Has anyone looked at Tails?
Crucial encryption tool enabled NSA reporting on shoestring budget
Big players in Snowden revelations publicly praise Tails, in hope of
gaining much-needed funding for the tool
While followers of the NSA leaks stories and everyday privacy
enthusiasts may be well acquainted with encryption tools like PGP, the
best-practice privacy tool — the operating system enabling much of the
Snowden leaks reporting — is known to few but experts.
On Wednesday, however, three key NSA revelation journalists (Laura
Poitras, Glenn Greenwald and Bart Gellman) spoke publicly about the
importance of Tails — a tool that forces privacy best-practices by
default. As Trevor Timm reported, it’s essentially the sine qua non of
reporting on sensitive stories. However, as Timm notes, the “vital” tool
“is incredibly underfunded. Tails’ 2013 expense report shows that they
only had an operating budget of around 42,000 euros, which is less than
$60,000.” In an effort to garner donations, the journalists spoke out
for the first time at the Freedom of the Press Foundation site about
Laura Poitras: “I’ve been reluctant to go into details about the
different steps I took to communicate securely with Snowden to avoid
those methods being targeted. Now that Tails gives a green light, I can
say it has been an essential tool for reporting the NSA story. It is an
all-in-one secure digital communication system (GPG email, OTR chat, Tor
web browser, encrypted storage) that is small enough to swallow. I’m
very thankful to the Tail developers for building this tool.”
Glenn Greenwald: “Tails have been vital to my ability to work
securely on the NSA story. The more I’ve come to learn about
communications security, the more central Tails has become to my approach.”
Barton Gellman: “Privacy and encryption work, but it’s too easy to
make a mistake that exposes you. Tails puts the essential tools in one
place, with a design that makes it hard to screw them up. I could not
have talked to Edward Snowden without this kind of protection. I wish
I’d had it years ago.”
Timm ran down the key aspects of how Tails renders best-practice privacy
communications a default for its users:
It forces all of your web traffic through the Tor anonymity network,
so you don’t have to configure any of the settings on any program.
It allows you to use GPG encryption when you are emailing and/or OTR
encryption while instant messaging, right out of the box.
It allows journalists to work on sensitive documents, edit audio and
video, and store all their files encrypted.
Critically, Tails never actually touches your hard drive and
securely wipes everything you’ve done every time you shut it down
(unless you specifically save it on an encrypted drive). This serves two
important purposes: first, it helps journalists who are operating in
environments or on networks that may already be compromised by
governments or criminals.
Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering
non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on
Twitter <at> natashalennard, email nlennard@...