We all know that Edward Snowden insists on secure email, but he's also very picky about his operating systems, too. In fact, he uses a free, super-secure version of Linux—called Tails—that fits on a USB stick and can be used on any computer without leaving a trace.
Linux installs on USB sticks are nothing new, sure. But Tails is an operating system optimised for anonymity—and it's used by the likes of Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald to keep their digital lives as secure as possible. In its developers' words:
Tails is a live system that aims to preserve your privacy and anonymity. It helps you to use the Internet anonymously and circumvent censorship almost anywhere you go and on any computer but leaving no trace unless you ask it to explicitly. It is a complete operating system designed to be used from a DVD, USB stick, or SD card independently of the computer's original operating system.
Which sounds either very useful or very suspicious depending on how you read between the lines! In fact, the developers behind the OS remain anonymous, in part, according to Wired, to help protect the code from government interference.
Tails uses Tor to maintain your anonymity, along with PGP, the password management system KeePassX, and the chat encryption plugin Off-the-Record. It's also carefully designed to never leave a trace on any computer that it's used on. Again, the developers explain:
Tails is configured with special care to not use the computer's hard-disks, even if there is some swap space on them. The only storage space used by Tails is the RAM, which is automatically erased when the computer shuts down. So you won't leave any trace neither of the Tails system nor of what you did on the computer. That's why we call it "amnesic".
Image by Tasha Chawner under Creative Commons license