Anonymous and secure surfing with Tails

Slashdot it! Delicious Share on Facebook Tweet! Digg!

Protective Layer

If you need an anonymous connection to the web, Tails 0.19 is just what you need. The Live system conceals all traces of surfing and mailing.

The Amnesic Incognito Live System, or Tails for short, is primarily designed as a system for easily moving around the Internet as an anonymous user [1].

You can burn Tails onto a DVD or install it on a USB stick, boot it, and enjoy the protection of privacy and the best possible anonymity while surfing. Tails uses the Tor network [2] for all Internet connections, without having to configure anything. Bluetooth or Wi-Fi are available for connecting to the local network.

Tails is particularly useful for mobile connections on PCs belonging to others, such as on company computers or Internet cafés. The distribution leaves no traces behind on the host system – unless you explicitly allow storage of the data. Additionally, the Tails system uses state-of-the-art cryptography for encrypting files and emails.

You can download the brand new version 0.19 of Tails as a disk image from the project page, where you'll also find detailed user documentation [3] to help you along.

The Tails team recommends that anyone still using the previous version of the distribution upgrade as soon as possible to 0.19. The latest version includes the current kernel 3.9.5-1, Iceweasel 17.0.7, and the newest versions of live-boot,live-config and many more updates and patches that make it substantially more secure.

According to the developers' announcement, 0.19 irons out various bugs from the previous version and adds more localizations. If you start Tails from a USB stick, version 0.19 sets up the permanent storage space in Ext4 by default.


One of Tails most interesting features is the Windows XP Camouflage option that you can invoke when booting up the Live system. In the Tails Greeter (Figure 1), apart from being able to select the language options at the bottom, click Yes and, under More options?. Click the Forward button which will lead you to screen where you can enter an administration password and you'll find the option Activate Microsoft Windows XP Camouflage.

Figure 1: Boot options include camouflage mode, where you can make tails look like Windows XP.

In camouflage mode, the Tails desktop deceptively simulates the Windows XP GUI, including Start menu, which naturally links to all your Linux tools only (Figure 2). Among them are OpenOffice, GIMP, and Scribus for graphics, the Iceweasel browser (camouflaged as the IE symbol), Claws Mail as the mail client, Liferea as feed reader and Pidgin for instant messaging. For multimedia on the Live system, Tails provides Audacity, the Pitivi video editor, Brasero disk-burning software, the Traverso multitrack recorder, and the Totem video player.

Figure 2: In camouflage mode, Tails might look like Windows XP, but it provides established Linux tools only.

Although it would help to morph the XP look into Windows 7 over time, the XP look has its advantages. First, the desktop resembles Microsoft's, making the transition for uninitiated Linux users easier. Second, Tails advertises itself as Windows 7 in camouflage mode, adding even more to the ambiguity (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Tails presents itself as a Windows 7 machine to web servers.

If you use Tails on a virtual machine (as in our test), the host and virtualization software need to know what's happening in the virtual environment in terms of security and anonymity.

Figure 4: Installing Tails on a USB stick is as simple as choosing a device.

Other Software

The software provided by Tails might not be totally up to date (OpenOffice is still version 3.2.1), but Tails is still recommended primarily for anonymous surfing. Iceweasel 17.07 is fine because of its long-term support from Mozilla, and version 17 works exceptionally well with the Firefox extensions for the preset Tor configuration, such as Torbutton and FoxyProxy.

The accessories include Julien Voisin's Metadata Anonymisation Toolkit (MAT) [4] that can extract all metadata from files. The current debate over the US surveillance program Prism shows how metadata can tell a lot about you. In any case, you are advised to use file formats that don't store metadata whenever possible. MAT supports – among others – the PNG, JPEG, ODF, Office OpenXML, PDF, TAR, ZIP, and MPEG formats.

Buy this article as PDF

Express-Checkout as PDF

Pages: 4

Price $0.99
(incl. VAT)

Buy Ubuntu User

Get it on Google Play

US / Canada

Get it on Google Play

UK / Australia

Related content