Thursday, May 15, 2014

Be Bond online - Privacy on public network & computers

Browsing online brings in privacy and security issues. Browsing on public network or public computer, brings in higher level of privacy issues. What you browse, emails you send/receive , what you chat, your username/passwords all can be known to others by going online on public network/computer. Of course you don’t want all these to be known by others and used against you. So don’t use public network or public computers at all?



Solution is to use "Tails Linux" operating system running on your USB drive(Laptop/Desktop). Its that easy. Tails(The Amnesic Incognitivo Live System) is a Linux distribution crafted for privacy and security. Its built on free and open source software that everyone can use. Tails Linux gives privacy to anyone anywhere.

Tails Linux is around five year old and built on top of Debian Linux which itself is known for its high security standards. Purpose of Tails is to provide ready to use Operating system for people which is secure out-of-the box. Below are the notable scenarios that are covered by Tails and why its getting popular(700,000 people use Tails daily).

Screenshot of Tails Linux


Public network anonymity: 
Public Wi-Fi is everywhere and will continue to grow. Café, Airports, Hotels, Restaurants, Malls, Bus/trains and many more public places that Wi-Fi is readily available for people to connect, and people do use it actively.

Tails use "Tor Network" which is free software and open-network that helps people against network tracking and analysis and give privacy. Network traffic travels across multiple networks and it becomes hard for anyone to track source machine. A unique method now used widely for privacy. More on Tor network is here -

As you reboot laptop, Tails connect to Tor-network and from there on any site you browse will not know which machine/location you are browsing from. No one on web can track you back to the public Wi-Fi that you are connected to.

Hiding Machine fingerprint: 
Every network device has a unique address called MAC address. Its built into your hardware and is unique globally and does not change. This MAC address is know to all Wi-Fi routers around you even if you are not connected to it. This machine-fingerprint is used in many ways to track users. Read my Wi-Fi tracking article for details. Anyone can track your entry and exit in an area based on MAC address just because you have Wi-Fi enabled on your devices (Smartphone/tablet/Laptop).
 
Tails solve this problem(on laptop) by changing MAC address every time you boot the machine. Random MAC address is generated every time and makes it difficult for anyone to track you back. This is enabled by default and done automatically behind the scene.
 
Website anonymity:
Websites you visit, plants a cookie in your browser to track it for future reference. Once you go back to that website, it exactly know when was last time you visited the site and can map all your activities on that site. You then start getting a personalized by showing you content that you may like more - This is to enguage user on their website and in-turn make business (ads, marketing/promotions). Websites thus captures your behavior on their site and this data is generally shared/sold across web-sites. All your browsing history is thus tracked and maintained by websites.

Tails boots as Live Linux CD and thus every time you start the machine it gives you a fresh OS which seems to be booting first time. Any website cookies that are planted gets wiped out as no data is persistent by default. Its similar to private-browsing mode in OS. Websites will consider you as new user and will be not be able to track you based on your earlier visits thus giving you privacy.

Also as pointed about with 'Tor-network', websites you visit cannot track back the source, making it hard to filter our area specific info. You will see totally different web content on same website, when you browse using Tails OS as compared to your regular OS. Websites, use network address (IP address) to track sources, this address will be different every time you visit a site, making it hard for website to track you.

Encrypted email and chat: 
Email and chat are common way of communication on internet. However every email or chat message you send/receive is known by your email/chat provider(google for example). You cannot keep a conversation private with current mechanism. Somewhere some body can read your content and can be used against you.

Tails OS provide Email and chat client applications that  provides privacy. You can encrypt emails/chats and send it to intended person. Only that person will be able to read the content and no one else will. Also, receiving person can be sure enough that its coming from you and no one has seen/modified the content in between. Tails OS provide Clawn Email and Pidgin chat client that ease out setup for privacy (PGP - Pretty Good Privacy) which works on secure public/private key concept.

Virus protection:
Tails is Live Linux CD which means nothing can persist once you reboot. Even if you get infected by virus as you browse, no viruses can continue after reboot. Secondly Linux is secure by design which makes it hard for Virus to infect and live long. Lastly administrator account is disabled by default in Tails which ensure that no access is granted to anyone by anyway. This makes it rock solid OS and you don’t need to worry about Viruses.

Tails is built on top of Debian Linux which ensures that no malicious code is built into OS in first place. No malicious code can get into open-source software as its been reviewed thoroughly by multiple people around the globe to keep it secure. This adds to the confidence of a strong and secure OS that Tails inherits.

You cannot download & install any software. It might seem as limitation, however that brings is safety as no third-party untrusted app can go unnoticed. Below is set of apps preinstalled for you to use an for most of the cases that should suffice regular user.

Secure/Encrypted Storage:
You may have data that you wish to carry with you and work on that data. May be some confidential data or personal photos that you wish to read/see. Windows OS does not encrypt any data on your hard-disk by default and that leaves your data available to people if your laptop is stolen. Your data is most important to you and with mobile/laptop theft it can land up in wrong hands.

Tails OS address this issue by providing a mechanism to create encrypted storage/volume on your USB with a strong password. You can then load this volume with password and read/write it. If you wish only to read the content then Tails load this data in read-only mode and no damage can be made in case something weird happens.


Key logger protection:
Accessing public computers for any kind of browsing is risky as it can record all your keyboard inputs (emails, username/password and chats) and send it to unintended people. These keyboard tracking can be done by software or hardware mechanism and called as keylogger. There are applications that can capture all your keyboard inputs and store it for later use, or there can be hardware key logging devices that might be connected. In any case keylogger is hidden from you and silently listening to you.

Tails solve this by providing a on screen keyboard that you can use for username/passwords or any sensitive info you are typing. No hardware can trace that; and as there is no keylogger software that is installed or can be installed, no question of software tracking.

Browser protection: 
Browser is what you extensively use online and that needs to be secure enough. Tails run version of Mozilla Firefox browser called Iceweasel which is built for security. In addition it has built in security plugins to make every network connection secure(HTTPs Everywhere and NoScript).

Rich set of applications to server you:
Surely you may need more than thus browser or email/chat client on OS to use. Tails provide you with full set of Office like apps to use. It has OpenOffice apps as replacement for Word, Excel and Powerpoint.  

KeepassX is installed as password manager for offline storage of your passwords. KeePassX is open-source, award winning app for password management and has all required functionality you need. You can maintain your passwords on encrypted storage and use it with KeePassX.

Other minor features: 
Tails can bootup looking exactly like Windows XP. User interface (Wallpaper, Icons, buttons) is rendered like XP which can deceive anyone around you to think you are using old XP machine which can be easily hacked (actually not). XP looks also can also help windows user feel like home and don’t need to worry about Linux underneath.

Tails OS is loaded in RAM memory and gets cleaned up as you reboot. No traces are left behind on hard-disk. Even RAM memory is forcefully zeroed up to clean up and leave no traces on reboot (there are instances where in RAM memory can be accessed after few seconds on machine shutdown).


Tails OS showcasing XP look and feel


Download and Installation
You can install Tails on USB/Pen Drive or CD and boot your machine using same
Here is download link. Here is installation guide from Windows


Conclusion: 
Tails Linux brings is rich set of functionality to give you privacy from various aspects. Protects your data and prevents you from getting tracked. On the top, its free for anyone to download and install.

Hope this helps you be like Bond online :-)

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