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First Look Institute is a c 3 nonprofit organization. If that attacker gets the ability to run programs of their choice on your computer, as they often aim to do, they have access to all of your files. They can start logging your keystrokes, taking screenshots, and even listening to your microphone and watching through your webcam. You can also use this technology to ensure that your anonymous online activity remains anonymous, safeguarding the privacy protections offered by Tor by ensuring that absolutely all internet traffic gets routed through it — even if your software, like Tor Browser or Pidgin, gets hacked specifically to bypass Tor.
A virtual machine VM is a fake computer running inside your real computer. You can install operating systems in them and you can install and run software in them. You can install as many Linux virtual machines as you want, wherever you want — an easy setup to deal with. But there are legal restrictions. For example, while OS X can be installed on up to two virtual machines for free, you have to be on a Mac when you do so. You get to choose how much memory your new VM will have and you get to create a new virtual hard disk for it. Whatever resources you allocate to your VM will not be available to other programs on your computer.
You can just click through with all of the default options too if you want, or you can give your VM more resources. The next step is to install Ubuntu. Since the virtual machine is brand new, it prompts me to insert an operating system installation disk. Now the VM begins to boot to the Ubuntu disk. The Ubuntu disk has finished booting. After installing Ubuntu, my VM failed to shut down all the way while it was rebooting.
If that happens to you as well, click the Machine menu and choose Reset to force your VM to restart. Always keep your software up to date, even in VMs! Since I just installed this operating system and have never done updates, it might take a while to download and install everything. You can do this by clicking the gear in the top right, clicking Shut Down, and then clicking Restart.
Sharing files is slightly more complex. Then type:. Then shut down your VM all the way. This way, if I need to copy files to or from my VM, I have a place to drop those files. Below are just a few examples of some ways you can use VMs to increase the security of your computer. In the end, virtualization is a tool that has many different uses, so feel free to be creative. One of the easiest ways to get hacked is by opening a malicious document. If you do, the file would exploit a flaw in your operating system or in software like Adobe Reader or Microsoft Word, thus allowing the attacker to take over your computer.
These attacks are not theoretical. For example, documents in the Hacking Team archive. If I try opening this dubious file in Chrome, my browser throws a security warning, and for good reason! Any attachments downloaded from the Hacking Team archive might try to, ahem, hack you.
Here it is. The document actually appears just to be an thread pasted into Word. Installing browser add-ons that block and malware, and making Flash click-to-play , goes a long way toward blocking software that might try to take over your computer through your web browser. You can even set up a dedicated VM just for this purpose. To completely get rid of it I can restore my VM from a snapshot, or I can delete the VM altogether and create a new one.
All programs contain bugs, and these bugs can get exploited to take over our computers. Some programs have much bigger attack surfaces than others. If your dedicated chat VM gets hacked through a Pidgin exploit, for example, the attack will be contained. All software has bugs, and this includes virtualization software. In order to do this, your attacker must have an exploit against your virtualization software. These bugs are rare but do happen. You should also be careful with how you use the VirtualBox clipboard sharing and file sharing features I described above.
Whonix is an operating system that you can install on your existing computer inside VirtualBox, which forces all network traffic to go over the anonymity network Tor. But Tor Browser, like all other software, has bugs. If you visit a website in Tor Browser, the website could hypothetically exploit a severe bug to force your computer to make an internet connection to the attacker outside of the Tor network, letting them learn your real IP address and identity. In this case, the FBI was attempting to attack people who allegedly had links to child pornography, but it also presented Tor Browser-hacking malware to users of legitimate websites hosted by Freedom Hosting, including the free anonymous service TorMail.
The gateway VM acts as the upstream internet provider for the workstation VM, and it forces all network traffic to go over the Tor network. The workstation VM is where you use Tor Browser, as well as any other software that you wish to use anonymously. All network connections that the attacker makes will go through the gateway VM, which forces them to go through Tor.
Whonix is great because you can be confident that everything you do in the workstation VM is anonymously going through the Tor network. You can use chat software like XChat to connect to IRC servers anonymously, or Pidgin to connect to Jabber servers for anonymous encrypted chats , or Icedove and Enigmail to send anonymous, encrypted . If you are using Whonix to anonymously send documents to a journalist, and you become a suspect in a leak investigation, your Whonix VMs might contain evidence that can be used against you.
Repeat these same steps with the Whonix-Workstation. Start both Whonix-Gateway and Whonix-Workstation. And in both VMs, change the default password and update the software. In the workstation VM, go ahead and open Tor Browser. It will automatically download and install it the first time you try opening it. Once it opens, you can browse the web anonymously, and remain anonymous even if Tor Browser gets hacked. You run all of the rest of your software inside of Linux or Windows VMs. Qubes also has great support for Whonix. If you use Whonix inside of Qubes, your host machine has a much smaller attack surface than if you were using a traditional operating system.
Not yet, at least. And while it has an active development community and a growing user base, Qubes is not easy to use for non-power users. In Qubes, simple problems like how to install a new program or take a screenshot can have steep learning curves for the uninitiated.
Finally, all software has bugs, and this includes Qubes as well as Xen, the virtualization software that powers Qubes. But by isolating the parts of your computer that get attacked within VMs, you can make taking over your computer difficult, expensive, and, with any luck, not worth it. All rights reserved First Look Institute is a c 3 nonprofit organization.
Micah Lee. Virtual machines A virtual machine VM is a fake computer running inside your real computer. Courtesy XKCD. Sharing folders Sharing files is slightly more complex. Now, back in my VM, I can see the document. Running vulnerable software that you rely on All programs contain bugs, and these bugs can get exploited to take over our computers. You still have to be careful All software has bugs, and this includes virtualization software. Staying anonymous with Whonix Whonix is an operating system that you can install on your existing computer inside VirtualBox, which forces all network traffic to go over the anonymity network Tor.
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