Ever wondered what the best operating system (OS) for maintaining privacy or anonymity online is? You might have come across names like Whonix, Tails, Kodachi, Subgraph, Qubes, and more. This article’s main focus is on Whonix and Tails.
Now Whonix vs. Tails: which is better for protecting a user’s anonymity? Is Whonix safe to use?
In this article, we compare two of the best operating systems and highlight what makes each of them unique. We look at the differences and similarities, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of Whonix and Tails.
Let’s dig into the specifics.
What is Whonix?
Whonix is an operating system made specifically to help users who desire anonymity online to maintain a secret identity while using the internet.
It is able to protect a user’s identity by routing internet connections via The Onion Router (Tor) network which has highly developed security layers. With Whonix, your IP address is protected and it is difficult to have DNS compromises.
Aside from shielding your IP address, Whonix protects you by anonymizing your keystrokes, which one of the ways users are tracked online. You can run other applications anonymously using Whonix.
Whonix, which is a Linux-based OS, works efficiently on Linux, Windows and macOS. The Whonix OS runs inside your current OS.
How Does Whonix Work?
Whonix consists of two virtual machines: a Workstation and a Gateway. It isolates your web browser into these components. The Workstation has no business with the outside world; it only communicates with the Gateway. The Gateway passes info and everything sent to it by the Workstation via the Tor network.
The implication is that there are no pings from the Tor browser, so it is very difficult to compromise, or make out a user’s identity.
What are the Advantages of Whonix?
Here are the pros of Whonix.
- Excellent for protecting a user’s identity.
- Gives you room to tweak security settings to your own tastes.
- Plenty of software tools to play around with.
Disadvantages of Whonix
We’ve seen the advantages of Whonix. What are its drawbacks?
- Installing Whonix isn’t easy. It is difficult to install and requires root privileges.
- You need a beefy hardware to run Whonix without a problem.
- Someone could track everything you’ve doing on your computer, if your computer gets compromised.
- Launching Whonix takes some time. It requires more time to access the Tor network unlike Tails.
- Working with external media such as a USB flash drive isn’t as simple as plug and use.
Whonix System Requirements
For best performance, you need a computer with
- At least 16GB of RAM. 32GB of RAM or more for power users. A computer with 1GB free RAM, with the Whonix-Gateway lowered to 256MB is the minimum, however, it is not recommended.
- A fast SSD – strongly recommended.
You can download Whonix from their official website.
What is Tails?
Tails also known as The Amnesic Incognito Live System, is designed to protect the identity of users and help them remain anonymous. Like Whonix, Tails is Debian-based, and routes connections via the Tor network. However, with Tails, there are no virtual machines: no Workstation and no Gateway, all connections go through the Tor network.
It works primarily from a USB stick, or DVD. That’s why it is called a live system. The entire TailOS resides on a USB stick, or DVD.
To use Tails, you have to download it on a USB stick or DVD, and boot it from there. Have you noticed that the Tails logo is a USB stick?
It is worth mentioning that you need two USB sticks to install Tails. Why two? Well the first is for installing an intermediary Tails, while the second is for the final Tails.
Now, we mentioned earlier that Tails is designed to protect the identity of users and help them remain anonymous. That’s correct. However, Tails knows a thing or two about the system to which it is connected such as your IP address, serial number of your computer’s hard drive, and your WiFi network’s name.
What are the Advantages of Using Tails?
These are the advantages of Tails.
- It can be run on any computer. It is compatible with Windows, macOS, and Linux.
- Tails is very easy and simple to use.
- Doesn’t require sophiscated hardware.
- The operating system can launch very quickly. With a decent system, accessing the web takes a few minutes.
- Tails leaves no single trace of activity. This is because it uses a USB stick (or RAM) to store information instead of a computer’s hard drive. For the uninitiated, data stored in the computer’s RAM is wiped off when the computer is shut down.
Disadvantages of Tails
Here are the drawbacks of using Tails.
- Tails is not a long term solution for masking your identity on the Internet.
- Tails is not installed on HDD or SSD.
- It is not suitable as a permanent OS.
- Limited possibilities of customization and configuration unlike Whonix.
- Installing Tails isn’t the easiest thing to do. It can be quite long.
Tails System Requirements
These are the hardware requirements for using Tails without a problem:
- 2GB of RAM required for it to work smoothly. Tails can work with less than 2GB of RAM however, you might not get the most out of it.
- A USB stick of 8GB minimum or a DVD recordable. You will lose all information on this USB stick or DVD during installation.
- The possibility to start from a USB stick or a DVD reader.
- A 64-bit x86-64 compatible processor
You can download Tails from their official website.
How Anonymous is Tails?
By default, Tails is designed to mask your activity even if your USB is stolen or your computer is compromised. It leaves no traces on the computer on which it was used. So nobody can tell what you’ve been up to.
It is a strong, portable OS for anyone who needs good security and anonymity online.
Whonix vs. Tails: Differences
Now let’s look at the differences between Whonix and Tails. Whonix can be installed on your computer and works with your current OS, while Tails functions primarily from a live USB or DVD. This implies that you can’t install Tails on your computer. Tails boots off USB or DVD.
If you want an OS for long-term anonymity (especially on your personal computer), Whonix is your best bet. Conversely, Tails is well-suited for short-term privacy say, using a computer that isn’t yours, or a secondary device.
With Tails, you lose all browsing history, downloaded files, page files, and more when you shut down or restart your computer. That’s why it is amnesic. With Whonix your activities on a computer can easily be investigated if anyone has physical access to your computer. This means that downloaded files, emails, and other documents can be accessed even when you shut down or restart the system unless you wipe them.
As mentioned previously, Tails by default, is designed to mask your activity even if your USB is stolen or compromised. So nobody can tell what you’ve been up to with Tails.
Whonix runs in a virtual machine unlike Tails. In fact, Whonix consists of two virtual machines – a gateway and workstation.
Whonix vs. Tails: Similarities
Whonix and Tails have one major thing in common – protecting a user’s identity. They both use the Tor system to hide your identity while you are in a protected Debian-based Linux instance.
So Whonix vs. Tails: Which is Better?
The comparison chart below will help you make an educated decision.
We’ve compared Whonix and Tails. Differences, similarities, pros and cons of these operating systems have been highlighted. Tails and Whonix are good for anonymity. Tails is quick, easy to use and reasonably secure. Whonix isn’t very easy to use however, it is very secure.
All in all, choosing between Whonix and Tails comes down to your needs, unique situation and personal preference.