Each component in your computer probably has firmware including for instance your disk drives. These can allow remote management and are capable of enabling full control of a target system silently and stealthily. As mentioned previously, these are harder to detect by users but some limited steps that can be taken to mitigate some of those by protecting your device from tampering and use some measures like re-flashing the bios for example.
Unfortunately, if such malware or backdoor is implemented by the manufacturer itself, it becomes extremely difficult to detect and disable those. This can be obvious to many but not to all. Most files have metadata attached to them. While this information might not directly give out who you are, it could tell exactly where you were at a certain moment which could allow others to use various sources to find you CCTV or other footage taken at the same place at the same time during a protest for instance.
You must verify any file you would put on those platforms for any properties that might hold any information that might lead back to you. This also works for videos. Yes, videos too have geo-tagging, and many are very unaware of this. For this reason, you will always have to be incredibly careful when uploading files using your anonymous identities and check the metadata of those files. Even if you publish a plain text file, you should always double or triple-check it for any information leakage before publishing.
You will find some guidance about this in the Some additional measures against forensics section at the end of the guide. Think twice. There are chances that those might contain invisible watermarking within them that would include information about you as a viewer.
Such watermarks can be enabled with a simple switch in like Zoom Video or Audio or with extensions for popular apps such as Adobe Premiere Pro. These can be inserted by various content management systems. These watermarks are not easily detectable and could allow identification of the source despite all efforts. In addition to watermarks, the camera used for filming and therefore the device used for filming a video can also be identified using various techniques such as lens identification which could lead to de-anonymization.
You will have to use common sense. Did you know your printer is most likely spying on you too? Even if it is not connected to any network? This is usually a known fact by many people in the IT community but few outside people. Many printers will print an invisible watermark allowing for identification of the printer on every printed page. This is called Printer Steganography There is no tangible way to mitigate this but to inform yourself on your printer and make sure it does not print any invisible watermark.
This is important if you intend to print anonymously. Did you ever see a document with blurred text? This is of course an open-source project available for all to use. But you can imagine that such techniques have probably been used before by other adversaries. These could be used to reveal blurred information from published documents that could then be used to de-anonymize you. Some online services could even help you do this automatically to some extent like MyHeritage.
For this reason, it is always extremely important that you correctly redact and curate any document you might want to publish. Do not pixelized, do not blur, just put a hard black rectangle to redact information. Contrary to widespread belief, Crypto transactions such as Bitcoin and Ethereum are not anonymous The issue is mainly when you want to convert Fiat money Euros, Dollars … to Crypto and then when you want to cash in your Crypto.
Those exchanges have known wallet addresses and will keep detailed logs due to KYC financial regulations and can then trace back those crypto transactions to you using the financial system This does not mean you cannot use Bitcoin anonymously at all. You can actually use Bitcoin anonymously as long as you do not convert it to actual currency and use a Bitcoin wallet from a safe anonymous network. Overall, the best option for using Crypto with reasonable anonymity and privacy is still Monero and you should ideally not use any other for sensitive transactions unless you are aware of the limitations and risks involved.
Please do read Appendix B2: Monero Disclaimer. All companies are advertising their use of end-to-end encryption E2EE. Apple and Google are advertising their use of encryption on their Android devices and their iPhones. Well, you should know that most of those backups are not fully end-to-end encrypted and will hold some of your information readily available for a third party.
You will see their claims that data is encrypted at rest and safe from anyone … Except they usually do keep a key to access some of the data themselves. These keys are used for them indexing your content, recover your account, collecting various analytics.
There are specialized commercial forensics solutions available Magnet Axiom , Cellebrite Cloud that will help an adversary analyze your cloud data with ease. If you have iCloud Backup turned on , your backup includes a copy of the key protecting your Messages. This ensures you can recover your Messages if you lose access to iCloud Keychain and your trusted devices. You should not trust cloud providers with your not previously and locally encrypted sensitive data and you should be wary of their privacy claims.
In most cases, they can access your data and provide it to a third party if they want to. The only way to mitigate this is to encrypt your data on your side and then only upload it to such services or just not use them at all. These are used on most websites for invisible user tracking but also to adapt the website user experience depending on their browser.
This means that even If you log out from a website and then log back in using a different username, your fingerprint might remain the same if you did not take precautionary measures. An adversary could then use such fingerprints to track you across multiple services even if you have no account on any of them and are using adblocking. These fingerprints could in turn be used to de-anonymize you if you keep the same fingerprint between services.
Most of you have probably seen enough Crime dramas on Netflix or TV to know what forensics are. These are technicians usually working for law enforcement that will perform various analysis of evidence. This of course could include your smartphone or laptop.
These unrelated checks might reveal secret information to adversaries that had no prior knowledge of such activities. Forensics techniques are now very advanced and can reveal a staggering amount of information from your devices even if they are encrypted These techniques are widely used by law enforcement all over the world and should be considered. I also highly recommend that you read some documents from a forensics examiner perspective such as:.
When it comes to your laptop, the forensics techniques are many and widespread. Many of those issues can be mitigated by using full disk encryption, virtualization See Appendix W: Virtualization , and compartmentalization. This guide will later detail such threats and techniques to mitigate them. I would not want people discouraged from studying and innovating in the crypto field because of that adage.
Good cryptography is usually presented and discussed in conferences and published in various journals. All the good crypto standards are public and peer-reviewed and there should be no issue disclosing the one you use. So, what to prefer and what to avoid as of ? Prefer SHA Serpent TwoFish It is just a matter of when rather than if RSA will ever be broken. So, these are preferred in those contexts due to the lack of a better possibility. Many people have the idea that privacy-oriented services such as VPN or E-Mail providers are safe due to their no-logging policies or their encryption schemes.
Unfortunately, many of those same people forget that all those providers are legal commercial entities subject to the laws of the countries in which they operate. Any of those providers can be forced to silently without your knowing using for example a court order with a gag order or a national security letter log your activity to de-anonymize you.
There have been several recent examples of those:. Some providers have implemented the use of a Warrant Canary that would allow their users to find out if they have been compromised by such orders, but this has not been tested yet as far as I know.
Finally, it is now well known that some companies might be sponsored front ends for some state adversaries see the Crypto AG story and Omnisec story In most cases, you will be the last person to know if any of your accounts were targeted by such orders and you might never know at all. If the VPN provider knows nothing about you, it should mitigate any issue due to them not logging but logging anyway.
Illustration: an excellent movie I highly recommend: Das Leben der Anderen Many advanced techniques can be used by skilled adversaries to bypass your security measures provided they already know where your devices are.
Observing a blank wall in a room from a distance to figure how many people are in a room and what they are doing Observing a reflective bag of snacks in a room from a distance to reconstruct the entire room Measuring floor vibrations to identify individuals and determine their health condition and mood Realistically, this guide will be of little help against such adversaries as such malware could be implanted on the devices by a manufacturer, anyone in the middle , or by anyone with physical access to the air-gapped computer but there are still some ways to mitigate such techniques:.
Personally, in the context of this guide, it is also interesting to have a look at your security model. And in this context, I only have one to recommend:. PDF [Archive. You only have one laptop available and cannot afford anything else. You use this laptop for either work, family, or your personal stuff or both :. Your only option on M1 Macs is probably to stick with Tor Browses for now.
But I would guess that if you can afford an M1 Mac you should probably get a dedicated x86 laptop for more sensitive activities. Do you have no IT skills at all the content of this guide look like an alien language to you? You have moderate to high IT skills, and you are already familiar with some of the content of this guide, consider:. Now that you know what is possible, you should also consider threats and adversaries before picking the right route.
If your main concerns are remote adversaries that might uncover your online identity in various platforms, you should consider:. In all cases, you should read these two pages from the Whonix documentation that will give you in-depth insight into your choices:. See Appendix A2: Guidelines for passwords and passphrases.
Skip this step if you have no intention of creating anonymous accounts on most mainstream platforms but just want anonymous browsing or if the platforms you will use allow registration without a phone number. This is rather easy. Leave your smartphone on and at home. It only needs to be in working order. You should never connect that phone to any Wi-Fi.
You should test that the phone is in working order before going to the next step. But I will repeat myself and state that it is important to leave your smartphone at home when going or turn it off before leaving if you must keep it and that you test the phone at a random location that cannot be tracked back to you and again, do not do that in front of a CCTV, avoid cameras, be aware of your surroundings. No need for Wi-Fi at this place either. When you are certain the phone is in working order, disable Bluetooth then power it off remove the battery if you can and go back home and resume your normal activities.
Go to the next step. This is the hardest part of the whole guide. Do verify that no law was passed before going that would make registration mandatory in case the above wiki was not updated. Try to avoid CCTV and cameras and do not forget to buy a Top-Up voucher with the SIM card if it is not a package as most pre-paid cards will require a top-up before use.
Double-check that the mobile operators selling the pre-paid SIM cards will accept the SIM activation and top-up without any ID registration of any kind before going there. Ideally, they should accept SIM activation and top-up from the country you live in. Do not ever power it on again unless you are not at a place that can be used to reveal your identity and ideally leave your real phone on but at home before going to the safe place with only your burner phone.
This step will require online access and should only be done from an anonymous network. Skip this until you have finished one of the routes. Unfortunately, these are full of scammers and very risky in terms of anonymity. You should not use those under any circumstance.
To this date, I do not know any reputable service that would offer this service and accept cash payments by post for instance like some VPN providers. But a few services are providing online phone numbers and do accept Monero which could be reasonably anonymous yet less recommended than that physical way in the earlier chapter that you could consider:.
Use at your own risk. Now, what if you have no money? In this case, you will have to rely on the anonymity of Monero and you should not use any service that requires any kind of identification using your real identity. Therefore IMHO, it is just more convenient, cheaper, and less risky to just get a pre-paid SIM card from one of the physical places that still sell them for cash without requiring ID registration.
But at least there is an alternative if you have no other choice. Some might be very efficient but many are gimmicky gadgets that offer no real protection They probably have CCTVs in all their shops and keep those recordings for an unknown amount of time. You will need to buy a coffee to get the Wi-Fi access code in most. If you pay for this coffee with an electronic method, they will be able to tie your Wi-Fi access with your identity.
Situational awareness is key, and you should be constantly aware of your surroundings and avoid touristy places like it was plagued by Ebola. While this will not be available yet to your local police officers, it could be in the near future.
You will ideally need a set of separate places such as this to avoid using the same place twice. Several trips will be needed over the weeks for the various steps in this guide. You could also consider connecting to these places from a safe distance for added security.
This part of the guide will help you in setting up the simplest and easiest way to browse the web anonymously. It is not necessarily the best method and there are more advanced methods below with much better security and much better mitigations against various adversaries. Yet, this is a straightforward way of accessing resources anonymously and quickly with no budget, no time, no skills, and limited usage. So, what is Tor Browser? This browser is different from other browsers as it will connect to the internet through the Tor Network using Onion Routing.
It is probably sufficient for most people and can be used from any computer or smartphone. If needed after reading the appendix above , activate the option and select the type of bridge you want:. Personally, if you need to use a Bridge this is not necessary for a non-hostile environment , you should pick a Meek-Azure. Those will probably work even if you are in China and want to bypass the Great Firewall.
It is probably the best option to obfuscate your Tor activities if needed and Microsoft servers are usually not blocked. As with the desktop version, you need to know there are safety levels in Tor Browser. On Android, you can access these by following these steps:.
Personally, if you need to use a Bridge this is not necessary for a non-hostile environment , you should pick a Snowflake one since Meek-Azure bridges are not available. It is probably the best option you have on iOS. As with the desktop version, you need to know there are safety levels in Onion Browser.
This route is the easiest but is not designed to resist highly skilled adversaries. It is however usable on any device regardless of the configuration. Yet, if your threat model is quite low, it is probably sufficient for most people. If you have time and want to learn, I recommend going for other routes instead as they offer far better security and mitigate far more risks while lowering your attack surface considerably. It is a bootable Live Operating System running from a USB key that is designed for leaving no traces and forcing all connections through the Tor network.
You insert the Tails USB key into your laptop, boot from it and you have a full operating system running with privacy and anonymity in mind. As soon as you shut down the computer, everything will be gone unless you saved it somewhere. Tails is an amazingly straightforward way to get going in no time with what you have and without much learning.
It has extensive documentation and tutorials. And not always up to date with the Tor Browser updates either. You should always make sure you are using the latest version of Tails and you should use extreme caution when using bundled apps within Tails that might be vulnerable to exploits and reveal your location Tails uses Tor and therefore you will be using Tor to access any resource on the internet.
This alone will make you suspicious to most platforms where you want to create anonymous accounts this will be explained in more detail later. Your ISP whether it is yours or some public Wi-Fi will also see that you are using Tor, and this could make you suspicious in itself. Tails does not include natively some of the software you might want to use later which will complicate things quite a bit if you want to run some specific things Android Emulators for instance.
Tails uses Tor Browser which while it is very secure will be detected as well by most platforms and will hinder you in creating anonymous identities on many platforms. Tor in itself might not be enough to protect you from an adversary with enough resources as explained earlier. Taking all this into account and the fact that their documentation is great, I will just redirect you towards their well-made and well-maintained tutorial:.
You could store persistent VMs within a secondary container that could be encrypted normally or using the Veracrypt plausible deniability feature these could be Whonix VMs for instance or any other. In that case, as the project outlines it, there should be no traces of any of your activities on your computer and the sensitive work could be done from VMs stored into a Hidden container that should not be easily discoverable by a soft adversary.
The first USB key will appear to contain just Tails and the second USB will appear to contain just random garbage but will have a decoy volume which you can show for plausible deniability. Remember that encryption with or without plausible deniability is not a silver bullet and will be of little use in case of torture Plausible deniability is only effective against soft lawful adversaries that will not resort to physical means. Go into Utilities and Unlock your Veracrypt hidden Volume do not forget to check the hidden volume checkbox.
TAR and decompressing it within Tails. When you are done with decompression, delete the OVA file and import the other files with the Import wizard. This time it might work. Ideally, you should get a dedicated laptop that will not be tied to you in any effortless way ideally paid with cash anonymously and using the same precautions as previously mentioned for the phone and the SIM card.
It is recommended but not mandatory because this guide will help you harden your laptop as much as possible to prevent data leaks through various means. This laptop should ideally be a clean freshly installed Laptop Running Windows, Linux, or macOS , clean of your normal day-to-day activities, and offline never connected to the network yet. In the case of a Windows laptop, and if you used it before such a clean install, it should also not be activated re-installed without a product key.
Specifically, in the case of MacBooks, it should never have been tied to your identity before in any means. So, buy second-hand with cash from an unknown stranger who does not know your identity. This is to mitigate some future issues in case of online leaks including telemetry from your OS or Apps that could compromise any unique identifiers of the laptop while using it MAC Address, Bluetooth Address, and Product key ….
But also, to avoid being tracked back if you need to dispose of the laptop. If you used this laptop before for different purposes like your day-to-day activities , all its hardware identifiers are probably known and registered by Microsoft or Apple. If later any of those identifiers is compromised by malware, telemetry, exploits, human errors … they could lead back to you. It should have a working battery that lasts a few hours. Both possibilities have their benefits and issues that will be detailed later.
All future online steps performed with this laptop should ideally be done from a safe network such as Public Wi-Fi in a safe place see Find some safe places with decent public Wi-Fi. But several steps will have to be taken offline first. For instance, some ThinkPad from Lenovo my personal favorite. Here are lists of laptops currently supporting Libreboot and others where you can flash Coreboot yourself that will allow you to disable Intel IME :.
The interesting features to look for are IMHO:. Better custom Secure Boot settings where you can selectively manage all the keys and not just use the Standard ones. These settings can be accessed through the boot menu of your laptop. Disable Biometrics fingerprint scanners if you have any if you can. Note that this feature is also specific to some manufacturers and could require specific software to unlock this disk from a completely different computer.
This can help mitigate some attacks in case your laptop is seized while locked but still on OR if you had to shut it down rather quickly and someone took possession of it this topic will be explained later in this guide. So, what is Secure Boot ? In short, it is a UEFI security feature designed to prevent your computer from booting an operating system from which the bootloader was not signed by specific keys stored in the UEFI firmware of your laptop.
When the operating system or the Bootloader supports it, you can store the keys of your bootloader in your UEFI firmware, and this will prevent booting up any unauthorized Operating System such as a live OS USB or anything similar. If you have that password, you can disable Secure Boot and allow unsigned OSes to boot on your system. This can help mitigate some Evil-Maid attacks explained later in this guide.
After doing that step, only the Operating Systems from which your UEFI firmware can verify the integrity of the bootloader will be able to boot. Most laptops will have some default keys already stored in the secure boot settings.
Usually, those are from the manufacturer itself or some companies such as Microsoft. So, this means that by default, it will always be possible to boot some USB disks even with secure boot. Secure Boot is however not supported at all by QubesOS at this point. So, what is Secure Boot protecting you from? It will protect your laptop from booting unsigned bootloaders by the OS provider with for instance injected malware.
Secure Boot is not encrypting your disk and an adversary can still just remove the disk from your laptop and extract data from it using a different machine. Secure Boot is therefore useless without full disk encryption. Secure Boot is not protecting you from a signed bootloader that would be compromised and signed by the manufacturer itself Microsoft for example in the case of Windows.
Most mainstream Linux distributions are signed these days and will boot with Secure Boot enabled. Secure Boot can have flaws and exploits like any other system. Additionally, several attacks could be possible against Secure Boot as explained in-depth in these technical videos:. So, it can be useful as an added measure against some adversaries but not all. Secure Boot in itself is not encrypting your hard drive. It is an added layer but that is it. Note that this will also prevent Apple themselves from accessing the firmware in case of repair.
At some point, you will inevitably leave this laptop alone somewhere. You will not sleep with it and take it everywhere every single day. You should make it as hard as possible for anyone to tamper with it without you noticing it. It is important to know that it is trivially easy for some specialists to install a key logger in your laptop, or to just make a clone copy of your hard drive that could later allow them to detect the presence of encrypted data in it using forensic techniques more on that later.
So, there are more subtle ways of achieving the same result. You could also for instance make a close-up macro photography of the back screws of your laptop or just use a small amount of candle wax within one of the screws that could just look like usual dirt.
You could then check for tampering by comparing the photographs of the screws with new ones. Their orientation might have changed a bit if your adversary was not careful enough Tightening them exactly the same way they were before. Or the wax within the bottom of a screw head might have been damaged compared to before. The same techniques can be used with USB ports where you could just put a tiny amount of candle wax within the plug that would be damaged by inserting a USB key in it.
This route will make extensive use of Virtual Machines , they will require a host OS to run the Virtualization software. You have three recommended choices in this part of the guide:. In addition, chances are high that your Mac is or has been tied to an Apple account at the time of purchase or after signing-in and therefore its unique hardware identifiers could lead back to you in case of hardware identifiers leak. Linux is also not necessarily the best choice for anonymity depending on your threat model.
This is because using Windows will allow us to conveniently use Plausible Deniability aka Deniable Encryption easily at the OS level. Windows is also unfortunately at the same time a privacy nightmare but is the only easy to set up option for using OS-wide plausible deniability. Windows telemetry and telemetry blocking are also widely documented which should mitigate many issues.
So, what is Plausible Deniability? All this using Deniable Encryption A soft lawful adversary could ask for your encrypted laptop password. In that case, you might have to reveal the password or face jail time in contempt of court.
This is where plausible deniability will come into play. The forensics will be well aware that it is possible for you to have hidden data but should not be able to prove this if you do this right. You will have cooperated, and the investigators will have access to something but not what you actually want to hide.
Since the burden of proof should lie on their side, they will have no options but to believe you unless they have proof that you have hidden data. This feature can be used at the OS level a plausible OS and a hidden OS or at the files level where you will have an encrypted file container similar to a zip file where different files will be shown depending on the encryption password you use. In the case of Windows, plausible deniability is also the reason you should ideally have Windows 10 Home and not Pro.
This is because Windows 10 Pro natively offers a full-disk encryption system Bitlocker where Windows 10 Home offers no full-disk encryption at all. We will later use third-party open-source software for encryption that will allow full-disk encryption on Windows 10 Home. This will give you a good plausible excuse to use this software. While using this software on Windows 10 Pro would be suspicious.
Note about Linux: So, what about Linux and plausible deniability? Yes, it is possible to achieve plausible deniability with Linux too. More information within the Linux Host OS section later. Avoid, if possible, the use of plausible deniability-capable software such as Veracrypt if your threat model includes hard adversaries.
Evil Maid Attacks are conducted when someone tampers with your laptop while you are away. To install to clone your hard drive, install malware or a key logger. If they can clone your hard drive, they can compare one image of your hard drive at the time they took it while you were away with the hard drive when they seize it from you. This could lead to compelling evidence of the existence of hidden data. If they install a key logger or malware within your laptop software or hardware , they will be able to simply get the password from you for later use when they seize it.
Such attacks can be done at your home, your hotel, a border crossing, or anywhere you leave your devices unattended. Have basic tamper protection as explained previously to prevent physical access to the internals of the laptop without your knowing. This will prevent them from cloning your disks and installing a physical key logger without your knowledge.
Again, they will not be able to turn them on without physically accessing the motherboard to reset the BIOS to boot a USB device that could clone your hard drive or install a software-based malware that could act as a key logger. Cold Boot attacks are trickier than the Evil Maid Attack but can be part of an Evil Maid attack as it requires an adversary to come into possession of your laptop while you are actively using your device or shortly afterward.
The idea is rather simple, as shown in this video , an adversary could theoretically quickly boot your device on a special USB key that would copy the content of the RAM the memory of the device after you shut it down. They could then be able to copy its content for analysis. This memory dump could contain the key to decrypt your device.
We will later apply a few principles to mitigate these. The same measures used to mitigate Evil Maid attacks should be in place for Cold Boot attacks with some added ones:. You should limit the use of Sleep stand-by and instead use Shutdown or Hibernate to prevent the encryption keys from staying in RAM when your computer goes to sleep.
This is because sleep will maintain power in your memory for resuming your activity faster. Only hibernation and shutdown will actually clear the key from the memory If you want better security, you should shut down your laptop completely every time you leave it unattended or close the lid. However, this can be a bit inconvenient as you will have to reboot completely and type in a ton of passwords into various apps. Restart various VMs and other apps.
So instead, you could also use hibernation not supported on Qubes OS. Since the whole disk is encrypted, hibernation in itself should not pose a large security risk but will still shut down your laptop and clear the memory while allowing you to conveniently resume your work afterward. What you should never do is using the standard sleep feature which will keep your computer on, and the memory powered.
This is an attack vector against evil-maid and cold-boot attacks discussed earlier. This is because your powered-on memory holds the encryption keys to your disk encrypted or not and could then be accessed by a skilled adversary.
This guide will provide guidance later on how to enable hibernation on various host OSes except Qubes OS if you do not want to shut down every time. As mentioned briefly earlier, these are data leaks and traces from your operating system and apps when you perform any activity on your computer.
These mostly apply to encrypted file containers with or without plausible deniability than OS-wide encryption. Let us say for example you have a Veracrypt encrypted USB key with plausible deniability enabled. Depending on the password you use when mounting the USB key, it will open a decoy folder or the sensitive folder. In all cases, you will most likely open these folders with Windows Explorer, macOS Finder, or any other utility and do whatever you planned to do.
Maybe you will edit a document within the sensitive folder. Maybe you will search for a document within the folder. Maybe you will delete one or watch a sensitive video using VLC. Well, all those Apps and your Operating System might keep logs and traces of that usage. Windows Indexing keeping traces of the files present in your user folder by default Recent lists aka Jump Lists in Windows and various apps keeping traces of recently accessed documents Gatekeeper and XProtect keeping track of your download history in a local database and file attributes.
Forensics cannot extract local data leaks from an OS they cannot access. And you will be able to clean most of those traces by wiping the drive or by securely erasing your virtual machines which is not as easy as you think on SSD drives. Whether you are using simple encryption or plausible deniability encryption. Even if you covered your tracks on the computer itself.
There is still a risk of online data leaks that could reveal the presence of hidden data. Telemetry is your enemy. As explained earlier in this guide, the telemetry of Operating Systems but also from Apps can send staggering amounts of private information online.
Therefore, it is critically important that you disable and block telemetry with all the means at your disposal. No matter what OS you are using. You should never conduct sensitive activities from a non-encrypted system. And even if it is encrypted, you should never conduct sensitive activities from the Host OS itself.
Instead, you should use a VM to be able to efficiently isolate and compartmentalize your activities and prevent local data leaks. If you have little to no knowledge of Linux or if you want to use OS-wide plausible deniability, I recommend going for Windows or back to the Tails route for convenience. This guide will help you hardening it as much as possible to prevent leaks.
This guide will also help you hardening macOS and Linux as much as possible to prevent similar leaks. If you have no interest in OS-wide plausible deniability and want to learn to use Linux, I will strongly recommend going for Linux or the Qubes route if your hardware allows it. In all cases, the host OS should never be used to conduct sensitive activities directly. It will be left unused while you conduct sensitive activities and should ideally not be used for any of your day-to-day activities.
As mentioned earlier, I do not recommend using your daily laptop for sensitive activities. Or at least I do not recommend using your in-place OS for these. Doing that might result in unwanted data leaks that could be used to de-anonymize you.
If you have a dedicated laptop for this, you should reinstall a fresh clean OS. If you do not want to wipe your laptop and start over, you should consider the Tails route or proceed at your own risk. You should always remember that despite the reputation, Linux mainstream distributions Ubuntu for instance are not necessarily better at security than other systems such as macOS and Windows. For other distros, you will have to document yourself, but it will likely be similar.
Encryption during install is just much easier in the context of this guide. There are several ways to achieve plausible deniability on Linux and it is possible to achieve. Here are some more details about some of the ways I would recommend. All these options require some higher level of skills at using Linux. This is not supported by Veracrypt System encryption is only supported on Windows and requires some tinkering with various commands.
This is not recommended at all for unskilled users and should only be used at your own risk. Any other distro: You will need to document yourself and find out yourself how to disable telemetry if there is any. As explained previously, you should not use the sleep features but shut down or hibernate your laptop to mitigate some evil-maid and cold-boot attacks.
Unfortunately, this feature is disabled by default on many Linux distros including Ubuntu. It is possible to enable it, but it might not work as expected. Follow this information at your own risk. If you do not want to do this, you should never use the sleep function and power off instead and set the lid closing behavior to power off instead of sleep.
After Hibernate is enabled, change the behavior so that your laptop will hibernate when you close the lid by following this tutorial for Ubuntu Unfortunately, this will not clean the key from memory directly when hibernating. Any other distro: you will have to find the documentation yourself, but it should be quite similar to the Ubuntu tutorial. Due to Virtualbox not supporting this architecture yet.
It could however be possible if you use commercial tools like VMWare or Parallels but those are not covered in this guide. Again, this is to prevent some cold-boot and evil-maid attacks by powering down your RAM and cleaning the encryption key when you close the lid. You should always either hibernate or shut down.
On macOS, the hibernate feature even has a special option to specifically clear the encryption key from memory when hibernating while you might have to wait for the memory to decay on other Operating Systems. Once again there are no easy options to do this within the settings so instead, we will have to do this by running a few commands to enable hibernation:.
Run: sudo pmset -a destroyfvkeyonstandby 1. Now when you close the lid of your MacBook, it should hibernate instead of sleep and mitigate attempts at performing cold-boot attacks. But you should document yourself on the actual issue before acting. Up to you really. I would block it because I do not want any telemetry at all from my OS to the mothership without my specific consent. Be careful when enabling.
Do not store the recovery key at Apple if prompted should not be an issue since you should be offline at this stage. You do not want a third party to have your recovery key. Unfortunately, macOS does not offer a native convenient way of randomizing your MAC Address and so you will have to do this manually. This will be reset at each reboot, and you will have to re-do it each time to ensure you do not use your actual MAC Address when connecting to various Wi-Fis.
Turn the Wi-Fi off networksetup -setairportpower en0 off. Change the MAC Address sudo ifconfig en0 ether Turn the Wi-Fi back on networksetup -setairportpower en0 on. You should follow Appendix A: Windows Installation. Veracrypt is the software I will recommend for full-disk encryption, file encryption, and plausible deniability. It is a fork of the well-known but deprecated and unmaintained TrueCrypt.
It can be used for:. Full Disk encryption with plausible deniability this means that depending on the passphrase entered at boot, you will either boot a decoy OS or a hidden OS. File container simple encryption it is a large file that you will be able to mount within Veracrypt as if it were an external drive to store encrypted files within. It is to my knowledge the only convenient and usable by anyone free, open-source, and openly audited encryption software that also provides plausible deniability for widespread use and it works with Windows Home Edition.
After installation, please take a moment to review the following options that will help mitigate some attacks:. This setting will also disable hibernation which does not actively clear the key when hibernating and instead encrypt the memory altogether to mitigate some cold-boot attacks.
This could help in case your system is seized while still on but locked. This will prevent Windows from writing some logs about your mounts in the Event logs and prevent some local data leaks. Be careful and have a good situational awareness if you sense something weird. Shut your laptop down as fast as possible.
If you do not want to use encrypted memory because performance might be an issue , you should at least enable hibernation instead of sleep. This will not clear the keys from memory you are still vulnerable to cold boot attacks but at least should mitigate them if your memory has enough time to decay. For this case, I will recommend the use of BitLocker instead of Veracrypt for the full disk encryption.
The reasoning is that BitLocker does not offer a plausible deniability possibility contrary to Veracrypt. Normally, you should have installed Windows Pro in this case and the BitLocker setup is quite straightforward. Only save the recovery key to an external encrypted drive. To bypass this, print the recovery key using the Microsoft Print to PDF printer and save the key within the Documents folder.
Delete that file later. Encryption should now be started in the background you can check by clicking the Bitlocker icon on the lower right side of the taskbar. Unfortunately, this is not enough. With this setup, your Bitlocker key can just be stored as-is in the TPM chip of your computer.
To mitigate this, we will have to enable a few more options as per the recommendations of Microsoft :. Run manage-bde -protectors -delete c: this will delete current protection: the recovery key we will not need. Again, as explained earlier. Instead, you should Shut down or hibernate.
You should therefore switch your laptop from sleeping to hibernating when closing the lid or when your laptop goes to sleep. Note that you cannot enable hibernation if you previously enabled RAM encryption within Veracrypt.
The reason is that Hibernation will actually shut down your laptop completely and clean the memory. Sleep on the other hand will leave the memory powered on including your decryption key and could leave your laptop vulnerable to cold-boot attacks. You could be compelled by an adversary to reveal your password and all your secrets and will have no plausible deniability.
Route B: Simple encryption of your current OS with later use of plausible deniability on files themselves:. As you can see, Route C only offers two privacy advantages over the others, and it will only be of use against a soft lawful adversary.
Always be sure to check for new versions of Veracrypt frequently to ensure you benefit from the latest patches. Especially check this before applying large Windows updates that might break the Veracrypt bootloader and send you into a boot loop.
So, make sure you check when doing the test boot what keyboard layout your BIOS is using. You do not have to have an HDD for this method, and you do not need to disable Trim on this route. Trim leaks will only be of use to forensics in detecting the presence of a Hidden Volume but will not be of much use otherwise.
This route is rather straightforward and will just encrypt your current Operating System in place without losing any data. Be sure to read all the texts Veracrypt is showing you, so you have a full understanding of what is going on. Here are the steps:. Enter a strong passphrase longer the better, remember Appendix A2: Guidelines for passwords and passphrases. To rescue disk or not rescue disk, well that is up to you. I recommend making one just in case , just make sure to store it outside your encrypted drive USB key for instance or wait and see the end of this guide for guidance on safe backups.
This rescue disk will not store your passphrase and you will still need it to use it. If you have sensitive data on an SSD, Trim alone should take care of it but I would recommend one pass random data just to be sure. Test your setup. Veracrypt will now reboot your system to test the bootloader before encryption.
This test must pass for encryption to go forward. After your computer rebooted and the test is passed. You will be prompted by Veracrypt to start the encryption process. There will be another section on creating encrypted file containers with Plausible Deniability on Windows.
This is only recommended on an HDD drive. This is not recommended on an SSD drive. Therefore, this route will recommend and guide you through a full clean installation that will wipe everything on your laptop. As you can see this process requires you to have two partitions on your hard drive from the start. Encrypt your second partition the outer volume that will look like an empty unformatted disk from the decoy OS.
Create a hidden volume within the outer volume of that second partition. This is where the hidden OS will reside. This means that your current Windows 10 will become the hidden Windows 10 and that you will need to reinstall a fresh decoy Windows 10 OS. Also as mentioned earlier, disabling Trim will reduce the lifetime of your SSD drive and will significantly impact its performance over time your laptop will become slower and slower over several months of use until it becomes almost unusable, you will then have to clean the drive and re-install everything.
But you must do it to prevent data leaks that could allow forensics to defeat your plausible deniability The only way around this at the moment is to have a laptop with a classic HDD drive instead. Do not connect this OS to your known Wi-Fi. You should download the Veracrypt installer from a different computer and copy the installer here using a USB key.
Use a strong passphrase remember Appendix A2: Guidelines for passwords and passphrases. At this stage, you should copy decoy data onto the outer volume. In case you need to reveal a password to this Volume. Remember you must leave enough space for the Hidden OS which will be the same size as the first partition you created during installation. Use a strong passphrase for the Hidden Volume obviously a different one than the one for the Outer Volume. Veracrypt will now restart and Clone the Windows where you started this process into the Hidden Volume.
This Windows will become your Hidden OS. Veracrypt will inform you that the Hidden System is now installed and then prompt you to wipe the Original OS the one you installed previously with the USB key. See Appendix A: Windows Installation and proceed with installing Windows 10 Home again do not install a different version and stick with Home. Pre-Test your setup. You are mounting it as read-only now because if you were to write data on it, you could override content from your Hidden OS.
Before going to the next step, you should learn the way to mount your Outer Volume safely for writing content on it. Basically, you are going to mount your Outer Volume while also providing the Hidden Volume passphrase within the Mount Options to protect the Hidden Volume from being overwritten. Veracrypt will then allow you to write data to the Outer volume without risking overwriting any data on the Hidden Volume:.
This operation will not actually mount the Hidden Volume and should prevent the creation of any forensic evidence that could lead to the discovery of the hidden OS. However, while you are performing this operation, both passwords will be stored in your RAM and therefore you could still be susceptible to a Cold-Boot Attack.
To mitigate this, be sure to have the option to encrypt your RAM too as instructed before. We must make the Decoy OS as plausible as possible. We also want your adversary to think you are not that smart. Therefore, it is important to voluntarily leave some forensic evidence of your Decoy Content within your Decoy OS. This evidence will let forensic examiners see that you mounted your Outer Volume frequently to access its content.
Be sure to keep a history of those. Remember that you will need valid excuses for this plausible deniability scenario to work:. You are using Veracrypt because you are using Windows 10 Home which does not feature Bitlocker but still wanted Privacy. You have two Partitions because you wanted to separate the System and the Data for easy organization and because some Geek friend told you this was better for performance. You have used a weak password for easy convenient booting on the System and a Strong long passphrase on the Outer Volume because you were too lazy to type a strong passphrase at each boot.
You encrypted the second Partition with a different password than the System because you do not want anyone in your entourage to see your stuff. And so, you did not want that data available to anyone. If you did this, it would create forensics evidence of the Hidden Volume within the Decoy OS that could jeopardize your attempt at plausible deniability.
If you did this anyway intentionally or by mistake from the Decoy OS, there are ways to erase forensics evidence that will be explained later at the end of this guide. You should always mount it as read-only. The Hidden OS is only meant to protect you from a soft adversary that could gain access to your laptop and compel you to reveal your password.
Be careful of any tampering with your laptop. Evil-Maid Attacks can reveal your hidden OS. This step and the following steps should be done from within the Host OS. In this route, we will make extensive use of the free Oracle Virtualbox software. Even if your VM is compromised by malware, this malware should not be able to the VM and compromise your actual laptop.
It will allow us to force all the network traffic from your client VM to run through another Gateway VM that will direct torify all the traffic towards the Tor Network. Your VM will lose its network connectivity completely and go offline if the other VM loses its connection to the Tor Network. With this solution, all your network goes through Tor, and it should be sufficient to guarantee your anonymity in most cases.
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