What is the Best Linux Distro for Privacy and Security
Are you a Linux user or are thinking of becoming one? If so, you are probably having (or will have) constant debates with fellow Windows and macOS users about whose OS is better.
Well, while Linux can’t compare with Windows and macOS on usage share, with less than 2% of desktop computers in the world running on Linux, there are things which Linux does better than either Windows or macOS and one of those things is privacy.
So in this article, we will show you 15 distros and find out what is the best Linux distro for privacy and security.
Why is Linux Better for Privacy and Security Than Windows or macOS?
Ask everyday users and most will praise Windows simply because most of the software is made for Windows.
A smaller, but vocal minority, will claim that Mac is better, because of its user interface (UI), ease-of-use and design.
But ask experts and most of them will shake their heads and talk about Linux as the most secure OS of them all.
Well, there are a couple of reasons for that:
- Linux is open-source
Since Linux is a completely open-source operating system, its source code is being scrutinized and improved almost daily by the Linux community. Windows and Mac don’t have this. Instead, users have to wait for security patches from the two companies to fix any bugs and security issues.
- Processes run in a sandbox
Linux executes its processes in a sandbox, which is basically a closed-off environment that prevents one process from interacting with other processes and change system settings.
- User privileges model
As a Windows user, you will have admin access by default on your device, while you can add guest users with limited access.
The problem here is that administrator access gives you almost unlimited access to everything on the computer. Most people don’t need that level of access and the ability to access the root. There’s just too much danger of a system-wide compromise in case of a virus attack.
Linux restricts root privileges and instead users are given lower-level accounts. If a virus attacks a Linux system only the user local files and programs are affected, while the virus will be locked out of the root and won’t be able to do more significant damage.
- Fewer people are using Linux
There’s a positive side to Linux having a significantly lower audience size than Windows and macOS. It’s a much smaller target for malicious attacks.
Simply put, if millions of people use a Windows software or app, it makes more sense for hackers to target those users than the few Linux ones.
- No social engineering on Linux
How is malware spread on Windows? It’s quite easy, all a cyber-attacker needs to do is send an email with a malicious attachment and wait for the victim to open it or convince the user some other way.
This is called a social engineering attack and it’s when the attacker convinces the user to do something like click on a link, open an attachment, etc.
On Linux such social engineering attacks are much harder, if not outright impossible to do as users don’t have root access, meaning they can’t do anything too stupid.
Best Linux for Privacy
Okay, you’ve seen why Linux is more secure and private than Windows or macOS, but what is the best Linux distro for privacy and security?
With so many Linux distros available and often with vast differences between them, picking the best privacy-based Linux system can be a challenge, but we have selected the 15 best Linux for privacy for you to choose from.
As the most widely used Linux distro, Ubuntu is often the first choice for fresh Linux users and generally, it’s a good one.
However, when it comes to privacy, Ubuntu doesn’t have a stellar record as it was caught not once, but twice, collecting user data and recording their searches, once in 2012 and more recently in 2018.
So, while we can’t recommend Ubuntu as a good Linux distro for privacy, the reason why it’s on this list is that many privacy-oriented distros here are based on Ubuntu.
If you’re switching from Windows to Linux, Mint might give you the easiest transition. But how is it on privacy?
Unfortunately, not good (at least by Linux standards). Linux Mint privacy by default uses an unencrypted Internet connection and is not anonymized. While you might find it to be more compatible with online resources, this also means your connection is exposed to potential attackers.
In other words, if you want to use Linux Mint for privacy, you’ll have to adjust the settings and probably use a VPN or Tor.
Unlike the other two basic Linux distros, Ubuntu and Mint, which mainly focus on compatibility, Debian exchanges that for a more privacy-focused approach.
In particular, the Debian team maintains SecurePersonalComputer wiki, a “step-by-step guide for setting up a personal computer with Debian from scratch to a fully configured system with high security, usability, convenience and privacy-protection.”
In addition, Debian also ships with Firefox-ESR (Extended Support Release), a more privacy-oriented version of the Firefox web browser.
The Amnesic Incognito Live System, or Tails for short, is a Linux distro that itself is based on Debian (which is also a good Linux distro for privacy on its own).
However, Tails goes a step further than Debian when it comes to privacy as it comes with a pre-configured anonymous web browser Tor, that way providing an anonymous Internet connection.
Additionally, Tails is a live Linux distro that you can put on an external device such as USB, use it on your computer and it won’t store anything locally. Once you boot off Tails, no activities will be saved locally on your computer.
The problem with live systems such as Tails is that, once you boot off, all the data is gone and you are limited to the software that comes with it.
Whonix is a Linux distro that approaches privacy a little differently.
It uses VirtualBox VM (virtual machines) to make sure that the software you run on Whonix is isolated from the other software on your computer.
This means you can still use your computer normally, but you’ll have to always keep in mind that everything outside Whonix will be vulnerable to potential spying.
Qubes OS uses a Security by Isolation principle to be more secure and private than most other Linux distros.
What does this mean?
What Qubes does is isolate different parts of your OS in VMs, aka “qubes”. Each app instance is isolated in its own qube.
So let’s say you visit an unsecured website on one browser instance. Any potential malware from that website won’t affect your online transaction that you make in a different qube.
IprediaOS is a similar distro to Tails and it uses Tor network for incoming and outgoing traffic.
What’s a bit different with Ipredia is that it uses I2P (Invisible Internet Project). This is an extra security layer that will encrypt all data, thus providing an even more anonymous communication by using a modified onion routing system (that Tor uses) called “garlic routing”.
What garlic routing does is create encrypted one-way tunnels for communication, where each party establishes its own tunnels, making traffic much harder to track.
Unfortunately, IprediaOS is no longer maintained. The last version, 0.9.6 was released back in 2013 and no word since of a new version.
This, coupled with the fact that you could only browse I2P websites with Ipredia, doesn’t make Ipredia the best Linux distro for privacy and security.
Septor, a privacy-focused Linux distro from the Serbian Linux Project, is a Debian-based distro that is a bit new to the market, but is fast getting noticed.
How does Septor work?
In addition to routing all traffic via Tor network, Septor also uses a customized KDE Plasma desktop environment as well as a number of privacy tools designed for use on Tor like the IM (instant messaging) client Ricochet and the OnionShare anonymous file-sharing program.
The only (minor) issue we have with Septor is that it is still relatively new and has only had four releases up to now (the latest on 8th February this year).
Discreete Linux is a live system much like Tails, that you can put on an external device and use as a live OS.
Based on Debian, Discreete is a read-only system. This means that, after you boot off, the next time you reboot to it, Discreete will revert to the original state. As such, if surveillance software, like a keylogger, is installed on your computer, it won’t be able to continue into the new session.
Unfortunately, the last version of Discreete (Beta1) was released on 8th December, 2016 and the distro hasn’t been maintained since (and was a beta version itself). Given this fact, we can’t really recommend it as the best Linux for privacy.
MOFO Linux is “a tool created to empower people for exercising their unalienable rights to privacy, freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.”
At its core, MOFO is a version of Ubuntu with much more privacy tools installed on it. This includes:
- Support for VPN (supports OpenVPN, Wireguard VPN and SoftEther VPN)
- Tor, I2P and Freenet support
- IM services tools support (Signal, Telegram and Riot)
- Other encryption tools support (VeraCrypt and Escryptfs)
Subgraph OS is a Linux distro developed by the same-name open-source security company that includes its own secure email and IM and uses Tor to provide anonymity to its user online.
In addition, Subgraph “sandboxes” applications, meaning that if something goes wrong with an app, the system won’t suffer as a result.
The reason why we can’t definitely recommend Subgraph as a good Linux distro for privacy is that it is no longer maintained actively. The last version was released in September, 2017 and was in the alpha stage itself.
Kali Linux is a Debian-based Linux distro that is mainly used by cybersecurity experts, pen-testers and whitehat hackers (but blackhat as well).
If you are looking to probe for vulnerabilities or weaknesses in your system, survey IP addresses and more, this is a very good Linux distro and it includes a plethora of privacy and security tools.
However, keep in mind that Kali Linux is also a favorite of hackers.
Parrot OS is a Linux distro developed by the Parrot Project with the goal of building a privacy and security-focused tool framework that will help its users fight off cyberthreats.
This is another good Linux distro for cybersecurity researchers, ethical hackers and pen-testers that comes with plenty of privacy and security tools and you can install it on top of your current OS (even non-Linux ones like Windows and macOS).
There aren’t that many drawbacks, except for the fact that it is based on the Debian 10s testing branch and you are limited in choice of desktop environments to KDE and MATE.
BlackArch Linux is a penetration testing Linux distro based on Arch Linux.
You can install BlackArch locally on your computer, or use a USB to boot it live whenever you have the need for it.
A new ISO is available about every four months, but the default ISO might be a bit too large for a more modest configuration and you’ll have to make do with a window manager since the desktop environment isn’t the most user-friendly.
One of the biggest grievances regular users have with Linux is that few of its distributions are particularly user-friendly. If the distro is, in addition, meant for privacy and security, then it often gets even worse.
Linux Kodachi is one of the best Linux distros for privacy and security meant for regular users.
It is similar to Tails in using RAM instead of disk storage and also comes with a number of security tools like VeraCrypt, Riot. KeyPassXC and so on and can be booted from a USB drive.
Trusted End Node Security, or just TENS, is a distro made by the United States Air Force and was approved by the National Security Agency (NSA).
This might turn you away from this distro, but the fact that you need to boot it from a CD/DVD or USB stick and that activities are deleted upon removing the storage media, makes TENS a good Linux distro for privacy as it doesn’t allow you to be monitored.
Keep in mind that only a few versions of TENS are actually available to the public, like TENS-Public and TENS-Public Deluxe. Most others are used by the NSA and require government authorization.
There you go. Linux is considered by many to be more secure than either Windows and macOS, but only useful to power users.
Hopefully, this list will help you choose the best Linux distro for privacy and security.
And, if you need a secure and private email, why not take a look at CTemplar: Armored Email? It will keep your online identity and private data away from prying eyes and is available on multiple platforms, including Linux.