Simple TAILS question if you know the answer

Discussion in 'privacy technology' started by Palancar, Sep 23, 2015.

  1. Palancar

    Palancar Registered Member

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    I have a friend (I am working with her) that wants to have a cold/offline Bitcoin wallet. Her older computer will not boot from usb, and she doesn't want to confine the whole computer for just a Bitcoin wallet. Whatever OS is used to run the cold wallet will NEVER see online activity again, which is what is required to be a TRUE "cold" wallet.

    If I make her a TAILS DVR, which includes Electrum the bitcoin client with a persistent feature, can I create a persistent volume for her on a USB stick?

    i.e. - She would boot tails and Bitcoin via the DVR but the wallet would be on a persistent volume on a designated USB stick.

    Is this configuration doable or does TAILS require the persistent volume to be on the same device as the OS? I can't do this on a DVR and her computer bios does not boot from USB.

    After reading through the documentation I can't figure out if this is going to fly or not.

    ps ---- I do know that I can create a normal encrypted volume on a usb/external media. I don't know the performance differences between one of those and a true persistent volume. Is there even a performance difference or is it semantics only?
     
    Last edited: Sep 23, 2015
  2. lotuseclat79

    lotuseclat79 Registered Member

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    Why does her older computer not boot from a USB?

    Does it not have USB port(s), and/or does it not have an entry for USB in the BIOS? If it has a USB port, and no entry for USB device(s) in the boot order, then check to see if the manufacturer's website has more up-to-date BIOS for her older computer - it may need to be flashed to get the capability upgraded.

    -- Tom
     
  3. Reality

    Reality Registered Member

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    My computers about 12 years old, with USB ports and don't boot from USB. There's no way to set it in the BIOS. I would really like this capability and it's a pain not having it. Hopefully they would note this feature somewhere before trying something as radical as flashing your BIOS?
     
  4. deBoetie

    deBoetie Registered Member

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    Might be better off with a $40 Raspberry Pi!
     
  5. Palancar

    Palancar Registered Member

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    Yep there is no USB boot capability at all, and no mfg flash for doing it either! She will be limited to using her optical drive, which is plenty fast for this small project. Electrum, which is very secure, is small and the wallet files are tiny by today's file standards.

    Note: I burned a sample tails 1.6 DVD when I got home . I used the disk utility (resident in tails already) to create and format a USB flash device to separately contain the bitcoin wallet for her. The resident utility easily creates a very secure ext4 (can select almost any filesystem using the utility) linux encrypted media. I copied one of my wallets to it as a test. Went very well with one small tweak out of how tails is designed for bitcoin/electrum use.

    Accordingly:

    The client is programmed to look for persistence on the same device as the tails OS, which is normally a usb stick. My design for her is that the encrypted usb will be mounted already just after tails is launched in RAM. So, we have TAILS up and the usb is open/mounted (linux encrypted password needed media) and available. When she clicks on the Electrum bitcoin client it will "flag" there is no persistence, but it would be wrong! It just doesn't know to look OFF the boot device so it doesn't see it. We can easily click the open wallet tab in the electrum client and then click on the wallet file now showing in the mounted usb flash. Works perfectly fine. I did a few transactions last night on my end to verify everything. Once my Electrum activity was completed I clicked SAVE and everything was backed up to the flash so its all good. I copied the backup to my own media so I have a record and then I wiped the spare stick since this was just a test. My computer does have a bootable USB bios so I only use one flash stick. The DVR plus a small flash stick for her is not a big obstacle and it works pretty well!!

    I always recommend to my friends that ALL transactions are signed ONLY with a cold/offline wallet.
     
  6. Palancar

    Palancar Registered Member

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    Kind of doing an "about face" on this project. I came across some messages/threads between Thomas V (electrum developer/guru) and the debian team. He has been changing code somewhat to get Debian to accept current electrum version code into their distribution. Anyway, during those discussions at one point Thomas was actually recommending that Debian may consider removing electrum if they were going to stay with version 1.9.8, which is what TAILS 1.6 is still using!! He said the code is over a year old now and the new version has such significant improvements. He doesn't appear to want 1.9.8 being circulated any more.

    The current electrum code 2.4.4 (I think I have that version number correct) has now been added to the Debian beta's and things are looking good for a possible intro into stable. Stay tuned.

    In the meantime I am deleting TAILS from my flash. I am going to create a bootable USB linux install along with the current electrum version. Full linux is a little heavier but on my machine they both run fast and I am only using this flash to sign bitcoin transactions on a cold wallet.

    My friend will have to make up her mind on the issue. 1.9.8 still runs great but when the developer says to move on I'ld say its time to listen!
     
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