By Kelly Jackson Higgins
Jun 03, 2010
A new open-source operating system will come with the option of creating
one-time, disposable virtual machines on the fly as a way to protect
against malicious files.
Invisible Things Lab is creating these lightweight, throwaway VMs that
work with traditional virtual machines in Qubes, the open-source,
Xen-based OS it plans to release in beta later this summer. Qubes was
architected to minimize the attack surface in the VM environment.
Disposable VMs don't provide persistent storage and are launched on a
per-document basis to open a PDF, PowerPoint, or music or video file,
for instance, according to Joanna Rutkowska, founder and CEO of
Invisible Things Lab. They provide a safe sandbox for opening a file or
attachment: If a file opened by a disposable VM is infected, the only
thing it can hurt is the throwaway VM itself, not any other applications
The disposable VM is clean, and its only purpose is for viewing the
file, for instance; then it gets tossed away. "You still run your email
client in a 'work' AppVM -- which is not disposable [because] you need
to store your email client configuration, archived emails, your
documents, etc. -- but you open attachments in disposable VMs,"
Invisible Things Lab also plans to ultimately release a commercial
version of the OS, Qubes Pro, that can run Windows applications using
Windows-based application VMs.
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