The world of technology has exploded, and the world has jumped online. It has become such an everyday part of our lives that we have forgotten that the online space isn’t as safe as we think. New attacks and malicious software are being introduced onto computers every day, and most people don’t see it coming until it’s too late. It’s far too easy for hackers to take over our computers.
Most people use operating systems like Windows or macOS on their desktop and laptop computers. It’s understandable why these are go-to choices for many because they’re usually set up within the computer upon purchase and are extremely easy to use. However, for people in professions vulnerable to hacking, such as journalists, whistleblowers, activists, and researchers, these OSes can cause problems because of their security.
These systems can leave you vulnerable to introducing malware onto your computer, which can happen from something as simple as opening a malicious email attachment or clicking on an unsafe link. You can easily do these things, and once you have introduced the malware to your computer, it can interfere with all of the information stored on your device. Of course, it’s all dependent on the type of malware, but anything could happen, from showing you unwanted advertisements to taking over your entire computer.
The majority of us have confidential information online, and whether banking information, health records, or confidential communication, it’s crucial to ensure that our data is protected while online.
What is Qubes OS?
Qubes OS is a completely free, open-source system that has prioritized security over all else. The system is for single-user desktops and uses Xen-based virtualization to create and manage separate partitions, simply called “qubes.” Qubes are isolated workspaces that help to separate and protect your information. The way Qubes work is by dividing your device into different compartments. You can picture it like separating a house into multiple rooms, but with Qubes, you can create new compartments whenever you need to. Qubes also provides you with the tools you need for securely managing your activities and data across the different compartments.
These qubes are implemented as virtual machines (VMs) and have specific purposes. Each qube will have a predefined set of one or many isolated applications to separate personal and professional use. You can also use them to manage the network stack and firewall. Qubes allows your personal needs to be met, with the purpose of the qubes to fulfill other requirements that you may have.
The nature of the qubes is also specific to your device. Depending on the operating system that you’re using, whether that be Windows, Debian, or something else, your VMs—which, as we described earlier, are how you implement your qubes into your device—will be either full-fledged or stripped-down.
The qubes also allow you to identify the levels of trust for each window. The levels are color-coded and so are easily remembered and extremely obvious. They range from complete to non-existent, so it allows you to see the safety of your windows within each qube.
What Are the Features of Qubes OS?
Qubes OS has a range of features that make it an excellent system:
1. Strong Isolation
This is a key feature for the system and is the core idea behind Qubes OS. It allows you to isolate your pieces of software using advanced virtualization techniques. This is a massive advantage to the user because it allows for safer use of all applications on your device and stops the threat of hackers taking over your entire device.
2. Template System
There is a template system that allows you to share a root file system without the need to compromise your security in any way. You can use the template system within your app qubes to separate software installation from software use.
3. Multiple operating systems
Qubes OS allows you to use multiple operating systems on one device. This is useful if you want to support different systems and computing needs.
Disposable qubes mean that you can create temporary compartments within your device that self-destruct when you shut them down. This can be great, for example, if you’re concerned about malicious email attachments. Qubes can open each attachment in its single-use disposable qube, so even if those attachments do contain malware, nothing else on your device is at risk.
5. Whonix integration
For those who aren’t just looking for security and privacy, you can run Tor securely throughout the system when using Whonix with Qubes. This’ll give you that round of protection and privacy.
6. Split GPG
You can ensure that your private keys are kept safe by utilizing Split GPG.
7. U2F proxy
U2F proxy will allow you to use your two-factor authentication devices without the risk of exposing your entire web browser to the USB stick.
Users are welcome to use, copy, and modify Qubes OS and are encouraged to do so. Having an open-source system allows for the most security because it allows people to analyze and improve the systems.
What Are The Benefits Of Using Qubes OS?
There’re new attacks on our devices every day, and unfortunately, with software vendors relying heavily on generic defenses, they usually can’t defend against these attacks. You might be surprised to know that Qubes isn’t aiming to prevent these attacks but aims to put your devices in the best position possible to protect your information.
The reason is that the demand for new software is at an all-time high, developers are working faster than ever before, and often deadlines don’t allow security experts to analyze the code, let alone fix everything. This is why Qubes takes the approach of confining, controlling, and containing the damage. It allows you to separate and monitor your riskier activities, and if a cyberattack should happen, they aren’t able to take over your entire device.
Qubes allows you to take control over your software rather than others having control over it. We’re all human at the end of the day, and sometimes mistakes are made, and Qubes can protect you from those mistakes.
To put this into an example, you might use a single qube for visiting untrusted websites or clicking on unsafe links, but use a different qube for online banking. This allows that even if your untrusted browsing qube was attacked or compromised by malware, your online banking isn’t at risk.
Although your qubes are separated, your windows still appear in a unified desktop environment, so your usability remains simple. The color-coding shows around the windows to easily identify different security levels.
How Easy Is Qubes OS To Use?
Qubes OS is an extremely sophisticated system and is for those looking for high levels of security. With this comes a level of technicality, so it may be helpful to have some previous experience with Linux.
What Do Others Have to Say About Qubus OS?
Organizations like Freedom of the Press Foundation, Mullvad, and Let’s Encrypt rely on Qubes to build and maintain critical privacy and security internet technologies, which are relied upon by countless users worldwide every day.
Renowned security experts have had their say on Qubus OS:
- Edward Snowden, whistleblower and privacy advocate, said:
“If you’re serious about security, @QubesOS is the best OS available today. It’s what I use and free.”
- Daniel J. Bernstein, mathematician, cryptologist, and computer scientist, said:
“Happy thought of the day: An attacker who merely finds a browser bug can’t listen to my microphone except when I’ve told Qubes to enable it.”
- Micah Lee, director of Infosec at The Intercept, board member at the Freedom of the Press Foundation, and advisor at DDoSecrets, said:
“When I use Qubes I feel like a god. The software thinks that it’s in control, that it can do what it wants? It can’t. I’m in control.”
- Vitalik Buterin, creator of Ethereum, said:
“Trying out Qubes OS recently; Linux distro designed around increased security by virtualizing everything and making it convenient to hop between VMs. Surprisingly good user-friendliness!”
Qubes OS seems effective and sophisticated to those struggling with privacy and security solutions, especially those actively targeted. The system is completely free and open-source, which allows it to continue to be improved moving forwards and means that you can tailor the system to your specific requirements. Your data and information will remain safe, but that doesn’t come at the expense of your user experience. As we saw earlier, some big names in the software industry give this system high commendations, so it’s likely the best in the current market.
Although the system does seem technical, if you have any previous experience with Linux or an understanding of the system, it shouldn’t be too much of a concern. After all, security for some is more important than simplicity. Qubus OS has ensured that the system is security-orientated and always will be, so you know that although it’s open-source and being developed and modified further, security will be the core purpose. That gives you some stability when committing to the OS.