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I was trying to download Tails on a USB stick and as always, you have to download the file (in this case a .img), but then I was told that I had to use software to make it work (I was recommended to use UNeBootin). This is where I am confused. Why do I actually need it? And can I download tails without it?

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General answer

You can download an iso file or [compressed] img file with a live operating system, in your case Tails, via your standard web browser, but it does not work directly from the downloaded file. You must

  • clone it or
  • extract it and create a bootloader

in order to make the USB drive boot and run a live system.

You need some software to create a live operating system in a USB drive, and you can use software that is included in your current system. But many people (and I am one of them) recommend that you use some dedicated software because it makes the process safer and easier.

Unetbootin is one alternative, and there are versions for Ubuntu, Windows and MacOS.

The following link will give you more alternatives as well as more details,

https://help.ubuntu.com/community/Installation/FromUSBStick

You may want to look at one of the sub-pages and follow some links.

Specific answer about Tails

I browsed the instructions for installing Tails from Ubuntu, and saw that they recommend using dd, which is a cloning tool. This tool is risky, because it does what you tell it to do without any question, even if you overwrite the internal drive with your family pictures and other valuable data. For this reason many people use the nickname 'Data Destroyer'.

If you want to use the cloning method from Ubuntu, I suggest that you use mkusb, which 'wraps a safety belt' around dd: There is help to identify the target drive (the USB drive), and there is a final checkpoint, so that you can double-check, that you will install to the correct target drive.

If you want to use the cloning method from Linux (not specifically Ubuntu), the instructions at the Tails web page recommend 'Disks' alias gnome-disks. This tool has a final checkpoint, and can be recommended (but I think it is more difficult to use for this purpose compared to mkusb). An advantage with Disks is that it is already there as a standard tool in many Linux distros (including Ubuntu).

If you want to use the cloning method from Windows or MacOS, the instructions at the Tails web page recommend Balena Etcher, which is a cloning tool. This tool has a final checkpoint, and can be recommended.

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