Crucial encryption tool enabled NSA reporting on shoestring budget

Big players in Snowden revelations publicly praise Tails, in hope of gaining much-needed funding for the tool

Topics: tails, pgp, tor, Privacy, NSA, Edward Snowden, Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, freedom of the press foundation, encryption, ,

Crucial encryption tool enabled NSA reporting on shoestring budgetEdward Snowden (Credit: AP)

While followers of the NSA leaks stories and everyday privacy enthusiasts may be well acquainted with encryption tools like PGP, the best-practice privacy tool — the operating system enabling much of the Snowden leaks reporting — is known to few but experts.

On Wednesday, however, three key NSA revelation journalists (Laura Poitras, Glenn Greenwald and Bart Gellman) spoke publicly about the importance of Tails — a tool that forces privacy best-practices by default. As Trevor Timm reported, it’s essentially the sine qua non of reporting on sensitive stories. However, as Timm notes, the “vital” tool “is incredibly underfunded. Tails’ 2013 expense report shows that they only had an operating budget of around 42,000 euros, which is less than $60,000.” In an effort to garner donations, the journalists spoke out for the first time at the Freedom of the Press Foundation site about Tails’ importance:

Laura Poitras: “I’ve been reluctant to go into details about the different steps I took to communicate securely with Snowden to avoid those methods being targeted. Now that Tails gives a green light, I can say it has been an essential tool for reporting the NSA story. It is an all-in-one secure digital communication system (GPG email, OTR chat, Tor web browser, encrypted storage) that is small enough to swallow. I’m very thankful to the Tail developers for building this tool.”

Glenn Greenwald: “Tails have been vital to my ability to work securely on the NSA story. The more I’ve come to learn about communications security, the more central Tails has become to my approach.”

Barton Gellman: “Privacy and encryption work, but it’s too easy to make a mistake that exposes you. Tails puts the essential tools in one place, with a design that makes it hard to screw them up. I could not have talked to Edward Snowden without this kind of protection. I wish I’d had it years ago.”

Timm ran down the key aspects of how Tails renders best-practice privacy communications a default for its users:



It forces all of your web traffic through the Tor anonymity network, so you don’t have to configure any of the settings on any program.
It allows you to use GPG encryption when you are emailing and/or OTR encryption while instant messaging, right out of the box.
It allows journalists to work on sensitive documents, edit audio and video, and store all their files encrypted.
Critically, Tails never actually touches your hard drive and securely wipes everything you’ve done every time you shut it down (unless you specifically save it on an encrypted drive). This serves two important purposes: first, it helps journalists who are operating in environments or on networks that may already be compromised by governments or criminals.

Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email nlennard@salon.com.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Rose Jay via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America

    Labrador Retriever

    These guys are happy because their little brains literally can't grasp the concept of global warming.

    Hysteria via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America

    German Shepherd

    This momma is happy to bring her little guy into the world, because she doesn't know that one day they'll both be dead.

    Christian Mueller via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America

    Golden Retriever

    I bet these guys wouldn't be having so much fun if they knew the sun was going to explode one day.

    WilleeCole Photography via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America

    Bulldog

    This dude thinks he's tough, but only because nobody ever told him about ISIS.

    Soloviova Liudmyla via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America

    Beagle

    This little lady is dreaming about her next meal-- not Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

    Labrador Photo Video via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America

    Yorkshire Terrier

    This trusting yorkie has never even heard the name "Bernie Madoff."

    Pavla via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America

    Poodle

    She is smiling so widely because she is too stupid to understand what the Holocaust was.

    Aneta Pics via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America

    Boxer

    Sure, frolic now, man. One day you're going to be euthanized and so is everyone you love.

    Dezi via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America

    French Bulldog

    He's on a casual afternoon stroll because he is unfamiliar with the concept of eternity.

    Jagodka via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America

    Rottweiler

    Wouldn't it be nice if we could all be this care-free? But we can't because we are basically all indirectly responsible for slavery.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

Loading Comments...