How to Install Tails Security Distribution on USB

In this tutorial, our focus is persistent installation of Tails security distribution on USB stick which is based on Debian GNU/Linux. Tails is a live system which is used to preserve privacy and anonymity  while using internet. It does not left any trace on computer unless explicitly ask by the user. It can be used from a DVD/CD and USB device.  Tails distribution comes with  built-in  security applications such as web browser, instant messaging client, email client etc.


Following are the prerequisite for this article.

  • USB device (at least 4GB size)
  • Tails iso (available on the Tails web site)
  • Plop Boot Manager (to start the Boot Manager )

In this tutorial, Tails distribution will be installed on the Virtual Box VM. The detail of our VM is given below.

VM details

ISO file is loaded into the VM to boot it in the live mode for further installation.

tails iso loaded

Click on the "start" button to run the VM. Select "Live" option for the following menu.

live mode

After few minutes, following welcome screen appears on the screen and by default "No" button is checked.

welcome screen

Click on the "Yes" button to see more setting for Tails.

selected Yes option

After clicking on the "Forward" button, following window appears.

  • Enter password for Administrator  (this password will be use to become root to perform administration tasks).
  • Click on "Activate Microsoft Windows 8 Camouflage" button to avoid attracting suspicious on public places.   Tails gives camouflage option based on installed host OS. (optional)
main screen 1
  • Click on the "Spoof all MAC addresses" option to enable spoofing MAC addresses on the local network. (optional)
  • By default  Internet connection on the Tails will not use TOR for anonymity . It need to be enabled by selecting "this computer's internet connection is censored, filtered or proxied. You need to configured bridge,firewall or proxy setting on the computer".  (optional)
main screen 2

After clicking on the login button, screen similar to windows 8 appears which is shown below.

tails background

Similar windows 8 start menu, Tails menu is also on the left most corner. Now we will install Tails on Persistent volume (USB).  Click on the "Tails Installer"  from Tails menu which is shown below.

Tails installer

Tails installer shows following three options for installation on the USB/SD card. In this tutorial, our selected option is "Clone & Install" due to fresh installation of Tails on portable media.

installation options

On the next step, Tails check the available USB device to start installation process. As shown in the figure that no USB device is detected. 

As shown in the following figure that USB device (/dev/sdb) is detected.

found usb

Click on the "Install Tails" option to start installation process.

installation start

Click on "Yes" to start installation on the selected USB device.  All data on the selected device will be lost.

prompt before installation

Tails installation progress is shown in the below figure.  Tails automatically creates partition and sets FAT32 file system on the attached device.

installation information

Successful installation of Tails on USB device is  shown below.

installation complete

After installation on the portable device, next option is configuration of persistent volume. Click on the "configure persistent volume" for the selection of application/software to use persistent volume.

configure persistent volume

However, following error comes because currently Tails is not booted from USB device.

error while configuring persistent volume

VirtualBox software does not support VM boot using USB device. Therefore following error comes on boot time.

error on booting after installation

In this article, Plop Boot Manager (plpbt) is used to boot VM from USB device. It is very easy to use, extract it on the host machine after downloading and select plpbt.iso file to boot VM.

plpbt iso for boot from usb

Now start the Tails  VM and select USB option.

usb selected to boot from

Tails is booting from the portable media.

booting from persistent volume

Tails shows the similar options such as " password for administrator"  etc.  Again click on the "configure persistent volume" option from the Tails menu to start creation of persistent volume.  Few instruction are also given about persistence volume. Passphrase is used to protect data stored on the persistent volume.

volume creation

Persistent volume creation progress is shown below.

volume creation start

Select application/software to use persistence volume on the next screen.  In this article, options on the following screenshots, shown with mark () symbol are selected to store files on encrypted volume (/dev/sdb2) of 1.29 GB size.

persistent 1
persistent 2
persistent 3

Configuration will take effect after restarting the VM.


Now at welcome screen, enter passphrase to use persistence volume.

now use persistence volume

As shown in the following snapshot that the

Persistent folder

As shown below, default user on the Tails distribution  is "amnesia".


Enter administration password to become root on the terminal.

root user


Tails installation on persistent device and its configuration is the focus of this article. By default Tails does not store / save any thing on the persistence volume. It can be configured by the administrator/user to save certain files / folder on the protected persistence volume.

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