and there’s a good chance it could help do the same for yours.