Computers, Privacy & the Constitution

Tails Installation

Tails (The Amnesiac Incognito Live System) is a free software operating system—descended from Debian, the universal free software OS—which is designed to provide you with maximum assurance in using the Net incognito. In other words, Tails is an environment you boot into when you want to get as close to anonymity as the current highly surveilled state of the Net allows.

Tails uses TOR, the "onion routing" system for cloaking your identity online. TOR is a network of computers communicating with one another, and with you, over strongly encrypted connections. When your computer is configured correctly to use TOR, all your network traffic is sent over encrypted links from one TOR router to another, hopping across countries and continents, until it emerges from an "exit node" into the public Net. Any website you contact, or any surveilling party in the Net, sees your traffic only once it emerges from the "exit node," hiding its point of origin, and therefore also your identity.

A system using TOR that is incorrectly configured, however, can "leak" your location and identity in many ways that are hard for the user to spot and easy for surveilling entities to take advantage of. So Tails provides a complete and carefully secured operating environment, using GNU/Linux and other free software, on top of which it runs TOR and the "TOR browser bundle" that gives you a Firefox browser that has been carefully configured not to disclose anything about you and not to reveal anything from the "browser fingerprint." Tail also contains the Pidgin multi-platform chat client, which will allow you to create new chat identities for strong pseudonymity in the usual chatty places. Tails also takes care of your operational security at the computer end: when you boot Tails on a computer, the system takes care to leave no sign of your presence behind. Nothing in the computer's memory, whether in RAM or on disk drives, shows that Tails was run on that computer, or what was done with it.

Modes of Installation

Tails could be installed on a laptop or desktop hard drive, but that would leak identity and activity to anyone who physically possessed or seized the computer. So the better ways to run Tails are from a DVD, or from a USB stick.

Step 1: Download, Verify, and Store Tails

The Tails Installation Assistant will walk you through the process.

Step 2: Boot Tails

Using your choice of personal computing device, boot the USB stick or DVD you created in Step 1. You will boot to a free software OS desktop, connect to a wired network or wifi, and then TOR will attempt to connect you to the onion routing network. Once your TOR connection is made, you can use Firefox to verify that you are apparently browsing from somewhere else in the world. Unlike the CUNIX proxy we made in Tech Project 2, there should be no way for any party to verify your location and/or identity. You are not merely proxied, you are cloaked.

Step 3: Proof

Once you have successfully brought up TOR, you are ready to demonstrate your success here. As in Tech Project 2, simply add a comment to this page saying that you are finished. The comment will look no different to you but the logs for this website, like the logs of every website, will record your IP address. If you are successfully using TOR—which you will already have verified for yourself by taking the "TOR test" in your browser at startup&mdash, our logs will show that you came from a TOR "exit node" somewhere in the world. Otherwise we will see exactly where else you are connecting from.

-- EbenMoglen - 20 Apr 2016


Edit: They (Apple) do(es) not make this easy to do from certain machines. For that reason I created this page that OS X users may or may not find helpful: TailsOsx

-- AlexanderGerten - 21 Apr 2016

Finished. Hopefully I did this correctly. Alex's tips were really helpful with an older ('09) Mac

-- BrandonNguyen - 23 Apr 2016

I get this in terminal once i've enter the command for sub step 7 of step 2/7:

"We trust you have received the usual lecture from the local System Administrator. It usually boils down to these three things:

#1) Respect the privacy of others. #2) Think before you type. #3) With great power comes great responsibility. Password: "

It doesn't let me enter anything into terminal anymore. I'm doing this on a Mac. Did anyone encounter this message?

-- AlexiaBedat - 25 Apr 2016

Finished. If people are having trouble, it is possible to do this from one of the law school computers (one of my USB ports wasn't working so that's how I installed Tails on the second flashdrive).

-- JakeLewis - 26 Apr 2016


-- AlanWong - 26 Apr 2016

Jake, did you do the whole thing on a law school computer? I.e copy from law school computer to USB and then to your personal one?

-- AlexiaBedat - 26 Apr 2016

No, started from my laptop (Windows) and downloaded Tails to the first (intermediate) flashdrive. Then plugged in both intermediate and final flashdrive to a separate computer (also Windows) in the law school library, booted up Tails via the intermediate flashdrive, and cloned it to the second flashdrive. Then plugged the second flashdrive into my laptop, booted Tails, and ran TOR.

You could probably do the whole thing on one of the law school computers though.

-- JakeLewis - 27 Apr 2016


-- KarmanLucero - 27 Apr 2016

Finished. I had trouble with default USB installer for making the intermediate tails flashdrive (to boot off a USB in Windows). I got better results with Rufus. This link does a good job explainig the install with Rufus:

-- SolomonRotstein - 27 Apr 2016

Thanks Jake, that was really helpful! I was able to install Tails on the second USB and boot up Tails on my laptop (Mac) but then I can't connect to any network to submit my proof. TOR opens but doesn't find a connection. Will ask Eben in class/office hours.

-- AlexiaBedat - 27 Apr 2016

Try clicking one of the headings in the top right and search for a wifi network through those settings. It didn't connect automatically for me at first but once I manually selected a network it worked fine

-- JakeLewis - 27 Apr 2016


-- DanielShiner - 28 Apr 2016

Finished. My Macbook Air's wireless card doesn't speak to Linux drivers, so I popped in a dongle instead. Works like a charm.

-- GreggBadichek - 04 May 2016

AlexiaBedat? - what did you end up doing to get around the password request when you used sudo? I am now confronting this problem. Did you have to add yourself as a root user? Also did anyone do this on debian? I didn't know only some usbs were compatible and wondered if there is not some way around this... I've given up and am trying it on my mac instead #tailswoes

-- LizzieOShea - 05 May 2016

I ended up following Jake's advice. I installed on the USB using one of the Windows computers at the Law School. But now when I boot tails on my MAC laptop, it doesn't pick up on the wifi, both at school and at home .Even tried typing the "rfkill list" command but don't get a wifi showing up (according to the Tails website that's one way to do it). Until I find a nonwifi connection I'm stuck! Sorry can't help more.

-- AlexiaBedat - 05 May 2016

Alexia--what kind of Mac are you using? It could very well be that you are running into the same problem I was running into, which is that the wifi cards on some Macs simply will not speak to Linux drivers. To get around this, I just plugged in a usb wifi dongle to do the card's work, and then there were no wifi problems. If you have no option to connect to any wifi, whatsoever--as in, you do not even see a wireless network option when you check your status/utilities--then I think it's likely this is the problem you are having, as it means TAILS simply doesn't see any wifi hardware installed.

-- GreggBadichek - 06 May 2016

Finished. Ran into some of the problems discussed above (thanks for the suggestions). Also Firefox would stop connecting to once I downloaded the add-on from my Columbia apt. connection but it finally worked on a different connection.

-- ChristopheWassaf - 11 May 2016

Finished. (I think?)

-- TimothyKim - 11 May 2016

I'm clearly the most useless person, because I am now having trouble configuring the interim tails. What happens is that I try to install tails on the second usb and it says there is insufficient disk space, which I know is not right, because I have tried it on two new usbs (4GB and 8GB). Again, did anyone else encounter this problem? Or am I just monumentally stupid/unlucky? I don't know if this is a configuration problem with the usb but I don't think it should be.

-- LizzieOShea - 12 May 2016

Finished (I think?)

-- MalcolmEvans - 02 Jun 2016


-- StephanieKato - 28 Mar 2017


-- EthanThomas - 29 Mar 2017


I could not get it working on Mac (2015 MacBook Pro) until I installed rEFInd and made interim tails using Rufus under Windows 10.

-- AndrewWatiker - 29 Mar 2017


-- ShayaAfshar - 29 Mar 2017


-- OrBelkin - 06 Apr 2017


-- AmandaFerber - 09 Apr 2017


-- LeonHuang - 09 Apr 2017


-- ErensuAltan - 10 Apr 2017


-- HyunKyungLee - 16 Apr 2017

An update for anyone who has Tails lock up at a blue screen when logging in: took me a long time to run it on my own computer but I finally found a workaround. If you have an nvidea graphics card, this seems to be a common cause of the problem.

On the first screen you see, hit Tab to edit the startup options. The following changes worked for me: 1) Change "splash" to "nosplash" 2) Remove "quiet" 3) Type "nouveau.modeset=0" at the end

Hope these help someone else as well.

-- EthanThomas - 17 Apr 2017


-- SunghyeOh - 18 Apr 2017



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r34 - 18 Apr 2017 - 22:38:13 - SunghyeOh
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