In this guide I will show you how to install Tails on a USB.
In this complete guide, you will learn about:
- What is Tails?
- How does it work?
- How to install tails on a USB stick?
- How to connect to the Tor Browser?
- How to enable persistent storage in Tails?
- Using two USBs for Tails
Nowadays, using your private computer is not as secure as you think because you leave traces of your activities that anyone can find.
The Tails operating system provides essential facilities for you to hide your identity without getting caught by prying eyes.
You can install Tails on a USB stick which consists of several steps.
Before the installation, you need to download both tails and software to create a bootable USB. After the installation, you need to restart the machine on Tails and follow the configuration steps.
If you want to save the files persistently, you can configure the persistent storage option. Moreover, using two USBs, you can create secure encrypted persistent storage.
Related Guide: Should You Use Tails with a VPN?
Related Guide: How to encrypt your internet traffic
Related Guide: How to encrypt your HDD or USB
How Does Tails Work?
The Tails is installed on a USB drive to boot up the OS using the USB stick without using the machine’s hard disk. Thus, it is independent of the current OS installed in the machine. It encrypts your files and usages. So, after you shut down your computer, you will never leave any trace of anything you did or accessed in the machine you have plugged into.
The Tails uses a Tor network for all the internet activities encrypting and anonymizing your connection.
Because of this, censors will never know what websites they are visiting, allowing them to pass censorship. Moreover, advertisers cannot learn about your browsing habits as Tor allows you to be anonymous and change your identity if you need.
In addition, the Tails provides a set of software applications like LibreOffice, where you can work on sensitive documents, OnionShare, Thunderbird, and many more.
Once you are disconnected from the Tails, everything you did disappears, including the saved files. But you have the option to save the files persistently in its persistent storage. Everything in the persistent storage will be encrypted with password protection making everything in it secured and anonymous.
Now let’s see from the following sections how to install Tails on a USB stick.
How to Install Tails on a USB
You can install Tails from the platform with a USB drive. This section will see how you can install and run Tails using a machine with a Windows OS.
What are the system and device requirements?
- A USB drive. This section will use one USB drive to install Tails with at least 8GB of memory. Keep in mind that you will lose all the data on your USB drive during the installation. Thus, make sure to use an empty USB drive.
- Your computer should have at least 2GB of RAM.
- About half an hour of your time to install Tails and time for download around 1.2 GB of Tails.
- Another device like a mobile phone, tablet, or another PC to read and follow these instructions while installing and making use of it. Or else, take a printout of this guide.
First, Download Tails from the official Tails website’s download page, selecting your operating system correctly. You can either directly download Tails from USB Image or download through BitTorrent, which will be much faster.
Verify Tails Download
After the download, if you downloaded directly, verify the download by clicking on ‘Verify Tails.’Then select the USB image you downloaded.
After that, the page will run the check. This step is to ensure that the download is not a malicious tails USB image.
If the verification is successful, you will get the following successful verification notification.
Download a USB installer
Next, you need to download a USB installer Etcher to write the Tails ISO image downloaded and create a bootable USB flash drive. You can get Etcher for windows from the following link.
Now we have all the things gathered to install and run Tails. Plug your USB devices into your machine. Next, click on the downloaded Etcher installer to start Etcher.
Step 1: Click the Select ‘Flash From file’ option. Then, select the Tails USB image, which should have a .img file extension that you downloaded earlier. You can also choose Flash from the URL option if you choose to download Tails from another mirror.
Step 2: Next, click on ‘Select Target.’ Etcher will list all the connected USB drives and automatically selects a USB stick. Select the USB drive you want to install Tails from the list.
Step 3: Finally, click on ‘Flash!’. Etcher will Flash your USB drive with Tails on your selected USB, which can take only a few minutes.
After the flashing completion, Fletcher will automatically validate the installation.
Upon successful completion, it should display the following message. After that, close the Etcher window.
After you complete the installation, open this guide from another device because you won’t be able to access this when you run Tails.
Restart your computer on Tails
- In windows, click on the Start button.
- Next, while you are selecting the Power -> Restart option, press and hold the Shift key, then you will get a window with options to select the ‘use a device.’ option. If you do not get this option, find out the boot menu key according to your computer model and shut down the computer. For example:
Samsung: Esc, F12, F2
- While you start the computer, press the boot menu key identified in step 2 immediately several times.
If the boot is successful, you will get the Boot Menu with a list of connected devices as in the above image. Then select your USB drive and press Enter. If it starts another OS installed in the computer, then restart it again as in step 3.
If your machine successfully starts on Tails, you will get the boot loader on-screen, and Tails will automatically begin showing the welcome screen.
Configure and Start Tails
You need to configure language and region settings in the Tails welcome screen as shown in the following image and click on ‘start Tails.’ After a few seconds, you will get the Tails desktop.
This is how the Tails desktop will look like after startup:
How to Connect to the Internet?
Now you have successfully connected with Tails OS. For secure browsing, you can enable wifi and use the Tor browser for web surfing. For that, open the settings menu in the top-right hand corner:
Select the Wi-Fi Not Connected option and then select Network.
After selecting the correct wifi network, the Tor Connection screen appears to help you connect to the Tor network.
This is how Tor looks like in Tails:
After successfully connecting to the Tor browser, you can safely surf the internet. If you want to send any saved files through email, you need to save the files in the ‘Tor browser folder’. Otherwise, Tails does not allow you to access any file in the default home directory, where you will save your files.
How to create persistent storage on Tails?
Everything you save inside Tails will simply vanish after you have shut it down. Thus, if you need to keep them persistently, you can create persistent storage. Let’s see in this section how you can configure it.
Configure the Persistent Storage
- Click on the applications menu in the top-left corner and choose ‘ configure persistent volume.’ Then you will get the following persistent volume setup window.
- Insert and verify a passphrase according to the requirements.
- Click on the Create button, and Tails will give you a list of features of Persistent Storage. Select only the features that you require.
- Click Save.
Restart the computer on Tails
- Shut down the computer and, as explained earlier, restart your Tails USB drive.
- This time, you will get the following welcome screen consisting of an option to input your persistent storage passphrase.
- Select your Language & Region settings.
- In the Encrypted Persistent Storage input box, enter the passphrase you have configured earlier and unlock the Persistent Storage for the current working session.
- Click on Start Tails. Within a few seconds, you will get the Tails desktop.
There is a Persistent folder in the home directory where you can now save all the working files, images, etc. You can open the Persistent folder from Places -> Persistent. Make sure to take a backup of the persistent folder because the USB stick can become corrupted or damaged at any time.