I need to create an isolated setup, without knowing too much about how that might be achieved by other more technical means.

This setup never goes online (the wireless adapter is unplugged) and file transfer to and from here is very rare (except during the initial installation of the programs I plan to use and I will probably use a drive or USB stick for that. Also I'd want to keep the OS and apps up to date, but how?

So I purchased a machine pre-installed with Ubuntu Desktop 15.04 and I want to enable it to separately run (dual boot?) (Ubuntu Desktop 15.04) from an external encrypted hard drive, as a way to achieve my goal of an isolated system.

More or less, I think it would look like this:

I'd unplug my wireless adapter, restart the machine, be asked if I want to boot from the external (eSATA?) drive (attached for this purpose only, otherwise not attached) and be prompted for the encryption password (separate from the Ubuntu password) which would mount the encrypted file to access the (Ubuntu Desktop 15.04) operating system files, run those files and I'd be greeted with the request for my Ubuntu password for this isolated system.

  • Depending on what your specific goals are, I think that using Tails would make more sense for you. tails.boum.org – levlaz Jul 7 '15 at 15:44
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    Thank you, Tails looks interesting and I might try that out regardless someday, but it seems to be mostly for online activity and my specific goals are for offline use. Thanks again. – Spidyplant Jul 7 '15 at 16:49
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    Hey, thanks, levlaz! After pursing this question further, seeing whats involved and needing an interim asap type of solution, I think Tails might be a perfect solution. Sometimes when an answer stares you in the face, its invisible. Cheers! – Spidyplant Jul 13 '15 at 19:16
  • glad I could help :) – levlaz Jul 14 '15 at 19:40

The easy way of doing this is to:

  1. remove the existing boot drive from your machine
  2. remove the the external drive from its enclosure and insert it into your machine
  3. Boot a LiveDVD
  4. install it as you want
  5. move the freshly installed HDD to the external enclosure.

Then when you want to boot that, just go into your BIOS and boot from the external HDD.

To keep the system updated, you need to follow this official documentation

The more complex solution would be:

  1. Hook up all drives
  2. remove UEFI and convert to BIOS boot.
  3. Boot a LiveDVD
  4. Install Ubuntu
  5. take "something else"
  6. Take care to put the boot manager (grub) on the external hard drive together with its system files
  7. Install everything you want
  8. shut down the machine
  9. remove the external drive

The result is the same: externally bootable HDD that needs off-line updates.

  • Thank you. I will ask the manufacturer how to swap out that drive. But will it be able to ask for the encryption password, necessary to access the files to run the bootup, without already running an operating system? – Spidyplant Jul 7 '15 at 16:43
  • As you're a reputation 1 user: If this answer helped you, don't forget to click the grey at the left of this text, which means Yes, this answer is valid! ;-) Yes: it'll be running the secondary OS. I have a USB stick with Lubuntu and am doing exactly the same thing... ;-) – Fabby Jul 7 '15 at 16:45
  • The manufacturer does not seem to support removal of the main drive but said that an eSATA connected external hard drive would be treated as an internal drive. Also, I don't have a DVD/CD drive, but I am under the impression that I can use a USB to install from. If these are true (and I don't know if I have the terms quite right nor the understanding of how things work), can I set the boot order to be: the 1st the blank eSATA connected external hard drive, and, 2nd the USB port (with the installer on the stick)? ... to be continued – Spidyplant Jul 9 '15 at 0:17
  • - And go through the installation with the idea that the computer will not know anything about its primary internal hard drive and install on the eSATA connected external hard drive? And then when the install has completed, change the boot order to be: 1st the new eSATA connected hard drive and 2nd the internal drive. This would be so when I want the isolated system, I restart with the eSATA drive hooked up and when I don't want the isolated system, I restart without the eSATA hooked up. Will the internal drive be left off when running from the eSATA (thus ensuring system isolation)? – Spidyplant Jul 9 '15 at 0:19
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    Thanks for helping me understand how these pages work. Will do. – Spidyplant Jul 9 '15 at 20:56

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