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About that: Is TAILS an essential distro or just an added tinfoil hat?

A tech blogger put up a piece I came across on Tux Machines, asking whether TAILS, a security-oriented Linux distro designed to afford the user anonymity, was just another tinfoil hat for the over-imaginative conspiracy theorists.

It was stronger than me to let this be, as I believe that TAILS is actually very legitimately useful to certain people and professions – namely journalists, students and activists – and that the article was likely to gain page views over time. Below is my own answer.

Original article is http://openbytes.wordpress.com/2014/05/16/tails-an-essential-distro-or-an-accessory-to-compliment-a-tin-foil-hat-for-the-average-user/

For the TLDR – TAILS is not aimed at the average home user, but at non-technical users who actually do need to take their online safety into serious consideration.

…. it’s a bit of a straw man attack …

The real question is – where is the merit in deriding the approach and considerations TAILS addresses?


The people in tinfoil hats are easy to make fun of – but this is not who TAILS is aimed at. Yes for the average home user it’s overkill. (by the way, RAM can indeed be mined post-reboot in certain circumstances and is worth guarding against as it’s not a costly feature to have)

TAILS is for the intensely paranoid, non-technical user. As you know, the rule in computer security is to trust nobody and nothing; so you’re totally right, it’s funny that anyone should trust a pre-baked TAILS ISO – but it’s a concern they openly address on their site. In the end, a prominent warning is the most that can be done given the intended audience. If I need security, I’ll still favour my chances with a TAILS ISO over anything else.

Still, assuming the copy you have is legit and the source and developers are indeed trustworthy, it comes in useful when you are traveling to a less-than-friendly environment.

Universities are a prime example of places that benefit from more awareness of TAILS – some students get involved in subjects requiring them to do field-work in unfriendly environments, or join charity and activist groups that need to take action in hostile places, and freelance journalists in general don’t normally have a full IT department to advise them upfront.

The advantage of TAILS is giving non-techies a first port of call for security, and lowering the barrier to entry so to speak.

Telling them to “learn to be a techie and roll your own” is a particularly unhelpful, snobbish retort.

Posted in About that..., Ethics, Free and Open Source, Internet, Linux

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