Tails – a Debian-based Linux distribution focused on privacy and online anonymity – recently released its “2.0” update. I reached out to the Tails press team to ask them a few questions, the full answers to which I am including below.
Interestingly, I'm not entirely certain exactly who I was talking with. I know I was communicating with the official Tails Press mailing list but to whom… I haven't the foggiest. Here's what happened when I asked the question directly:
Lunduke: “Any names that you'd like to be associated with the press list in the article? Or are your names top-secret? :)”
Tails: “Many of our names can be seen on our development mailing list, but we don't think that any name in particular is relevant for this interview.”
Which means that I had an interview, about an operating system focused on remaining anonymous online, with an anonymous (but official) group of people online. Very mysterious. I dig it.
Lunduke: “If you had 30 seconds to convince someone they should be using Tails... what would you say? In other words: What's the elevator pitch?”
Tails: “Snowden used it to work on the NSA documents with Greenwald and Poitras. This means Tails is both pretty secure and easy to use. As Jacob Appelbaum said at the Chaos Computer Congress 'if you are a journalist and you are not using Tails, you should probably be using Tails, unless you really know what you're doing.'”
Lunduke: “Why create Tails? What is the primary motivation here?”
Tails: “Tails started five years ago. At that time some of us were already Tor enthusiasts and had been involved in free software communities for years. But we felt that something was missing to the panorama: a toolbox that would bring all the essential privacy enhancing technologies together and made them ready to use and accessible to a larger public. Some experiments had already been made in that direction, such as Incognito, which can be considered as the ancestor of Tails.
We took over the idea of Incognito but based our work on Debian and called our project Amnesia. We put a lot of emphasis on the sustainability of the project straight from the beginning. We wanted to create a stable and mature project, on which people could rely on strongly and on the long term. We knew that this requires a strong commitment to feedback our work into the other free software communities we rely upon, mostly Tor, Debian, and GNOME.
Shortly after we started, the lead developer of Incognito proposed us to merge both projects. From the union of Incognito and Amnesia, Tails (The Amnesic Incognito Live System) was born.”
Lunduke: “Any notion of how many people may have downloaded or actively used Tails?”
Tails: “We publish monthly statistics of the number of times Tails is started and connected to the Tor network. In January 2016, Tails was started more than 571,109 times, which is 18,423 times a day, or once every 4.7 seconds :) (How we compute these numbers.)
About the number of single users of Tails, we have no clue. But our Torrent file is download around 1,500 times per day and our HTTP mirrors are serving around 3,900 direct downloads daily as well.”
Lunduke: “Does the primary team behind Tails use Tails for their primary system?”
Tails: “Some of us do, especially the people working on less technical stuff that don't need a very complex setup: documentation writers, translators, help desk, etc.”
Lunduke: “Would you recommend other people (average users) adopt Tails as their primary system?”
Tails: “Maybe not as the primary system to store your family pictures, check your personal email, and play online games. But if you manipulate sensitive data or need online privacy for some of your activities (journalism, blogging, whistle-blowing, online activism, etc.) you should definitely isolate these activities in a secure environment and use only Tails for them. And you probably have anything you need in there to work comfortably.”