Conventional security measures like antivirus programs are behind the curve when it comes to modern hackers and malware. Unfortunately, antivirus software and firewalls give users a false sense of security. In reality, new threats are being developed and unleashed into the wild every single day, and even the best antivirus programs have to play catchup.
Recent ransomware attacks (aka. WannaCry) have targeted Windows-based PCs in over 150 countries – cyber security and privacy is incredibly important. Windows and macOS are easy to use and popular; however, they are much more susceptible to malicious code.
Linux is free and open source, which means there are hundreds of “flavors.” These individual distributions are tweaked to different specifications. Security-focused users will be pleased to know that there are a number of Linux distros designed with security and privacy in mind.
Well-known thanks to the crypto-anarchist Edward Snowden, Tails stands for The Amnesiac Incognito Live System. The operating system is booted from a live DVD, USB or SD card. Tails runs completely within the computer’s RAM, meaning that once you shut the computer down, all trace of it is wiped. This protects you from any potential data recovery techniques after shut down.
In addition, Tails promotes online anonymity by routing all of your Internet traffic through the Tor network. Tor bounces your Internet activity through a series of relays, preventing people from learning what sites you visit and preventing sites from learning your physical location. Finally, Tails utilizes a variety of state-of-the-art cryptographic tools in order to securely encrypt your data.
Qubes takes an entirely different approach to online security and privacy. The developers call it “security by compartmentalization.” What this means is that Qubes takes various parts of your “digital life” and isolates them in secure compartments they call “qubes.”
In layman’s terms, users configure various “qubes” to handle different tasks. You may have one qube dedicated to your personal finances while another handles work-related activities. This way if malware attacks your work qube, it will be contained to that qube, leaving your other qubes safe and unaffected. Qubes does require more effort to configure; however, it can prevent a single attack from taking down your entire system.
With Ipredia, privacy is the main focus. Start Ipredia by booting a live DVD or USB or install on your hard drive. Similarly to the Tails OS, the main draw of Ipredia is that it reroutes all of your Internet traffic to protect your anonymity. The difference between the two is that Tails routes your traffic through the Tor network, whereas Ipredia uses the I2P network. I2P is shorthand for the “Invisible Internet Project.” Without getting too technical, I2P uses an overlay network to allow applications to communicate with each other securely and anonymously.
Ipredia comes pre-configured with a variety of anonymous software, like an email client, web browser and BitTorrent client. Users also gain access to “eepsites” – anonymously-hosted sites using special domains ending in .i2p.
Whonix is a bit different from the rest. It doesn’t require you to boot from a Live CD or USB, nor does it require you to install it to your hard drive. Instead, Whonix is designed to run inside a virtual machine. This provides another layer of protection as malware attacks are contained within the virtual machine.
As an added benefit, all user traffic is automatically configured to run through the Tor network. This routes your activity through a series of relays, effectively combating network surveillance. Since Whonix runs in a virtual machine, it can be used with any operating system.
Honorable Mention: Kali
Made famous thanks to appearances in Mr. Robot, Kali is an OS designed specifically to audit the security of existing systems. Kali comes pre-loaded with a wide variety of forensic tools. These are mainly used by IT professionals to assess vulnerabilities and test effective defensive techniques.
If you aren’t familiar with the security tools packaged with Kali, you won’t find it very useful. If you’re keen to learn how Kali can help you prevent cyber-attacks, you’re in luck. Kali’s creators offer a variety of educational tutorials to help users make the most of Kali, free of charge.
Do you use a Linux distro with a security or privacy focus? Which one do you use? Aside from using a security-focused Linux distro, what other tips do you have to protect yourself from cyber threats? Let us know in the comments below!