How to run your own secure portable PC from a USB stick


For those looking In order to get the ultimate portability and security in their computing, they can choose to run the system directly from a USB drive that can be carried with them.

Plug it into a spare USB port on a Windows or macOS computer. The flash drive acts as storage and software for the system, while borrowing everything else from the machine to which it is connected—monitor, keyboard, processor, graphics.

Turn off the computer and pull out the USB flash drive, as if you never existed. This is an attractive option for those who value privacy and those who spend a lot of time moving between offices.

For the purpose of this guide, we will look at Tails. It was developed to avoid surveillance, censorship, advertising and viruses, and it comes with a bunch of useful and privacy-conscious software applications. It can also be used for free, you only need to provide a U disk.

We will show you how to set up Tails in the default configuration, which will provide you with maximum anonymity and protection; every time you boot, it’s like booting a new computer for the first time. If you want Tails to remember your activities and keep the files saved on the USB flash drive, that is also possible-the instructions are here.

Set tail

Etcher will help you install Tails.

Photo: Etcher via David Nield

Tails stands for Amnesic Incognito Live System, which refers to how your activity will disappear permanently when you unplug the USB drive from the connected computer and continue to move. It is based on the Debian Linux distribution and should work on most computers in the past decade or so.

To get it up and running, you need a USB flash drive with a capacity of at least 8 GB. With it, go to the Tails download page and select the operating system you used to set it up. Follow the instructions on the screen and you will get a USB image file of approximately 1 GB in size, which you then need to transfer to the flash drive itself.

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