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How to Browse Without a Trace with an Ubuntu Live CD

No matter how diligently you clear your cache and erase your history, web browsing leaves traces on your computer. If you need keep your browsing private, then an Ubuntu Live CD is the answer.

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The key to this trick is that the Live CD environment runs completely in RAM, so things like your cache, cookies, and history don’t get saved to a persistent storage location. On a hard drive, even deleted files can be recovered, but once a computer is turned off the data stored in RAM is unrecoverable.

In addition, since the Ubuntu Live CD environment is the same no matter what computer you use it on, there’s very little identifying information that a website can use to track you!

The first step is to either burn an Ubuntu Live CD, or prepare a non-persistent Ubuntu USB flash drive. Ubuntu treats non-persistent flash drives like CDs, so files will not be written to it, but if you’re paranoid, then using a physical CD ensures that nothing gets written to a storage device.

Boot up from the CD or flash drive, and choose to Run Ubuntu from the CD or flash drive if prompted (for more detailed instructions on booting from a CD or USB drive, see this article, or our guide on booting from a flash drive even if your BIOS won’t let you).

Once the graphical Ubuntu environment comes up, you can click on the Firefox icon at the top of the screen to start browsing.

If your browsing requires Flash, then you can install it by clicking on System at the top-left of the screen, then Administration > Synaptic Package Manager.

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Click on Settings at the top of the Synaptic window, and then select Repositories.

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Add a check in the checkbox with the label ending in “multiverse”. Click Close.

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Click the Reload button in the main Synaptic window. The list of available packages will reload. When they’ve reloaded, type “restricted” in the Quick search box.

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Right-click on ubuntu-restricted-extras and select Mark for Installation. It will note a number of other packages that will be installed. This list includes audio and video codecs, so after installing these, you should be able to play downloaded movies and songs.

Click Mark to accept the installation of these other packages.

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Once you return to the main Synaptic window, click the Apply button and go through the dialogs to finish the installation of Flash and the other useful packages.

If you open up Firefox now, you’ll have no problems using websites that use Flash.

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When you’re done browsing and shut down or restart your computer, all traces of your web browsing will be gone.

It’s a bit of work compared to just using a privacy-centric browser, but if it’s very important that your browsing leave no traces on your hard drive, an Ubuntu Live CD is your best bet.

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Trevor is our resident Linux geek, but always keeps his eyes open for neat Windows tricks too.

  • Published 06/1/10

Comments (9)

  1. Vedhas

    I may not be getting the big picture, but I think a Portable (USB) version of Firefox (or any other browser) will do the same.

  2. Trevor Bekolay

    @Vedhas

    The USB drive is still permanent storage; with this method, the cache/history/etc get stored in RAM, which when powered off is unrecoverable.

  3. azizrahman

    what about network drivers, ubuntu live cd is unable to detect my real tek lan card, then how can i acces internet without an ip

  4. Trevor Bekolay

    @azizrahman

    You can check this forum to see if your particular card is supported; there might be restricted drivers for it, I’m not sure. Ubuntu has done a good job with all of the network cards I’ve tried, but there may be some that it doesn’t yet support.

  5. jfalpha

    I use Linux mint running on a xD memory card for this very reason. Flash and other codecs out of the box is my primary reason for using it over Ubuntu.

  6. tangopeter

    Is that also true for opening files?

    Eg, when booting from an Ubuntu Live cd, can I open a Windows zip file with a suspect keygen without danger of installing trojans and the like on the pc hard disk or OS?

  7. John

    tangopeter,

    If you get any viruses/spyware while using LiveCD, you should be fine.

  8. ismaila

    installed ubuntu n couldnt access my windows so deleted windows partition and re installed the windows.but i need files on the renamed drive.is it possible with ubuntu

  9. Jonathan

    I am looking for a live CD that doesn’t have the “install on hard disc now” function, and that hides all the available drives. I want my 6 year old daughter to use a live CD exclusively and not be able to tamper with my hard disc drives through the live CD. Does a live CD like this exist?

    Thank you,

    Jonathan

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