We are constantly leaving a large digital footprint while we are moving around the virtual world. These digital footprints cause privacy conscious individuals(and other individuals with different purposes) to seek operating systems and browsers that give more anonymity. . ‘Tails’ ‘the amnesic incognito live system’ is synonymous with anonymous surfing and the perfect OS to escape surveillance. It was first released in 2009 and is funded by the Tor project, Debian and other projects. We will explore the details about Tails, what it is and the corresponding ‘Tor’ network in this post.
What is an amnesic operating system anyway?
“Amnesic” is defined by Vocabulary.com as “suffering from a partial loss of memory” . When amnesic is applied to an operating system, the OS works normally during working times but it forgets everything once it is shutdown. In short, the Tails operating system does not remember anything from its past sessions. There are no digital crumbs to be picked up after a session exits(like history, browsing preferences etc) The user starts on a clean slate each time after the computer is shut down. This is unlike other operating systems where user habits are tracked, stored and studied for extensive analysis.
Like the operating system which they designed, the developers of ‘Tails OS’ also prefer to remain anonymous and have not revealed themselves.
It should also be noted that installing ‘Tails OS’ is a very time consuming affair.
Before we delve more into our memory loss operating system, we will briefly see what is meant by the ‘Tor’ network as this term will be used more frequently with the Tails OS.
Brief note: What is ‘Tor’ network?
The ‘Tor’ network is mainly built for those seeking anonymity on the web. It does this by routing all connections via volunteer servers. Any message from the sender to the receiver is sent via a circuitous encrypted path. Each packet in the message only knows the next node in its way and not the entire path. This enables ‘Tor’ to escape traffic analysis on the web.
How does ‘Tails’ work?
This ‘amnesic operating system’ works as a live operating system(a live operating system is where the system can be booted from the USB stick or the the DVD or the SD card). Tails works in the above way on any system, even when there is another operating system installed on it. For example, you can have Windows or Linux or any other operating system installed on your machine and the Tails OS can still be used. It is completely free and is based on the Debian Linux system. It works by routing all connections via the ‘Tor network'(which emphasizes anonymity)
‘Tails’ also contains its own “browser, IM client, email client, office suite, image and sound editor, etc.” (Source: https://tails.boum.org/)
It does not use the existing hard disk space but only makes use of the RAM. (For the uninitiated, the contents of RAM(read only memory) are completely erased when the system is shut down) The ‘amnesic’ part of ‘Tails’ is due to its using the RAM part of the system and not the hard disk.
Who uses the ‘Tails’ OS?
The most common question might be ‘Who uses this OS’ – privacy minded individuals, journalists, whistleblowers and other individuals are likely to use the Tails OS. It is said that whistleblower Edward Snowden did use it too. (Source: http://www.privacyshell.net/tails-product-review-tails-os)
Inspite, of all the safeguards , as with other products, the Debian based OS has its security holes which are constantly being fixed. It is a work in progress and new releases are constantly being updated.
We have learnt about the presence of the ‘amnesic operating system’, its necessities and its use by various individuals. It will not be long before more of such operating systems, browsers and technologies enter the scene making ‘incognito browsing’, common.
Images sources: Google images
Jayanthi Manikandan has an undergraduate degree in Computer Science from India and a Master’s degree in Information systems with a specialization in Information security from Detroit, MI, USA.
She has been passionate about Information security and has several years of experience writing on various technical topics. Additionally, she loves to pen a few personal thoughts here as well! 🙂