If you’re a Linux user, security was probably one of the benefits that made you switch from whatever operating system you were using before. Linux has a great reputation for being one tough nut to crack, and it lives up to that reputation daily.
Users don’t have to worry about viruses or other malware to the point where anti-virus tools made for Linux actually sniff out Windows viruses to help fight their spread. None of those viruses can affect Linux, and barely any are actually made for Linux. Even then, they will have a very tough time doing any damage.
However, when “secure” isn’t good enough, you will want the best of the best. With so many distributions out there in the world to choose from, there are plenty that focus specifically on hardcore security. But which are the most secure Linux distribution?
One distribution I can immediately recommend is Tails. Short for The Amnesic Incognito Live System, Tails is great because it remains extremely usable despite its focus on security. It also doesn’t just focus on a secure operating system, but it makes sure that everything you do on it is as secure as reasonably possible.
The distribution is based on Debian‘s stable branch, which is known for its great stability and security (although somewhat old software). It shouldn’t matter though if the software is older, as it should still do what you need it to do, safely. Tails only runs in a live environment, which is another good security feature because it completely wipes any traces on the computer you used once you shut down or restart.
Tails comes with a load of software to cater to every need you may have. This includes a customized Firefox browser (branded as Iceweasel because Tails is Debian-based) which uses the Tor network out-of-the-box. Firefox in Tails also includes other extensions to make browsing as secure as possible with HTTPS Everywhere and NoScript. Tails also comes with Claws Mail with OpenPGP support, Pidgin with OTR encryption support, and editing tools like GIMP and OpenOffice.
Another good distribution is Lightweight Portable Security, or LPS for short. This distribution is maintained by the US Air Force, and is as far as I know the only distribution coming from the American government (or in this case, military). It’s not uncommon for countries to produce their own Linux distributions, as China has Red Flag Linux and Turkey has Pardus.
This distribution is special because it takes a more minimalistic approach. Aside from the usual hardened code, it uses a lightweight desktop environment that resembles Windows XP, and only includes Firefox and a few additional tools. It also has an easy to use “Encryption Wizard” which can aid you in your quest for privacy and security.
Since this is a brainchild of the US Air Force, I would trust using it. Like Tails, it runs only in a live environment, and disappears along with any traces as soon as you shut down or reboot.
Last but not least, your common run-of-the-mill distribution is also among the most secure. Surprised? You shouldn’t be. Although Ubuntu, Fedora, and the like aren’t equipped out-of-the-box to give you a secure experience like Tails is, the operating system itself is secure enough to satisfy most people’s needs. All you really need to do is keep it updated with available patches via the distribution’s Update Manager, and add some programs like Tor or OpenPGP that will make your usage a little more secure.
However, in terms of systems being compromised through attacks, your favorite distribution will do the job just fine. In fact, in a hacking competition, Windows and Mac OS X machines were defeated while an Ubuntu machine was still chugging away.
Of course there are plenty of other distributions that are worthy of a mention, but there are simply too many to name specifically. I might have also forgotten a few that definitely should be mentioned, but I’m sure you can remind me in the comments below. Just be aware that there is a difference between security distributions and secure distributions. Backtrack Linux is an example of a security distribution while the ones I mentioned above are secure distributions.
Do you regularly use secure distributions or software such as Tor? What have you been using so far? Let us know in the comments!