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[[!meta title="Warning"]]

Even though we do our best to offer you good tools to protect your
privacy while using a computer, **there is no magic or perfect solution to such
a complex problem**. Understanding well the limits of such tools is a crucial
step to, first, decide whether Tails is the right tool for you, and second,
make a good use of it.

[[!toc levels=2]]

<a id="compromised_hardware"></a>

Tails does not protect against compromised hardware
===================================================

If the computer has been compromised by someone having physical access
to it and who installed untrusted pieces of hardware (like a
keylogger), then it might be unsafe to use Tails.

<a id="untrusted_system"></a>

Tails can be compromised if installed or plugged in untrusted systems
=====================================================================

When starting your computer on Tails, it cannot be compromised by a virus in your usual operating
system, but:

* Tails should be installed from a trusted system. Otherwise it might
  be corrupted during installation.

* Plugging your Tails USB stick in a
  compromised operating system might corrupt your Tails installation,
  and destroy the protection that Tails provides. Only use your
  Tails USB stick to start Tails.

See the [[corresponding FAQ|support/faq#compromised_system]].

<a id="bios"></a>

Tails does not protect against BIOS or firmware attacks
=======================================================

It is also impossible for Tails to protect against attacks made through
the BIOS or other firmware embedded in the computer. These are
not managed or provided by the operating system directly, and no operating system can protect against
such attacks.

See for example, this [attack on BIOS by
LegbaCore](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sNYsfUNegEA).

<a id="exit_node"></a>

Tor exit nodes can eavesdrop on communications
==============================================

**Tor is about hiding your location, not about encrypting your communication.**

Instead of taking a direct route from source to destination, communications
using the Tor network take a random pathway through several Tor relays that
cover your tracks. So no observer at any single point can tell where the data
came from or where it's going.

[[!img htw2-tails.png link=no alt="A Tor connection usually goes through 3 relays with the last one establishing the actual connection to the final destination"]]

The last relay on this circuit, called the exit node, is the one that
establishes the actual connection to the destination server. As Tor does not,
and by design cannot, encrypt the traffic between an exit node and the
destination server, **any exit node is in a position to capture any traffic
passing through it**. See [Tor FAQ: Can exit nodes eavesdrop on
communications?](https://www.torproject.org/docs/faq.html.en#CanExitNodesEavesdrop).

For example, in 2007, a security researcher intercepted thousands of private
email messages sent by foreign embassies and human rights groups around the
world by spying on the connections coming out of an exit node he was running.
See [Wired: Rogue Nodes Turn Tor Anonymizer Into Eavesdropper's
Paradise](http://archive.wired.com/politics/security/news/2007/09/embassy_hacks).

**To protect yourself from such attacks you should use end-to-end encryption.**

**Tails includes many tools to help you using strong encryption** while
browsing, sending email or chatting, as presented on our [[about
page|/about#cryptography]].

<a id="fingerprint"></a>

Tails makes it clear that you are using Tor and probably Tails
==============================================================

**Your Internet Service Provider (ISP) or your local network administrator**
can see that you're connecting to a Tor relay, and not a normal web server for
example. Using [[Tor bridges in certain
conditions|first_steps/startup_options/bridge_mode]] can help you hide the fact
that you are using Tor.

**The destination server that you are contacting through Tor** can know whether your
communication comes from a Tor exit node by consulting the publicly
available list of exit nodes that might contact it. For example using the [Tor
Bulk Exit List tool](https://check.torproject.org/cgi-bin/TorBulkExitList.py) from
the Tor Project.

**So using Tails doesn't make you look like any random Internet user.**
The anonymity provided by Tor and Tails works by trying to make all of their
users look the same so it's not possible to identify who is who amongst them.

See also [[Can I hide the fact that I am using Tails?|fingerprint]]

<a id="man-in-the-middle"></a>

Man-in-the-middle attacks
=========================

A man-in-the-middle attack (MitM) is a form of active eavesdropping in which the
attacker makes independent connections with the victims and relays messages
between them, making them believe that they are talking directly to each other
over a private connection, when in fact the entire conversation is controlled by
the attacker.

[[!img man-in-the-middle.png link=no alt="Illustration of a man-in-the-middle attack"]]
<!-- Source: wiki/lib/man-in-the-middle.svg -->

While using Tor, man-in-the-middle attacks can still happen between the exit
node and the destination server. The exit node itself can also act as a
man-in-the-middle. For an example of such an attack see [MW-Blog: TOR exit-node
doing MITM
attacks](https://web.archive.org/web/20120113162841/http://www.teamfurry.com/wordpress/2007/11/20/tor-exit-node-doing-mitm-attacks).

**Again, to protect yourself from such attacks you should use end-to-end
encryption** and while doing so taking extra care at verifying the server
authenticity.

Usually, this is automatically done throught SSL certificates checked by your
browser against a given set of recognized [[!wikipedia
Certificate_authority desc="certificate authorities"]]).
If you get a security exception message such as this one you might be the victim of
a man-in-the-middle attack and should not bypass the warning unless you have another
trusted way of checking the certificate's fingerprint with the people running
the service.

[[!img ssl_warning.png link=no alt="This Connection is Untrusted"]]

But on top of that the certificate authorities model of trust on the Internet is
susceptible to various methods of compromise.

For example, on March 15, 2011,
Comodo, one of the major SSL certificates authorities, reported that a user account
with an affiliate registration authority had been compromised. It was then used
to create a new user account that issued nine certificate signing requests for
seven domains: mail.google.com, login.live.com, www.google.com, login.yahoo.com
(three certificates), login.skype.com, addons.mozilla.org, and global trustee.
See [Comodo: The Recent RA
Compromise](https://blog.comodo.com/other/the-recent-ra-compromise/).

Later in 2011, DigiNotar, a Dutch SSL certificate company, incorrectly issued
certificates to a malicious party or parties. Later on, it came to light that
they were apparently compromised months before, perhaps as far back as May of 2009,
or even earlier. Rogue certificates were issued for domains such as google.com,
mozilla.org, torproject.org, login.yahoo.com and many more. See [The Tor
Project: The DigiNotar Debacle, and what you should do about
it](https://blog.torproject.org/blog/diginotar-debacle-and-what-you-should-do-about-it).

**This still leaves open the possibility of a man-in-the-middle attack even when
your browser is trusting an HTTPS connection.**

On one hand, by providing anonymity, Tor makes it more difficult to perform a
man-in-the-middle attack targeted at **one specific person** with the blessing
of a rogue SSL certificate. But on the other end, Tor makes it easier for people
or organizations running exit nodes to perform large scale MitM attempts, or
attacks targeted at **a specific server**, and especially those among its users
who happen to use Tor.

<p class="quoted-from">Quoted from [[!wikipedia Man-in-the-middle_attack
desc="Wikipedia: %s"]], [[!wikipedia
Comodo_Group#Certificate_hacking desc="Wikipedia: %s"]] and <a
href="https://blog.torproject.org/blog/detecting-certificate-authority-compromises-and-web-browser-collusion">Tor
Project: Detecting Certificate Authority compromises and web browser
collusion</a>.</p>

Confirmation attacks
====================

The Tor design doesn't try to protect against an attacker who can see or measure
both traffic going into the Tor network and also traffic coming out of the Tor
network. That's because if you can see both flows, some simple statistics let
you decide whether they match up.

That could also be the case if your ISP (or your local network administrator)
and the ISP of the destination server (or the destination server itself)
cooperate to attack you.

Tor tries to protect against traffic analysis, where an attacker tries to learn
whom to investigate, but Tor can't protect against traffic confirmation (also
known as end-to-end correlation), where an attacker tries to confirm a
hypothesis by monitoring the right locations in the network and then doing the
math.

<p class="quoted-from">Quoted from <a
href="https://blog.torproject.org/blog/one-cell-enough">Tor Project: "One cell
is enough to break Tor's anonymity"</a>.</p>

Tails doesn't encrypt your documents by default
===============================================

The documents that you might save on storage devices will not be encrypted by
default, except in the [[encrypted persistent volume|doc/first_steps/persistence]].
But Tails provides you with tools to encrypt your documents, such as
GnuPG, or encrypt your storage devices, such as LUKS.

It is also likely that the files you may create will contain evidence that they were created using Tails.

**If you need to access the local hard-disks** of the computer you are using, be
conscious that you might then leave trace of your activities with Tails on it.

Tails doesn't clear the metadata of your documents for you and doesn't encrypt the Subject: and other headers of your encrypted email messages
===========================================================================================

Numerous files formats store hidden data or metadata inside of the files. Word
processing or PDF files could store the name of the author, the date and time of
creation of the file, and sometimes even parts of the editing history of the
file, depending on the file format and the software used.

Please note also, that the Subject: as well as the rest of the header lines of your
OpenPGP encrypted email messages are not encrypted. This is not a bug of Tails or
the [OpenPGP](http://www.mozilla-enigmail.org/forum/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=328) protocol;
it's due to backwards compatibility with the original SMTP protocol. Unfortunately no
RFC standard exists yet for Subject: line encryption.

Image file formats, like TIFF of JPEG, probably take the prize for most hidden data.
These files, created by digital cameras or mobile phones, contain a metadata
format called EXIF which can include the date, time and sometimes the GPS
coordinates when the picture was taken, the brand and serial number of the device which took
it, as well as a thumbnail of the original image. Image processing software tends
to keep this metadata intact. The internet is full of cropped or blurred images in
which the included EXIF thumbnail still shows the original picture.

**Tails doesn't clear the metadata of your files for you**. Yet. Still it's in
Tails' design goal to help you do that. For example, Tails already comes with
the [Metadata anonymisation toolkit](https://mat.boum.org/).

Tor doesn't protect you from a global adversary
===============================================

A global passive adversary would be a person or an entity able to monitor at the
same time the traffic between all the computers in a network. By studying, for
example, the timing and volume patterns of the different communications across
the network, it would be statistically possible to identify Tor circuits and
thus match Tor users and destination servers.

It is part of Tor's initial trade-off not to address such a threat in order to
create a low-latency communication service usable for web browsing, Internet
chat or SSH connections.

For more expert information see the Tor design paper, "[Tor Project: The Second-Generation Onion
Router](https://svn.torproject.org/svn/projects/design-paper/tor-design.pdf)",
specifically, "Part 3. Design goals and assumptions."

<a id="identities"></a>

Tails doesn't magically separate your different contextual identities
=====================================================================

It is usually not advisable to use the same Tails session to perform two tasks
or endorse two contextual identities that you really want to keep separate
from one another. For example hiding your location to check your email and
anonymously publishing a document.

First, because Tor tends to reuse the same circuits, for example, within the same
browsing session. Since the exit node of a circuit knows both the destination
server (and possibly the content of the communication if it's not encrypted) and the
address of the previous relay it received the communication from, it makes it
easier to correlate several browsing requests as part of a same circuit and
possibly made by the same user. If you are facing a global adversary as described
above, it might then also be in a position to do this correlation.

Second, in case of a security hole or an error in using Tails or one of its
applications, information about your session could be leaked. That could reveal
that the same person was behind the various actions made during the session.

**The solution to both threats is to shutdown and restart Tails** every time
you're using a new identity, if you really want to isolate them better.

As explained in our documentation about
[[Tor Browser|anonymous_internet/Tor_Browser#new_identity]],
its **New identity** feature is not a perfect solution to separate
different contextual identities. And, as
[[explained in the FAQ|support/faq#new_identity]], Tails does not
provide a global <span class="guilabel">New Identity</span>
feature. **Shutdown and restart Tails instead.**

Tails doesn't make your crappy passwords stronger
=================================================

Tor allows you to be anonymous online; Tails allows you to leave no trace on the
computer you're using. But again, **neither or both are magic spells for computer
security**.

If you use weak passwords, they can be guessed by brute-force attacks with or
without Tails in the same way. To know if your passwords are weak and learn good
practices to create better password, you can read [[!wikipedia
Weak_password#Examples_of_weak_passwords desc="Wikipedia: Weak Passwords"]].

Tails is a work in progress
===========================

Tails, as well as all the software it includes, are continuously being developed
and may contain programming errors or security holes.