In the world of online privacy and security, the Tails live operating system distribution, with its numerous built-in applications, pre-configured with security in mind, has grown in popularity.
“Tails is a live system that aims to preserve your privacy and anonymity. It helps you to use the Internet anonymously and circumvent censorship almost anywhere you go and on any computer but leaving no trace unless you ask it to explicitly.”
Launched in June 2009 The Amnesic Incognito Live System (Tails) is a security-focused Operating System based on the Debian Linux distribution. The system is designed to be booted as a live DVD or live USB, “This is a conscious decision as this mode of operation is better for what we want to provide to Tails users: amnesia, the fact that Tails leaves no traces on the computer after a session is closed.” states Tails. The operating system will leave no trace, or digital footprint, on the computer running it, unless explicitly told to do so.
Tails is aimed at preserving privacy and anonymity. All outgoing connections from a computer , running the operating system, go through the infamous anonymity network The Onion Router (Tor), while direct connections are blocked. Tor prevents somebody watching your Internet connection from learning what sites you visit, and it prevents the sites you visit from learning your physical location. Tor protects you by bouncing your communications around a distributed network of relays, run by volunteers all around the world. This group of volunteer relays is called the Tor network.
“Individuals use Tor to keep websites from tracking them and their family members, or to connect to news sites, instant messaging services, or the like when these are blocked by their local Internet providers.”
Originally designed and developed primarily for protecting US Navy government communications, Tor is now used every day by many groups of people. People who seek to improve their privacy and security online.
“Tor is being used equally by journalists, law enforcement, governments, human rights activists, business leaders, militaries, abuse victims and average citizens concerned about online privacy. This diversity actually provides stronger anonymity to everyone as it makes it more difficult to identify or target a specific profile of Tor user. Anonymity loves company.”
By using Tails, you have a computer that is designed to be secure from malware, government surveillance, and hackers in general. Journalists Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, and Barton Gellman have each stated that Tails was a crucial tool they use in their work with whistleblower Edward Snowden. Tails popularity skyrocketed when Snowden called it his favorite privacy tool, which he used to evade the National Security Agency (NSA).
“Tails have been vital to my ability to work securely on the NSA story. The more I've come to learn about communications security, the more central Tails has become to my approach.”
- Glenn Greenwald
Since Tails boots up from a portable device, it makes your desktop portable. You can take it with you wherever you go. The included software has been vetted for security and anonymity vulnerability. You can use its security and anonymity tools, even on public computers. In the latest distribution, version 1.2.3, Tails now includes Electrum.
Using bitcoin web wallets such as Coinbase, Xapo, or Blockchain.info is possible with Tails, but accounts can still identify you to governments, and IP addresses are not perfectly hidden with Tor. There seemed to be no perfect privacy solution without hacking into Tails itself, to install a software wallet. Due to the nature of Tails' high-security environment, that was never easy enough for most users to do themselves.
With the blockchain download now above 28 Gigabytes in size and USB drive writable space on Tails drives limited to only four GB, a local bitcoin wallet had to be found that didn't download the blockchain at all, operating much like a web wallet instead. Electrum fit the bill perfectly, and is both open source and decentralized, so it has had wide appeal to privacy advocates.
“Electrum is one such client that does not require downloading any of the blockchain, and therefore should work well in live systems like Tails.”
There are no public stats on how many people are using Tails, but given that Tor has so many users, and also given that Tails is the most popular implementation of Tor, It is fair to say that there could be several hundreds of thousands of people around the world who may have never heard of Bitcoin before will have a bitcoin wallet as soon as they upgrade to the latest version of Tails.
“Tor is the anonymity network with the largest user base. More than 700,000 users connected to Tor daily in 2013. Being adopted by such a large audience proves its maturity, stability, and usability.”