Have you ever wondered how secure your computer is? Well – believe it or not, hackers may be watching your computer and recording your every click! Any electronic device with on-line access can be vulnerable. Most hackers steal information from your computer’s usage history. That is, a hacker can log into your computer today and find passwords and other personal information you entered days or even weeks ago.
Another problems is the security “holes” in your computer’s operating system and especially in the web browser you use. Internet Explorer on Windows has the worst security history of any web browser but none of the others are perfect.
Finally, usage of an insecure Internet connection can be tapped by hackers. Using an SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) connection is good but using a Tor connection is even better. Some people prefer to use I2P encrypted networking, another highly secure option. (Information about SSL encrypted connections may be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transport_Layer_Security while information about Tor network may be found at https://www.torproject.org/ and information about I2P may be found at https://geti2p.net/en/.)
There are easy (and cheap!) solutions to keep your movements from being tracked. The recommendations may sound complex and expensive but I can tell you how to implement very high security at no cost or, if you don’t want to do any techie work at all, at very low cost. You can get “another computer” without buying any hardware. My recommendations are:
1. Never use Windows. Even Macintosh is not perfect. Instead, use a more secure operating system, such as Linux.
2. Never use Internet Explorer as the web browser.
3. Always use Tor networking or I2P networking for a very secure and encrypted connection to other web sites.
4. Only use your high-security computer when absolutely necessary, such as when connecting to your bank account or to an online stock brokerage account. At all other times, shut that computer down and leave it off. Hackers cannot access a computer that is powered off!
Yes, you can have a “second computer” at little or no cost. Only use the second computer when reading or making financial transactions. Leave it powered off at all other times so that no one can access and read stored information on that second computer. Even better, use a “second computer” that doesn’t store anything!
Here’s the solution: the TAILS Operating System
Tails is a Linux live operating system that you can start on almost any computer from a DVD, USB stick, or SD card. If you have a Windows or Macintosh computer, you can use a Tails CD, flashdrive, SecureDigital card, or an external USB hard drive. Install the Tails operating system onto that external device and then boot from that device. If you don’t want to install Tails itself or if you do not possess the technical knowledge to install Tails by yourself, you can even purchase a flashdrive or DVD with the Tails operating system already installed.
Tails stands for “The Amnesiac Incognito Live System.” It is “amnesiac” because it remembers nothing. It does not remember your web browsing history, your passwords, or even your name. Using Tails means your computer will:
- use the Internet anonymously and circumvent censorship;
- all connections to the Internet are forced to go through the Tor network or (optionally) the I2P network;
- leave no trace on the computer you are using unless you ask it explicitly;
- use state-of-the-art cryptographic tools to encrypt your files, emails and instant messaging.
Once you have the Tails flashdrive or CD or whatever media you choose, insert the device into your computer and reboot. Make sure your computer is configured to boot from the flashdrive, CD, SecureDigital Card or external disk drive. If not, you may need to change your BIOS setting as described at https://tails.boum.org/doc/first_steps/start_tails/index.en.html and at http://pcsupport.about.com/od/tipstricks/ht/bootusbflash.htm.
Your computer will then boot from Tails and not use your current Windows or Macintosh operating system at all. In essence, your Tails device creates a new, second computer that contains no history from your first (Windows or Macintosh) computer.
Yes, you might have only one physical computer, but it becomes two separate computers when you use two different operating systems. In addition, Tails is so highly secure that it is unlikely that any hacker will ever be able to access your “second computer” that is using Tails. However, if a very sophisticated hacker ever finds a way to do to access a computer running Tails (which is highly unlikely), he or she still will not be able to read any information stored on your computer’s internal Windows or Macintosh hard drive as those drives are inaccessible from Tails unless you, the local user, take specific steps to make them available.
When finished with your online financial instructions, boot down the Tails operating system and remove the flashdrive/CD/SecureDigital card or external hard drive. Your “second computer” is now shut down. No hacker can ever access a computer that is not running. You may then turn the computer back on and boot back into Windows or Macintosh operating system normally. No trace of your information from the Tails “second computer” will be left on your computer’s internal hard drive.
Yes, you will now have a second logical computer that does not read or write any information from your normal (“first computer”) hard drive. Creating a bootable Tails disc is a simple process and a great use for one of those USB drives you have laying around doing nothing. Since you can use Tails on almost any public computer you run into, it’s a great way to keep your browsing and usage hidden from the world. It’s even beneficial on your home computer since you don’t have to alter your system in any way.
Of course, nothing is ever perfect. With Tails or with any other computer operating system, there is no magic or perfect solution to security. You always need to be aware of any operating system’s limitations. For Tails, those limitations are well documented at https://tails.boum.org/doc/about/warning/index.en.html. Even with those limitations, Tails probably is the most secure operating system available today. It was even used by Eric Snowden to evade the NSA and he has since recommended Tails to everyone in various interviews. See http://www.engadget.com/2014/05/01/tails-linux-os-version1-0/ for details.
More information about Tails may be fond on the Tails web site at: https://tails.boum.org
Either free or very low cost, depending upon which method you use to obtain a flashdrive, CD, SecureDigital card or external hard drive with the Tails operating system installed.
If you have a spare flash drive or an external hard drive that is not being used for some other purpose, use that. Tails requires very little space on the flash drive or other media so you probably already have whatever you need. Instructions for installing Tails on a flashdrive or CD may be found on the Tails web site, starting at https://tails.boum.org/download/index.en.html. Installation on a Macintosh is described at https://tails.boum.org/doc/first_steps/installation/manual/mac/index.en.html.
If you are not comfortable with downloading and installing ISO images, you can purchase a ready-made Tails flash drive or DVD for a few dollars from a number of different sources. Of course, that leaves you at the mercy of the person(s) who created the flashdrive or CD or DVD. It is theoretically possible, although doubtful, that the person who created the Tails bootable device could have installed some “extra software” to spy on you. I would suggest the risk is small but still is not a zero risk. In any case, using Tails from any source is always a much, much lower risk than running Windows!
You can purchase Tails already installed on a DVD disk or on a flashdrive from OSDisc.com, a well-known and trusted provider, at https://www.osdisc.com/products/tails. Prices vary from $5.95 for a DVD disk to $49.95 for a high-capacity flash drive. Since Tails doesn’t require much storage space on the flashdrive, I would recommend the 8-gigabyte flashdrive that sells for $14.95. (NOTE: These will boot on a Windows computer but not on a Macintosh.)
Tails is also available from a number of vendors on eBay.com although the reliability of most of the eBay vendors is not known.
More information about Tails may be found at https://tails.boum.org/doc/index.en.html.
Who is watching your online transactions today?