Carrying a secure operating system in your pocket is possible thanks to developments such as Tails and USB formats in “Live” and self-starting format that we can use for multiple tasks and on all types of equipment.
It is an excellent option since its operation is independent of the operating system that the PC has. We connect it, Windows, macOS, or Linux, running directly from the external medium without installing anything on the internal storage unit and thus without affecting the system main installed. And another advantage. Considering the extensive adoption of a port such as USB, its potential use includes tens of millions of computers in all types of formats and almost any kind of hardware.
Although other developments can be used, if we talk about security and privacy, there is one that we especially like: Tails—updated this November to version 4.24, an open-source and free GNU / Linux distribution based on the almighty Debian.
In addition to including a package of basic installed applications such as a web browser, email client, office tools, or media players/editors, its strength lies in protecting the online privacy it offers. Its default browser is Tor Browser, and it uses the Tor network by redirecting communications around a distributed network of relays conducted by volunteers from around the world.
All Tails applications are configured to connect through Tor while direct (non-anonymous) connections are blocked. In addition, it includes encryption tools to protect files or documents, emails, or instant messages.
How to create a secure operating system
To create these Live USB or bootable pen drives (which are not the same or have the same objective, although in some cases they serve both uses), we have a good number of tools. Many open-source and free such as the fireproof Rufus or other more specialized WinSetupFromUSB types include multiple operating systems on the same medium.
The basic idea in these cases is the same. Creating a flash storage medium inserted into a USB port allows us to start it when the computer starts up and before the installed operating system starts up. Or in machines that do not have any system installed. The Tails developers recommend using Etcher, available for Windows, Mac, and Linux, and we did this practical with it.
We use a PC with Windows 10 (you can also do it from Linux or macOS) and a USB 3.2 Pendrive, although it may be lower, such as USB 2.0. Remember, a higher interface will give you better performance (necessary for running an operating system). In comparison, a lower interface usually offers compatibility with a more significant number of computers and fewer potential errors.
Use any of them, and it will have to have at least 8 Gbytes of capacity. Save the data it contains because it will be erased when creating the medium with Tails, and we start:
- Download the latest version of Tails—for example, the USB image for Windows “tails-amd64-4.24.img” with a size of 1.2 GB. You can use direct download or torrent.
- Download the latest version of Etcher (v.1.7.0) for Windows and install the tool.
- Follow the instructions, selecting the downloaded Tails image and the Pendrive you use.
And a little more. With a fast unit in a few minutes, you will have it ready.
Perhaps the most challenging thing for an ordinary user is to get his PC to start on the USB stick with Tails that we have just created. All computers have special keys programmed to access UEFI / BIOS or the computer’s internal boot menu. They are activated by pressing the corresponding key during the hardware testing phase when we start the personal computer.
Manufacturers do not make it easy because each uses different keys. Of course, they tend to be repeated on all brand computers, and in most cases, they use the “Function,” “Escape,” or “Delete” keys. If you work in Windows on any computer, you can access the USB by restarting the computer with the “Shift” key pressed and selecting it from the menu.
Once loaded and like other Linux distributions, you will see the Grub bootloader where you can select Tails or safe mode. We enter the standard mode, select the keyboard/language to use, and the additional configuration of administration password or anonymization of the MAC address. In any case, all these parameters can be configured later.
Enjoy Tails! A development that has all the basics of a Linux distribution, based on the consistently stable Debian, Office office suites, graphics, music, and video applications, and various utilities, as well as installing whatever you want.
Of course, in a distro super-specialized in privacy and anonymity, there is no lack of its tools, encryption to protect files or documents, emails or instant messages, use of the TOR network, and a browser with the DuckDuckGo search engine by default, and a long, etc.
If you want a safe and private operating system, here is one of the best. And transportable anywhere in a pocket, connectable by USB in millions of computers, without having to modify anything in the host system (if you don’t want to) and without leaving a trace once you finish.