Kit #7. I need to use a computer without leaving a trace
I have a particular task that requires me to go online in a completely discreet manner. What can I do to hide my activity and my identity?
You might want to visit some websites, conduct research, or publish or send information online. Whether you use your own or someone else’s computer, your actions performed on the computer and the online traffic you generate could expose your activity and your identity. You need to work without leaving a trace and in a secure manner.
What you should do
Even if you are very concerned about your anonymity, in some cases you might have to use a computer that is not yours and you want to do it in a safe manner without leaving any traces. You might also be using your personal laptop but you still prefer to avoid leaving traces of your activity.
Tails is a live operating system (OS) that you can use on almost any computer by booting (starting the computer) from a DVD, USB drive or SD card. A live operating system is a full operating system that uses the computer’s hardware but not its software or drive storage. Tails is a special live OS that aims to preserve your privacy and anonymity by never storing data about your activity and forcing all internet connections through the Tor network. Tails comes with a set of programmes for web browsing, encryption, chatting and editing documents that are privacy-respecting by design.
The Tails website contains detailed and accessible documentation about how to download, verify and install Tails onto a DVD, USB drive or SD card that you can then use anywhere. Even if you don’t have an immediate use for it, it’s not a bad idea to prepare a Tails USB in advance to keep around – especially when you are travelling.
But what if you don’t have a Tails USB and you have to use someone else’s computer? Or if it’s too socially awkward to ask someone to let you restart their computer and use Tails when you just need to do a quick Google search? In that case, you can consider using what is known as incognito mode in Chrome, or private browsing in Firefox. This will open a new browser for you to work in that will not save your browsing history or temporary internet files after you close it. Remember that private browsing windows will only prevent your browsing history from being saved on the computer you are using, but will not protect your Internet activity from being monitored on the network.
Keep in mind
If you are working in a sensitive environment, and you are in a public space, you might need to be aware of any CCTV/surveillance around you. That applies, for example, to using a computer in a cyber café or a library.
Always keep Tails up to date. The system should notify you if there are new updates, but it’s advised to check their website frequently for announcements.
Where to find more help
- Learn about first steps with Tails.
- Learn about installing Tails onto a USB stick.
- Learn about Tails features and included software.
- Read an overview of Tor.