In a recent post I wrote about how I had to wipe my Mac Mini at home due to a potential compromise in my chrome browser. The ironic thing with that issue was for months I’ve already started taking steps to minimize the chance of such an exploit. The problem likely began months earlier and didn’t present itself until recently however the damage was already done. It just justifies the extreme measures I am taking taking in regards to securing my web browsing.

At a high-level my approach is isolating some but not yet all of my browser traffic to Linux virtual machine. I know that theoretically a virtual machine is not 100% isolated. I’m willing to chance using the virtual machine over booting into TAILS using a USB key. That level of inconvenience is not something I typically want to be bothered with and I feel that my current solution will be good enough.

Within the virtual machine I installed Firefox and chrome browsers as well as the TOR browser. I also configured open VPN to use my VPN provider. I then set up a visual cue i.e. a distinct background of the virtual machine to note that when I am using it I am in a semi-isolated system.

To protect the virtual machine from most exploits I take a snapshot about every month that includes the latest patch level for all the applications in the operating system. I do not ever use the virtual machine prior to that snapshot to do anything other thank update software or make base OS and application configuration changes I want to be persistent. Once a snapshot is taken I will use the virtual machine and then when I’m done I will revert back to that clean snapshot. I might not revert back to the clean snapshot after each use however I try to do it as often as possible. At minimum when I go to update the virtual machine I will revert back to the last known good “clean” snapshot and upgrade that. Then I’ll take another snapshot.

Late last year I implemented this solution using an Ubuntu 14.04 virtual machine. In April I built new ones using Ubuntu 16.04. Because I own a copy of VMware Fusion for personal use and a work copy of Parallels I have both virtual machine flavors of the operating system image. Other than a few minor tweaks with the new image the 16.04 version is mainly an operating system upgrade. I now have a “secured virtual machine” on all the main computers that I use day-to-day.

The solution isn’t perfect however as a first pass at this I feel that it gives me the best trade-off between additional security and ease of use. The VPN gives me some anonymity. TOR And VPN gives me more. The snapshot of the virtual machine decreases the chance that the system can be infected.

Longer term I want to build a dedicated machine for TAILS or Quibs. That solution would only work at home since I need a dedicated computer setup for it.  For now I will settle for the VM solution I have implemented until I am comfortable using it and able to accept the extra effort involved in a dedicated machine configuration.
What’s interesting or disturbing to me is some corporate executives and even government representatives (NSA labels Linux Journal readers and Tor and Tails users as extremists

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