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How to Create an Anonymous Bootable Tails USB

By Alex Nimoy Oct. 7, 2019, 4:52 p.m.
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Tails isn’t the kind of operating system that you want to install on your hard drive. The Tails developers specifically configured it to forget everything that you’ve done when you reboot. While that doesn’t make it a good general purpose OS, it does mean that running off of a USB that you can load up whenever you want to use a computer privately and anonymously is an excellent option.

What You’ll Need

Before you get started making your Tails USB, you’ll need a couple of things. First, you’ll need two USBs. Only Tails can install a full version of Tails. You’ll have to install an intermediary version of Tails on one USB first. Then, you can install Tails from that one.
Next, you’ll need a computer running either Windows or Linux. That computer will download Tails and create the first USB.

Download and Verify Tails
There are a couple of ways to do this. By far, the easiest is to use the Firefox add-on that the Tails project set up.

Go to the Tails download page using Firefox. You’ll see a couple of steps listed. The first will be highlighted purple, and it will prompt you to install the Firefox add-on.

The next button will light up purple, after the add-on installs. Click on it to begin the download. The download will take a bit of time, so relax.

When the download finishes, you should automatically see a check on the page next to “Verify ISO image.” If you do, great! Your Tails ISO is downloaded and ready to go.

Create the First USB
This step is going to be different, depending on which operating system you’re using. The goal here is to create the first USB, the intermediary one, using the image that you just downloaded.
Insert the first USB into your computer.
Windows
Before you can create the USB, you need to download a utility to install your Tails image. If you have a utility that you prefer, use that. Otherwise, use the Universal USB Installer provided by Tails.
Download the program and install it. After you’ve done that, open it.

In the first drop-down, select “Tails.” Then, in the second, click on “Browse.” Browse to the Tails image that you just downloaded and select it. Finally, find and select the USB drive that you inserted. When everything looks the way you want it to, click “Create.” The installer will ask you to confirm. Click “Yes” and close the installer when it finishes.
Linux
Open a terminal. You’ll need to find where your USB is mounted. If you don’t know, run the following to list everything mounted on your computer.

CODE: ls /dev/ | grep sd

You’re going to be looking for the drive with the last letter in the alphabet that has a number after it. If you’re really unsure, open a program like GParted. It’ll be much easier to figure out which one is the USB that way.
Once you’re absolutely sure that you have the right drive, you can clone the image onto the USB.
CODE: sudo dd if=Downloads/tails-amd64-3.0.1.iso of=/dev/sdc bs=8M
Make sure that if is set equal to the path to the image file and of is set to the path of your USB.
Create the Final USB
After the first USB is done, you can reboot your computer into Tails. As it’s rebooting, make sure that your computer is set to boot to USB.
Select Tails from the boot menu. Then, when Tails boots, select your language and region. After a few seconds, you’ll see the Tails desktop.
Insert your second USB now.
Click on “Applications” in the upper-left corner of the screen. Click on “Tails,” then find “Tails Installer.”

The first option is “Install by cloning.” That’s the one you want. Once you click that, you’ll be able to select your second USB to install on. Confirm your install.
After the installer finishes, you’ll have a working Tails USB. Shut down your computer, unplug the first USB, and power it back on. You’ll find yourself in your working install.
For true anonymity and security, remember common sense and best practices, and as always, only use Tails for good.

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