Tails logo
TAILS 4.14 ENG 05 01 2021 15 39 25.png
Tails 4.14 Desktop
DeveloperThe Tails project
OS familyLinux (Unix-like)
Working stateActive
Source modelOpen source
Initial releaseJune 23, 2009; 13 years ago (2009-06-23)
Latest release5.8 / December 20, 2022 (3 days ago) (2022-12-20)[1]
Marketing targetPersonal computers
Update methodTails Upgrader[2]
Package managerAPT (front-end), dpkg
Kernel typeMonolithic
user interface
LicenseGNU GPLv3[4]
Preceded byIncognito
Official websitetails.boum.org

Tails, or The Amnesic Incognito Live System, is a security-focused Debian-based Linux distribution aimed at preserving privacy and anonymity.[5] It connects to the Internet exclusively through the anonymity network Tor.[6] The system is designed to be booted as a live DVD or live USB, and leaves no digital footprint on the machine unless explicitly told to do so. It can also be run as a virtual machine, with some additional security risks.[7] The Tor Project provided financial support for its development in the beginnings of the project,[8] and continues to do so alongside numerous corporate and anonymous sponsors.


Tails was first released on June 23, 2009. It is the next iteration of development on Incognito, a discontinued Gentoo-based Linux distribution.[9] The Tor Project provided financial support for its development in the beginnings of the project.[8] Tails also received funding from the Open Technology Fund, Mozilla, and the Freedom of the Press Foundation.[10]

Laura Poitras, Glenn Greenwald, and Barton Gellman have each said that Tails was an important tool they used in their work with National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden.[11][12][13]

From release 3.0, Tails requires a 64-bit processor to run.[14]


Tails's pre-installed desktop environment is GNOME 3. The system includes essential software for functions such as reading and editing documents, image editing, video watching and printing. Other software from Debian can be installed at the user's behest.[15][16]

Tails includes a unique variety of software that handles the encryption of files and internet transmissions, cryptographic signing and hashing, and other functions important to security. It is pre-configured to use Tor with multiple connection options. It tries to force all connections to use Tor and blocks connection attempts outside Tor. For networking, it features a modified version of Tor Browser with the inclusion of uBlock Origin,[17] instant messaging, email, file transmission and monitoring local network connections for security.[18]

By design, Tails is "amnesic". It runs in the computer's Random Access Memory (RAM) and does not write to a hard drive or other storage medium. The user may choose to keep files, applications or some settings on their Tails drive in "Persistent Storage". Though the Persistent Storage is encrypted by default, it is not hidden and detectable by forensic analysis.[19] While shutting down, Tails overwrites most of the used RAM to avoid a cold boot attack.[20]

Security incidents

In 2014 Das Erste reported that the NSA's XKeyscore surveillance system sets threat definitions for people who search for Tails using a search engine or visit the Tails website. A comment in XKeyscore's source code calls Tails "a comsec [communications security] mechanism advocated by extremists on extremist forums".[21][22]

In the same year, Der Spiegel published slides from an internal National Security Agency presentation dating to June 2012, in which the NSA deemed Tails on its own as a "major threat" to its mission and in conjunction with other privacy tools as "catastrophic".[23][24]

In 2017, the FBI used malicious code developed by Facebook, identifying sexual extortionist and Tails user Buster Hernandez through a zero-day vulnerability in the default video player. The exploit was never explained to or discovered by the Tails developers, but it is believed that the vulnerability was patched in a later release of Tails. It was not easy to find Hernandez: for a long time, the FBI and Facebook had searched for him with no success, resorting to developing the custom hacking tool.[25]

See also


  1. ^ "Tails 5.8 is out". Tails. November 22, 2022.
  2. ^ "Tails - Incremental upgrades". tails.boum.org.
  3. ^ "Tails - System requirements". tails.boum.org.
  4. ^ "Tails 0.11 incognito live system released". The H. April 30, 2012. Retrieved August 12, 2012.
  5. ^ Vervloesem, Koen (April 27, 2011). "The Amnesic Incognito Live System: A live CD for anonymity". LWN.net. Retrieved August 12, 2012.
  6. ^ "Anonym im Netz" [Anonymous on the Net]. TecChannel (in German). February 6, 2012. Retrieved August 12, 2012.
  7. ^ "Running Tails in a virtual machine". tails.boum.org. Retrieved September 20, 2021.
  8. ^ a b "Finances". Tails. April 4, 2013. Retrieved May 13, 2013.
  9. ^ Gray, James (September 16, 2011). "The Tails Project's The Amnesic Incognito Live System (Tails)". Linux Journal. Retrieved August 12, 2012.
  10. ^ "Tails report for May, 2014". Tails. June 14, 2014. Archived from the original on July 1, 2014. Retrieved July 6, 2014.
  11. ^ Timm, Trevor (April 2, 2014). "Help Support the Little-Known Privacy Tool That Has Been Critical to Journalists Reporting on the NSA". Freedom of the Press Foundation. Retrieved April 18, 2014.
  12. ^ Finley, Klint (April 14, 2014). "Out in the Open: Inside the Operating System Edward Snowden Used to Evade the NSA". WIRED. Retrieved April 18, 2014.
  13. ^ Condliffe, Jamie (April 15, 2014). "Try the Super-Secure USB Drive OS That Edward Snowden Insists on Using". Gizmodo. Retrieved April 15, 2014.
  14. ^ "Tails - Tails 3.0 is out". tails.boum.org. Retrieved June 14, 2017.
  15. ^ "APT repository". tails.boum.org. October 7, 2019. Archived from the original on September 25, 2019. Retrieved October 7, 2019.
  16. ^ "Features and included software". tails.boum.org. October 7, 2019. Archived from the original on August 23, 2019. Retrieved October 7, 2019.
  17. ^ "Browsing the web with Tor Browser". tails.boum.org. Archived from the original on February 8, 2022. Retrieved March 16, 2022.
  18. ^ "Features and included software". Tails.
  19. ^ "Tails - Creating and configuring the Persistent Storage". tails.boum.org.
  20. ^ "Tails - Memory erasure". tails.boum.org.
  21. ^ Appelbaum, J.; Gibson, A.; Goetz, J.; Kabisch, V.; Kampf, L.; Ryge, L. (July 3, 2014). "NSA targets the privacy-conscious". DasErste.de.
  22. ^ Bruce Schneier (July 3, 2014). "NSA Targets Privacy Conscious for Surveillance". Schneier on Security.
  23. ^ SPIEGEL Staff (December 28, 2014). "Prying Eyes: Inside the NSA's War on Internet Security". Der Spiegel. Retrieved January 23, 2015.
  24. ^ "Presentation from the SIGDEV Conference 2012 explaining which encryption protocols and techniques can be attacked and which not" (PDF). Der Spiegel. December 28, 2014. Retrieved January 23, 2015.
  25. ^ Franceschi-Bicchierai, Lorenzo (June 10, 2020). "Facebook Helped the FBI Hack a Child Predator". Vice.