Chris J Powell

OS Sunday – Operating Under the Radar

We live in a society that every digital move we make is quite likely cataloged, monitored, analyzed and assessed as a threat or non-threat.  Governments do this “for our own protection” and Corporations do this to expand profits and Criminal Organizations do this to steal your identity.  It can be a scary thought to think about just how much “digital DNA” we each leave out there to be tracked back to us…but I am not a conspiracy theory nut (although I do read the blogs and listen to the pod casts), I am also not a Privacy Advocate or a member of Anonymous…I have no axe to grind or political agenda to promote…I am a Geek and that is it.

That Simple.

Each week I look to the world of Computer Operating Systems to explore the next generation of what I find interesting and share my findings right here on Sunday Mornings.  This week, I came across TAILS (the amnesic incognito live system) which as far as an OS goes…it is meant to reduce your digital footprint and empower an anonymity to your web habits.


Based on the ever popular Debian Linux system TAILS focuses on being a LIVE System meaning that no installation is required and the entire OS can effectively be run on a USB Stick and with the restart of the host computer, running “without a trace”.  The interesting thing about any LIVE System is that it runs exclusively from the RAM of the computer and then disappears when restarted again.

This non persistent LIVE system is interesting…but there are programs that are included with the OS that enable content creation…so how do you create a “persistent” environment that will allow you to build portable OS that you can take with you?  Well I gave TAILS a quick once over in an Oracle VirtualBox environment and then decided to take it for a quick spin on a partitioned USB Thumb Drive that would allow me to have a fully portable, fully anonymous system that I could take with me anywhere.


What I found interesting when I started up my computer and went through the “customized option” I found myself opened up to what appears to be a Windows XP environment which despite the security issues, is still prevalent in schools, libraries and more than a few companies out there so the restart of the system and logging into the TAILS system should not raise suspicision of passers by that you are using a foreign OS on the computer at hand.


So this is a Live System, not meant for full installation and persistent use…but what do you get with it?

The reality is, once you have set up the partitions on your USB Drive you should be go to be a fully portable computer dude as the software that is included with TAILS should allow you to do 99% of what most people need to do with a computer…and the fact that it is portable…and persistent is awesome!


  • IceWeasel Browser (connected to the TOR network)
  • Pidgin (Chat Client)
  • Claws Mail
  • Globby Collaborative Editor

Graphics and Productivity

  • OpenOffice
  • The Gimp
  • Inkscape
  • Scribus

Sound and Video

  • Audacity
  • Brasero
  • Traverso
  • Totem Movie Player

Could it replace the need for a computer?  I would have to say maybe.  If I found myself in the bind that I could not afford a computer and the internet anymore and had to start to use public networks and library PCs…I would definitely leverage this setup to allow me to do what I want, when I want to (at least when the places are open).  But after almost 20 years of being continually connected to the web…it would be hard to make the move to “part time connectivity”.




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