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Qubes DispVM technical discussion


#28

No, I was just pointing out that updating TB in a DispVM-Template works reliably. I agree with Advanced User Warning because current state of DispVMs is ambiguous, messy, difficult to understand completely.

My preference right now I think is:

---- ;separator
## Main Chapter ##
#### Sub Chapter ####
##### Main Steps #####
''' Sub Steps ''' ;don't need to be indexed
---- ;separator

also, separators with expand sections, because it’s hard to tell where they end.


#29

Sounds good!

todo: needs resolution of tb-updater experimental --alpha, --beta, --rc, --hardened options

I don’t think so. In Whonix 13 it does not matter since tb-updater shows all Tor Browser versions anyhow. It matters for Whonix 14. So in meanwhile this can be removed from DispVM documentation. [And I guess for Whonix 14 it’s best to keep it like in Whonix 13.]

Yes.

For chapter https://www.whonix.org/wiki/Qubes/Disposable_VM#Creating_a_new_DisposableVM-Template_based_on_Whonix-Workstation I was wondering… To make the separator more visible, what about another

'''headline'''

before the text for non-advanced, regular users starts? Any idea for a headline?


#30

Done. Looks better.

Are you suggesting removing Option #1 entirely? The point of that option is that it should be a simpler method for TBB-alpha users who don’t want a customized DispVM-Template. Also, they’ll probably be making the appropriate changes to whonix-ws anyway so they can have TBB-alpha in their AppVMs. However, I’m not even sure if it works. That was the reason I asked Qubes DispVM technical discussion.

Reasons to get rid of Option #1 even if it works:

  1. @torjunkie confirmed that Option #2 works. and advanced users would probably want customization enabled so they can keep changes for testing.
  2. (IIUC) Option #1 would require recopying TBB from /var/cache every time a change is made to whonix-ws; for example, due to daily update maintenance. Probably not a big deal.

#31

No. Just the sentence todo: needs resolution of https://forums.whonix.org/t/tb-updater-experimental-alpha-beta-rc-hardened-options/781/3 gotta be replaced with real content.


#32

entr0py:

The point of that
option is that it should be a simpler method for TBB-alpha users who
don’t want a customized DispVM-Template.

Sounds reasonable.

Reasons to get rid of Option #1 even if it works:

  1. @torjunkie confirmed that Option #2 works. and advanced users
    would probably want customization enabled so they can keep changes
    for testing.

I don’t think all advanced users want DispVM customization. I add myself
to that group. :slight_smile:


#33

Ok, I just remembered why Option #1 is hard: Using Whonix-Workstation as a DisposableVM (DispVM)

IIUC, there is no way to set tb-updater to permanently get the latest version of a specific type of TBB (alpha, hardened). Without this feature, user must manually update TBB via update-torbrowser every time a new TBB is released. This is the issue I wanted resolved before documenting Option #1. In the present state, Option #1 would look something like this:

  1. run update-torbrowser in whonix-ws
  2. qvm-create-default-dvm whonix-ws
  3. every time you change whonix-ws, tbb will be recopied but that’s ok because the version you wanted will still be present in /var/cache
  4. when new tbb is released, pay attention and run update-torbrowser again in whonix-ws. if you forget, then stable tbb will be copied to your dispVM-templates. Better idea is to set tb_install_follow=false. Then run update-torbrowser in whonix-ws when TBB internal updater prompts for upgrade.

I guess that’s not so bad. With auto tb-updater though would be simpler:

  1. set preferred tbb type in whonix-ws
  2. qvm-create-default-dvm whonix-ws

No further maintenance required. DispVM-Template TBB will always be what you wanted.

Should I document current Option #1, wait for change to tb-updater, or omit entirely?

You just have to be different… :rage:


#34

Ah, great, thanks for summarzing it!

Right.

(I am keeping releasing tb-updater package upgrades with bumped (stable) hardcoded version numbers (tbb_hardcoded_version), because I am not trusting the auto detection is going to work forever. When RecommendedTBBVersions format changes as it did a few times in past, the version auto detection breaks. [tbb_hardcoded_version is set to the stable, since That is the recommended version by Torproject, most stable, least maintenance overhead.])

Another future feature could be to ship two versions of tbb_hardcoded_version. One for default, for most, for stable users and another one with the most reasonable alpha (would be now: hardened). I didn’t go for this, because it would increase maintenance overhead. (More tb-upgrader stable upgrades, not only for new stable Tor Browser releases, but also for each new alpha.)

An alternative additional(!) future feature [disabled by default] could be to auto detect the highest available version number of a configurable release channel (terminology used by Tor Browser about menu) (for example: stable or hardened). tb-updater would also need a feature to auto run. But when, and how(!) would in Qubes TempalteVMs be a good time to auto run? The how is a big question mark. There are no hooks into apt-get update or apt-get dist-upgrade. Only dpkg hooks. And running tb-updater every time dpkg runs seems wrong.

Right. I don’t see any way around that as of Whonix 13. And for Whonix 14, we’d still need to draft a feature (as per above).

As of Whonix 13 without any of the features described above, I think tb_install_follow=false should be mandatory for anyone wanting to use hardened. (With a reminder to recheck for Whonix 14. Maybe we’ll think of something.)

Please add.


#35

Sure?

sudo dnf install xfdesktop

Why not qubes-dom0-update?


Quote marmarek:

In principle it will be possible to start an AppVM in "disposable"
mode - which means changes to its private image (in addition to root
image as in normal AppVM) will be discarded after VM shutdown.
Technically any AppVM can be used for that, but practically it makes
sense to have dedicated “DispVM template” AppVMs (as currently
fedora-xx-dvm).

This will be so awesome! Fix most of the complications we are facing.


#36

No, that’s not right. Result of not being able to test my own instructions. Plus, that step can be omitted completely if xfdesktop is installed automatically by Qubes dom0, which most likely it is - but I can’t check.

Please see if xfdesktop is already installed on your 3.2 system, then we can remove that step.

Also, if you are willing, there will be a new set of untested instructions in the ‘Expand’ section of https://www.whonix.org/wiki/Qubes/Disposable_VM#Creating_a_new_DisposableVM-Template_based_on_Whonix-Workstation under Option #1.

Thanks!


#37

I can confirm xfdesktop was installed for me already.

Yes. Please do. Going easy on regular users and going hard on advanced users and testers. The Only Way ™ forward.


#38

Qubes-Whonix DisposableVM documentation created blog post public preview:

Any feedback?

Please sign up for the wiki (and tell me your account name so I can upgrade it) if you like to edit that blog post or post other stuff.


#39

Perhaps paraphrase relevant content from the wiki, Qubes docs and Joanna, so that normal users understand the point of using a Whonix-WS DispVM.


Recommended blog change:

Before we had just a stub. Now, Qubes-Whonix DisposableVMs are fully documented thanks to contributions by the community.

What are DisposableVMs?

Under the Qubes TemplateVM model, any changes made to a TemplateBasedVM’s root filesystem are lost upon reboot. This is advantageous for several reasons: it allows centralized (and therefore faster) updates for all applications (most) inside the root filesystem, saves time and disk space.

However, certain directories are designed to persist between reboots in order to store files and settings. These directories are stored in /rw/ and include /home/user as well as additional directories defined by “bind directory” settings.

To ensure that all changes to the filesystem are discarded after a session, Qubes offers DisposableVMs. When a DisposableVM is shutdown, the VM is removed from Qubes and all related VM images are deleted from the host filesystem.

What is a Whonix-Workstation DisposableVM?

As the name suggests, this is a Qubes DisposableVM template based on the Whonix-Workstation. This allows Qubes-Whonix users to create throw-away instances of their Whonix-Workstation.

Importantly, the Whonix-Workstation DisposableVM will inherit the netVM and firewall settings of the ancestor VM by default, meaning the Whonix-Gateway will be safely used.

Why Should I Consider Using a Whonix-Workstation DisposableVM?

Whonix-Workstation DisposableVMs:

  • Are quickly generated;
  • Are disposed of (deleted) when the user has finished browsing and other activities in a single session; and
  • Will not remember any of the user’s activities across DisposableVM sessions, unless customized.

The major benefit of this approach is that the Whonix-Workstation DisposableVM can be created in order to host a single application - usually the Tor Browser - without any risk that a compromise of the browser will effect any of your other VMs.

Critically, a Tor Browser exploit will not effect (poison) later instances of the Tor Browser running in a subsequent DisposableVM session, because the DisposableVM is always started in a clean state.

Can I Customize Whonix-Workstation DisposableVMs?

Yes. For advanced users, the instructions include steps to create a customized savefile that will remember specific changes, such as personalized Tor Browser settings. Due to concerns over possible fingerprinting issues, users should carefully read the wiki warnings before proceeding on this course of action.

Can I Easily Add DisposableVM Entries to the Qubes Menu?

Yes. Steps have been included which successfully create entries to the XFCE4 menu in Qubes 3.2.

What Else Should I Know?

Due to a few usability issues affecting anonymity, do not use Whonix-Workstation DisposableVMs until:

  • You understand Whonix-WS DispoableVMs are NOT yet amnesic; and
  • Have carefully read and understood the available Qubes-Whonix DisposableVM documentation.

Alternatively, you may wish to wait for Qubes 4.0 [1] before you start using Qubes DisposableVMs, due to significant enhancements planned for the later release.


Qubes-Whonix DisposableVM documentation created
#40

Amazing work!


Do you mean chapter Qubes 3.2 / XFCE4 - menulibre (untested) by that? If so, the (untested) should e removed from the wiki.

Since chapter Qubes 3.2 / XFCE4 - menulibre (untested) modified whonix-ws-dvm /home/user, doesn’t it require using a customized DispVM, i.e. /home/user/.qubes-dispvm-customized?


#41

Unless there are other comments, I think the blog post is almost ready to go. Updated the preview:
https://www.whonix.org/blog/?p=2180&preview=1&_ppp=e2b6c44717

The only thing I would like to sort out before posting it are my above questions since otherwise it would contradict.

Yes. Steps have been included which successfully create entries to the XFCE4 menu in Qubes 3.2.

if XFCE4 menu was replaced by “desktop shortcut”, it would be ready to go.


#42

Careful here lest users ignore the warning in the wiki. Ancestor VM if called from dom0; Calling VM if spawned from domU. This is actually a weakness of current implementation.

Looks good!

A couple conservative wording changes:

The major benefit of this approach is that the Whonix-Workstation DisposableVM can be created in order to host a single application – usually the Tor Browser – without any risk that a compromise of the browser will effect any of your other VMs.

“without any risk” > “mitigating the risk”

Critically, a Tor Browser exploit will not effect (poison) later instances of the Tor Browser running in a subsequent DisposableVM session, because the DisposableVM is always started in a clean state.

“effect” > “affect”

“in a clean state” > “in its original state”


#43

Thanks entr0py. Agree with your changes. My old English teacher will kill me if they saw effect and affect mixed up again :wink:

@Patrick, I was referring to steps for changes to the Qubes menu as ‘working’ i.e. Qubes Blue/Gray Button -> DisposableVM -> (new) Tor Browser entry

That is, replacing the instance of ‘Firefox’ from the DispVM menu with Tor Browser instead.

Sorry, I didn’t get around to trying the the menulibre entry as I had promised earlier. So that is still ‘untested’, unless you have it working. I’d still like to try those untested steps sometime over the next week, so that ‘untested’ can be removed from the wiki entry.

But please go ahead and put up your blog post if you are happy with everything else.


#44

#45

“effect” still needed to be changed to “affect” in that blog post :wink:

Anyway, I have tested Option#1 of generating a non-customized DisposableVM-Template which works.

So, you can remove the “untested” tag from the wiki here:

Option #1: Use a non-customized DisposableVM-Template. (untested) This template will use a stock image based on whonix-ws and will not preserve any changes that are made to it.

Re: “Adding shortcuts to applications menus”, which is also untested in Qubes 3.2, I have followed the steps up to this point:

Once the .desktop files have been created, they need to be added to your Applications menu. Use a text editor to edit the following file.

kwrite ~/.config/menus/xfce-applications.menu

Note: There is NO xfce-applications.menu entry anywhere in the template. I have searched using find and ls to no avail. Using kwrite as above just creates a new (empty) file.

Surely Marek knows where this (.menu file) is stored for dispVM template in the Qubes architecture? After all, the entry for the original DispVM menu can be edited to replace Firefox with the Tor Browser entry instead via Alt F3 in dom0.

So where is it? Adding the additional .desktop entries should be simple enough. Maybe he can give us some pointers.

I have not attempted the menulibre option, as I don’t want to bork my menu as per other people’s recent experiences.


#46

You mean dom0 right?

This is the reference I used for instructions: https://wiki.xfce.org/howto/customize-menu

Things to try:

  • sudo find / -name *.menu
  • echo $XDG_CONFIG_HOME
  • looks like default install location is /etc/xdg/menus/xfce-applications.menu
    Instructions say to make a copy in ~/.config/menus for customization

#47

Fixed.

Done.