How to Boot Safe and Portable PC from USB Stick

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

Plug this into a spare USB port on your Windows or macOS computer, and the flash drive acts as system storage and software while everything else—monitor, keyboard, processor, and graphics—is borrowed from the device it’s connected to.

Turn off the computer, pull out the USB drive, and it’s like you’ve never been there before. It 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, we’ll take a look at Tails. Developed as a way to avoid surveillance, censorship, advertising, and viruses, it comes with a suite of useful privacy-focused software applications. It’s also free to use, and all you need to provide is a USB drive.

We’ll show you how to set up Tails with its default configuration, which gives you maximum anonymity and protection; Every time you start it up, it’s like you’re starting a new computer for the first time. If you’d prefer Tails to remember your activity and keep files saved on a USB drive, that’s also possible—the instructions are here.

Tails preparation

Etcher will help you install Tails.

Photography: Eicher via David Nield

Tails stands for The Amnesic Incognito Live System, which is an indication of how your activities are gone forever once you unplug the USB drive from the computer it’s plugged into and move on. It is based on the Debian Linux distribution, and should work fine with most computers from the past decade or so.

To get this up and running, you need at least an 8GB USB drive. With that said, head over to the Tails download page and select the operating system you’re using to set it up. Follow the onscreen instructions and you will get a USB image file of about 1 GB, which you will then need to transfer to the flash drive itself.

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