How to Run Your Own Safe, Portable PC From a USB Stick

For those who seek for the maximum portability and security of their computing, there is the option to run a system directly from a USB drive that you can carry in your pocket.

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

Turn off the computer, remove the USB drive, and it looks like you’re not there. This is an attractive option for those who value their privacy, as well as those who spend a lot of time moving between offices.

For the purposes of this guide, let’s look at Tails. It serves as a way to avoid surveillance, censorship, advertising, and viruses, and it comes with a stack of useful, privacy-focused software applications. It’s also free to use, and all you need to provide is a USB stick.

We’ll show you how to set up Tails in its default configuration, giving you maximum anonymity and protection; every time you start it, it’s like you’re starting a new computer for the first time. If you want Tails to remember your activity and hold files stored on the USB stick, you can also follow the instructions. HERE.

Laying the Tails

Etcher will help you install Tails.

Photo: Etcher by David Nield

Tails stands for The Amnesic Incognito Live System, which is a reference to how your activities are lost for good when you unplug the USB drive from the computer it is attached to and move on. It is based on the Debian Linux distribution, and it should work well on most computers from the last decade or so.

To do this and run, you need a USB stick with a minimum of 8 GB capacity. With that in hand, towards the Tails download page and select the operating system you used to set it up. Follow the on-screen instructions and you will get a USB image file about 1 GB in size, which you will need to transfer to the flash drive itself.

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