Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Open Source OS Featuring "Throw Away" VMs Could Solve Your Security Problems

Open Source OS Featuring "Throw Away" VMs Could Solve Your Security Problems

A new open source operating system based on Linux and Xen is bringing a new approach to the malware and security issue. Using on the fly, disposable virtual machines, you can view photos, docs, music or other files in an isolated virtual machine that will prevent it from infecting your actual device.

VirtualizationThe OS is called Qubes [1] and is being developed by Invisible Things Lab and Joanna Rutkowska, perhaps most famous for developing the Blue Pil [2]l rootkit. Based on Linux and the Xen virtual machines, Qubes is aimed at those looking for a superior security solution in their OS.

Qubes is based on the security by isolation approach. Meaning even if there is something you download or click on, because the environment you are working in is isolated and there are no critical assets that can be reached via it, the potential damage is minimized. According to the FAQ at Qubes, there are two other approaches to security:

1. Security by Correctness

2. Security by Obscurity

Invisible Things Labs does not believe either of those two can provide the security needed in todays dynamic environments and that security by isolation is the only method that offers a chance of success.

The idea behind the disposable VM as detailed in Rutkowska's blog post this past week, is that when you have an attachment to an email, a video, music file or a web site to visit, you just start a disposable VM that would fire up in less than a second. This instant on VM would not have the ability to permanently store any data or access resources not specifically allowed in the throw away virtualized instance. On the other hand though this would prevent it from infecting or spreading any malware to you and others.

The throw away VM is not all there is to Qubes. It will make use of VM technology to run mulitple VMs with different levels of access and trust. It is due out later this year, but you can access early versions, the FAQ and Wiki at http://www.qubes-os.org [3]

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