Down the rabbit hole, part 3: Linux and Tor are key to ensuring privacy, security

Your OS and how you connect to the internet are key in making your online life private and secure

Linux and Tor are key to ensuring privacy, security
Claudio Testa (CC0)

So, I’ve decided I need to improve the privacy and security of my life (especially as it relates to computing). And I’ve come to the conclusion that in order to effectively do this, I need to focus on utilizing open source software as much as possible. 

What next?

Let’s start at a very simple, basic level: the operating system of my laptop computers (I don’t actually have a desktop currently, but the same ideas will apply) and how they connect to the internet.


Follow Bryan Lunduke’s quest to make his digital life as private and secure as possible:


Let’s talk about the “connect to the internet” part first. Specifically, let’s talk about Tor

The idea of Tor is simple: Ever seen a movie where someone is trying to trace a phone call, and there’s a computer screen up that shows a line bouncing all over Earth—to multiple points in various countries—before the place where the call originated is finally found? The person making the phone call didn’t want to be found, so he “routed” the call through multiple countries and multiple phone networks.

Tor works a lot like that. It routes your data, encrypted, through multiple (random) points all around the world—those individual points often being run by other Tor users. The end result is that when you (for example) post something on Twitter, Twitter is not aware of your physical location. 

Nifty, right? 

Clearly Tor (or something like it) is a requirement here. Luckily Tor is fairly easy to set up and get running across your entire system. The Tor team has even pre-made a web browser with Tor built in: Tor Browser. This is a version of Firefox + Tor + configurations and extensions designed to keep you as private and secure as possible. Super easy to use. 

So, I’ll definitely be using Tor. 

The best operating system for privacy

OK. Time for me to pick an operating system.

We’ve already established that I will be running something that is open source, so that I can be (somewhat) confident about the security of the system (and the lack of backdoors sneakily added in). And being as I’m already a Linux-using kinda guy (heck, I sit on the board for openSUSE, one of the longest-running Linux distributions on the planet), the choice for me is pretty clear. I’ll be running Linux. 

But not all Linux-based systems are created equal. Luckily there are plenty of amazing distributions of Linux that make excellent options here. 

There’s Tails, which is a Debian-based system running GNOME. The nice part about Tails is that it’s built entirely for this very purpose—to be secure and private. Tor is set up and ready to go by default, and all of the pre-loaded software comes configured to use it. 

There’s also Qubes, which runs applications in disposable virtual machines that are isolated from one another. That certainly helps to keep things nice and secure. 

But I’m a bit of a do-it-yourself kinda guy. Plus, in going through this process, I want to be able to document the individual steps I take in order to help others do the same. Both Qubes and Tails are fantastic and would be incredible choices for me. In fact, I’ve been running Tails on one of my systems for the last few days. I’m very impressed with it as a privacy-focused, but very usable, system. 

Just the same, I’m going to stick with the distribution of Linux I know the best—openSUSE—and configure it to suit my needs. (It might also be worth the time for me to slowly build a package that adds in the right software and configures it. That way others can benefit from it a bit easier—in addition to making setting up new systems for myself a bit quicker.) 

There we have it. I’ve picked my operating system (openSUSE) and settled on using Tor to route my network traffic. Already this is a pretty significant step in making my computing life private and secure.

But there is so much more to do—so very much.

We haven’t even touched on mobile operating systems, instant messaging, email, social networks, file storage—the list is seemingly endless. But we’ll get there, one step at a time.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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