Create Tails USBs

Tails is a privacy-enhancing live operating system that runs on removable media, such as a DVD or a USB stick. It sends all your Internet traffic through Tor, does not touch your computer’s hard drive, and securely wipes unsaved work on shutdown.

Most of the work of installing, administering, and using SecureDrop is done from computers using Tails, so the first thing you need to do is set up several USB drives with the Tails operating system. To get started, you’ll need two Tails drives: one for the Admin Workstation and one for the Secure Viewing Station. Later, you’ll set up a bunch more Tails drives for your journalists and backups, but for now you just need two.

As soon as you create a new Tails drive, label it immediately. USB drives all look alike and you’re going to be juggling a whole bunch of them throughout this installation. Label immediately. Always.

Install Tails

We recommend creating an initial Tails Live DVD or USB, and then using that to create additional Tails drives with the Tails Installer, a special program that is only available from inside Tails. All of your Tails drives will need persistence: a way of safely saving files and so on between reboots. It is only possible to set up persistence on USB drives which were created via the Tails Installer.

The Tails website has detailed and up-to-date instructions on how to download and verify Tails, and how to create a bootable Tails USB drive. Follow the instructions at these links and then return to this page:

You will need to create 3 Tails USBs to perform the SecureDrop installation:

  1. A “master” Tails USB, which you will create by copying a Tails .iso onto a USB drive, using one of the techniques outlined in the Tails documentation. This Tails USB is only used for creating other Tails USBs with the Tails Installer.
  2. The Secure Viewing Station Tails USB.
  3. The Admin Workstation Tails USB.

Tip

This process will take some time, most of which will be spent waiting around. Once you have the “master” copy of Tails, you have to boot it, create another Tails drive with the Tails Installer, shut down, and boot into the new Tails USB to complete the next step of setting up the persistence - for each additional Tails USB.

Note

Tails doesn’t always completely shut down and reboot properly when you click “restart”, so if you notice a significant delay, you may have to manually power off and restart your computer for it to work properly.

Enable Persistent Storage

Creating an encrypted persistent volume will allow you to securely save information and settings in the free space that is left on your Tails drive. This information will remain available to you even if you reboot Tails. (Tails securely erases all other data on every shutdown.)

You will need to create a persistent storage on each Tails drive, with a unique password for each.

Please use the instructions on the Tails website to make the persistent volume on each Tails drive you create. When creating the persistence volume, you will be asked to select from a list of features, such as ‘Personal Data’. We recommend that you enable all features.

Some other things to keep in mind:

  • Right now, you need to create a persistent volume on both the Admin Workstation Tails drive and the Secure Viewing Station Tails drive.
  • Each Tails persistent volume should have an unique and complex passphrase that’s easy to write down or remember. We recommend using Diceware passphrases..
  • Each journalist will need their own Tails drive with their own persistent volume secured with their own passphrase — but that comes later.
  • Journalists and admins will eventually need to remember these passphrases. We recommend using spaced-repetition to memorize Diceware passphrases.

Warning

Make sure that you never use the Secure Viewing Station Tails drive on a computer connected to the Internet or a local network. This Tails drive will only be used on the air-gapped Secure Viewing Station.