How to Install Tails OS on USB – Complete Ultimate Guide

Updated: 22 November 2021
Updated: 22 November 2021

Miklos Zoltan

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In this guide I will show you how to install Tails on a USB.

In this complete guide, you will learn about:

  • 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

>> Click here to jump straight to the section showing how to install Tails on USB.

Quick Summary

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 to Install Tails

What is Tails

Tails or The Amnesic Incognito Live System is one of most secure portable operating systems (OS). Developed based on Debian GNU/Linux, it protects you against surveillance, censorship, advertising, and viruses.

Unlike typical operating systems like Windows, Linux, etc., that use the hard drive to boot, Tails starts using a USB drive and turns your computer into a secure system.

Because of the protection it provides, it has widespread usage among many people who have a dire need of online privacy and security. Journalists and hackers are at the top among people who use it.

The most controversial example is the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden who has claimed to have used Tails to leak secret files of the NSA.

How Does Tails Work?

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 internet usage and nothing gets saved on your HDD or SSD. So, after you shut down your computer, you will never leave any trace of anything you did or accessed on the machine you have the Tails USB plugged into.

Privacy

Tails uses a Tor network for all the internet activities encrypting and anonymizing your connection.

Because of this, third parties will not know what websites you are visiting. Moreover, advertisers cannot learn about your browsing habits as Tor allows you to be anonymous and change your identity if you need.

In addition, Tails provides a set of software applications like LibreOffice, where you can work on sensitive documents as well as OnionShare, Thunderbird, and many more.

Persistent Storage

Once you are disconnected from 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 how to install Tails on a USB stick.

How to Install Tails on a USB

You can install Tails on a USB drive. This section will show you how you can install and run Tails using a machine with a Windows OS.

What are the system and device requirements?

  • A USB drive. You will need 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 to download around 1.2 GB of data.
  • Another device like a mobile phone, tablet, or another PC to read and follow these instructions while installing. You can also take a printout of this guide.

Downloading Tails

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.

Verification from the Tails page is based on a Javascript code embedded in the Tails download page. You do not need this step if you download through BitTorrent because BitTorrent will automatically verify the download using checksum.

Verify Tails Download

If the verification is successful, you will get the following successful verification notification.

Tails Download Verification

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 link in the previous sentence.

Install Tails

Now we have all the things gathered to install and run Tails. Plug your USB device into your machine.

Next, click on the downloaded Etcher installer to start Etcher.

Install Tails

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.

Installing Tails OS

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 on from the list.

Step 3: Finally, click on ‘Flash!’. Etcher will Flash your USB drive with Tails on your selected USB, which should take only a few minutes.

Tails Installation Process

After the flashing completion, Fletcher will automatically validate the installation.

Tails Installation Process

Upon successful completion, it should display the following message. After that, close the Etcher window.

Installing Tails on USB

Important: 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:
    Asus: Esc
    Dell: F12
    HP: F9
    Lenovo: F12
    MSI: F11
    Samsung: Esc, F12, F2
  • While you start the computer, press the boot menu key identified in step 2 immediately several times.
    Installing Tails OS

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.

Tails Welcome Page

This is how the Tails desktop will look like after startup:

Tails Desktop View

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:

Tails - Connect to the Internet

Select the Wi-Fi Not Connected option and then select Network.

Tails - Connect to Wi-Fi

After selecting the correct wifi network, the Tor Connection screen appears to help you connect to the Tor network.

Tails - Connect to Tor

This is how Tor looks like in Tails:

Tails - Tor Browser

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.

Tails - Connecting to the Internet with Tor

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 a 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.

    Tails Persistent Storage

  • 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.
    Tails Installation - Restart Computer

  • 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.

How to Install Tails on Two USBs?

You can also use two USBs to install and run Tails. The reason for using two USBs is to use the Tail installer for incremental updates and create a secure encrypted persistent storage. If you do not need encrypted storage, you can use just one USB drive.

For this, you need two USB drives of at least 4GB of storage each. Install Tails as described above on the first USB.

Create the Second USB

  • After installing the first USB, plug in the second USB and restart your computer with Tails. Select Tails from the boot menu.
  • Then, after the Tails welcome screen appears, select the language and region and start Tails. Within a few seconds, The Tails desktop will appear. At this time, Insert your second USB.
  • Finally, lopen the “Applications” menu in the upper-left corner of the desktop. Next, click on “Tails,” -> “Tails Installer”.

    Install Tails on Two USBs

  • Choose the first option, “Clone the current Tails.”. Once you click it, you’ll be able to select your second USB from target USB sticks and confirm the installation.
  • After the installation completes, you’ll have another Tails USB.
  • Remove the first USB, and restart the PC back on the second USBTails. You’ll see Tails starting on it successfully.

Summary

Tails is one of the most secure operating system in the world. You can use it on any computer without your activities being tracked. Once installed, you can utilize its pre-installed software for all your anonymous activities, including the Tor browser, to connect to the internet.

This article provided a step-by-step guide on installing and running Tails on a USB stick, how you can access the Tor network and create a persistent storage.

FAQ

Can you use Tails without a USB?

You can also use a writable DVD. You can right-click on the Tails ISO image in windows, select ‘Burn Disk Image,” and select the Disk burner drive. When rebooting the machine, select the appropriate DVD drive.

Can you install Tails on a hard drive?

Tails has been designed to run live on removable media like a USB or a writable DVD. Thus, it is not a recommended installation method.

Is Tails traceable?

Tails has a sound security system allowing you to leave no digital footprint of your activities. But again, there can be loopholes. For instance, using a weak password for persistent storage. Also, if you log in from Tails into some of your social media or email accounts that are associated with your real identity, then Tails will not protect you.

Written by: Shanika W.

Connect with the author:

Shanika Wickramasinghe is a software engineer by profession. She works for WSO2, one of the leading open-source software companies in the world. One of the biggest projects she has worked on is building the WSO2 identity server which has helped her gain insight on security issues. She is keen to share her knowledge and considers writing as the best medium to do so. Cybersecurity is one of her favorite topics to write about.

Being a graduate in Information Technology, she has gained expertise in Cybersecurity, Python, and Web Development. She is passionate about everything she does, but apart from her busy schedule she always finds time to travel and enjoy nature.

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