Qvm-Create-Windows-Qube – Spin Up New Windows Qubes Quickly, Effortlessly And Securely

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qvm-create-windows-qube is a tool for quickly and conveniently installing fresh new Windows qubes with Qubes Windows Tools (QWT) drivers automatically. It officially supports Windows 7, 8.1 and 10 as well as Windows Server 2008 R2, 2012 R2, 2016 and 2019.

The project emphasizes correctness, security and treating Windows as an untrusted guest operating system throughout the entire process. It also features other goodies such as automatic installation of packages including Firefox, Office 365, Notepad++, Visual Studio and more using Chocolatey.

Installation

  1. Download the installation script by opening the link, right-clicking and then selecting “Save [Page] as…”
  2. Copy install.sh into Dom0 by running the following command in Dom0:
    • qvm-run -p --filter-escape-chars --no-color-output <qube_script_is_located_on> "cat '/home/user/Downloads/install.sh'" > install.sh
  3. Review the code of install.sh to ensure its integrity
    • Safer with escape character filtering enabled above; qvm-run disables it by default when output is a file
  4. Run chmod +x install.sh && ./install.sh
    • Note that this will install packages in the global default TemplateVM, which is fedora-XX by default
  5. Review the code of the resulting qvm-create-windows-qube.sh

A more streamlined and secure installation process with packaging will be shipping with Qubes R4.1.

Usage

Number of Windows qubes with given basename desired -t, –template Make this qube a TemplateVM instead of a StandaloneVM -n, –netvm <qube> NetVM for Windows to use -s, –seamless Enable seamless mode persistently across reboots -o, –optimize Optimize Windows by disabling unnecessary functionality for a qube -y, –spyless Configure Windows telemetry settings to respect privacy -w, –whonix Apply Whonix recommended settings for a Windows-Whonix-Workstation -p, –packages <packages> Comma-separated list of packages to pre-install (see available packages at: https://chocolatey.org/packages) -i, –iso <file> Windows media to automatically install and setup -a, –answer-file <xml file> Settings for Windows installation “>

Usage: ./qvm-create-windows-qube.sh [options] -i <iso> -a <answer file> <name>
-h, --help
-c, --count <number> Number of Windows qubes with given basename desired
-t, --template Make this qube a TemplateVM instead of a StandaloneVM
-n, --netvm <qube> NetVM for Windows to use
-s, --seamless Enable seamless mode persistently across reboots
-o, --optimize Optimize Windows by disabling unnecessary functionality for a qube
-y, --spyless Configure Windows telemetry settings to respect privacy
-w, --whonix Apply Whonix recommended settings for a Windows-Whonix-Workstation
-p, --packages <packages> Comma-separated list of packages to pre-install (see available packages at: https://chocolatey.org/packages)
-i, --iso <file> Windows media to automatically install and setup
-a, --answer-file <xml file> Settings for Windows installation

Downloading Windows ISO

The windows-media/isos/download-windows.sh script (in windows-mgmt) securely downloads the official Windows ISO to be used by qvm-create-windows-qube.

Creating Windows VM

Windows 10

./qvm-create-windows-qube.sh -n sys-firewall -oyp firefox,notepadplusplus,office365proplus -i win10x64.iso -a win10x64-pro.xml work-win10

./qvm-create-windows-qube.sh -n sys-firewall -oyp steam -i win10x64.iso -a win10x64-pro.xml game-console

Windows Server 2019

./qvm-create-windows-qube.sh -n sys-firewall -oy -i win2019-eval.iso -a win2019-datacenter-eval.xml fs-win2019

Windows 10 LTSC

  • A more stable, minified, secure and private version of Windows 10 officially provided by Microsoft

./qvm-create-windows-qube.sh -n sys-firewall -oyp firefox,notepadplusplus,office365proplus -i win10x64-ltsc-eval.iso -a win10x64-ltsc-eval.xml work-win10

./qvm-create-windows-qube.sh -n sys-whonix -oyw -i win10x64-ltsc-eval.iso -a win10x64-ltsc-eval.xml anon-win10

Windows 7

  • Not recommended because Windows 7 is no longer supported by Microsoft, however, it’s the only desktop OS the Qubes GUI driver (in Qubes Windows Tools) supports if seamless window integration or dynamic resizing is required
  • See the Security > Windows > Advisories section below for more info

./qvm-create-windows-qube.sh -n sys-firewall -soyp firefox,notepadplusplus,office365proplus -i win7x64-ultimate.iso -a win7x64-ultimate.xml work-win7

Security

qvm-create-windows-qube is “reasonably secure” as Qubes would have it.

  • windows-mgmt is air gapped
  • The entirety of the Windows qube setup process happens is done air gapped
    • There is an exception for installing packages at the very end of the Windows qube installation
  • Entire class of command injection vulnerabilities eliminated in the Dom0 shell script by not letting it parse any output from the untrusted windows-mgmt qube
    • Only exit codes are passed by qvm-run; no variables
    • This also mitigates the fallout of another Shellshock Bash vulnerability
  • Downloading of the Windows ISOs is made secure by enforcing:
    • ISOs are downloaded straight from Microsoft controlled subdomains of microsoft.com
    • HTTPS TLS 1.2/1.3
    • HTTP public key pinning (HPKP) to whitelist the website’s certificate instead of relying on certificate authorities (CAs)
      • Qubes aims to “distrust the infrastructure”
      • Remember, transport security = encryption * authentication (This allows for the utmost authentication)
    • SHA-256 verification of the files after download
  • Windows is treated as an untrusted guest operating system the entire way through
  • All commits by the maintainers are always signed with their respective PGP keys
    • Should signing ever cease, assume compromise
    • Current maintainer 1: Elliot Killick
      • PGP key: 018F B9DE 6DFA 13FB 18FB 5552 F9B9 0D44 F83D D5F2
    • Current maintainer 2: Frédéric Pierret (No Keybase account)
      • PGP key: 9FA6 4B92 F95E 706B F28E 2CA6 4840 10B5 CDC5 76E2
      • Mostly concerned with Qubes R4.1 support
        • See the release4.1 branch and qubes-mgmt-salt-windows-mgmt
  • The impact of any theoretical vulnerabilities in handling of the Windows ISO (e.g. vulnerability in filesystem parsing) or answer file is limited to windows-mgmt

Windows

Maintenance

Don’t forget to apply any applicable updates upon creation of your Windows qube. Microsoft frequently builds up-to-date ISOs for current versions of Windows, such as Windows 10. For these Windows versions, it’s recommended to periodically visit the official Microsoft site download-windows.sh provides to get a fresh Windows image out of the box.

Advisories

Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 reached end of life (EOL) on January 14, 2020. Updates for these OSs are still available with Extended Security Updates (ESUs) if paid for. Office 365 for these OSs will continue getting security updates at no additional cost until January 2023.

If RDP is to be enabled on a Windows 7 qube (not default) then make sure it is fully up-to-date because the latest Windows 7 ISO Microsoft offers is unfortunately still vulnerable to BlueKeep and related DejaBlue vulnerabilities.

A critical vulnerability in Windows 10 and Windows Server 2016/2019 cryptography was recently disclosed. This allows any and all cryptography in these OSs (including HTTPS; the little padlock in your browser) to be easily intercepted. When Microsoft releases an updated ISO, the direct links in download-windows.sh will be updated but until then please update your qubes if they run the aforementioned OSs.

Privacy

qvm-create-windows-qube aims to be the most private way to use Windows. Many Qubes users switched from Windows (or another proprietary OS) in part to get away from Microsoft (or Big Tech in general) and so being able to use Windows from a safe distance is of utmost importance to this project. Or at least, as safe a distance as possible for what is a huge, proprietary binary blob.

Windows Telemetry

Configures Windows telemetry settings to respect privacy.

  • Opt-out of Customer Experience Improvement Program (CEIP)
  • Disable Windows Error Reporting (WER)
  • Disable DiagTrack service
  • Switch off all telemetry in Windows 10 “Settings” application
  • Enable “Security” level of telemetry on compatible editions of Windows 10
  • See spyless.bat for more info

Whonix Recommendations for Windows-Whonix-Workstation

Everything mentioned here up to “Even more security” is implemented. “Most security” is to use an official Whonix-Workstation built yourself from source. This feature is not official or endorsed by Whonix.

It’s recommended to read this Whonix documentation to understand the implications of using Windows in this way.

Easy to Reset Fingerprint

There are countless unique identifiers present in every Windows installation such as the MachineGUID, installation ID, NTFS drive Volume Serial Numbers (VSNs) and more. With qvm-create-windows-qube, these unique identifiers can easily be reset by automatically reinstalling Windows.

Limitations

Fingerprinting is possible through the hypervisor in the event of VM compromise, here are some practical examples (not specific to Windows):

  • Xen clocksource as wallclock
    • Timezone leak can at least be mitigated by configuring UTC time in the BIOS/UEFI, the local timezone can still be configured for XFCE Dom0 clock
    • However, correlation between other VMs remains trivial
  • CPUID
  • Generally some of the VM interfaces documented here (e.g. screen dimensions)

Contributing

You can start by giving this project a star! High quality PRs are also welcome! Take a look at the todo list below if you’re looking for things that need improvement. Other improvements such as more elegant ways of completing a task, code cleanup and other fixes are also welcome.

Lots of Windows-related GSoCs for those interested.

The logo of this project is by Max Andersen, used with written permission.

This project is the product of an independent effort that is not officially endorsed by Qubes OS.

Qubes Windows Tools Known Issues

Please send patches for these if you are able to. Although, be aware that Qubes Windows Tools is currently unmaintained.

All OSs

  • No Windows display when Qubes GUI driver is not installed
    • Any OS other than Windows 7/Windows Server 2008 R2 does not support Qubes GUI driver
    • Temporary fix: Run qvm-features <windows_qube> gui 1 to make the display show up after Windows qube creation is complete

All OSs except Windows 7/Windows Server 2008 R2

  • Prompt to install earlier version of .NET
    • This only appears to be a cosmetic issue because qrexec services still work
    • Has been merged but QWT needs to be rebuilt to include it and there’s currently no maintainer

Windows 10/Windows Server 2019

  • Private disk creation fails
    • Temporary fix: Close prepare-volume.exe window causing there to be no private disk (can’t make a TemplateVM) but besides that Windows qube creation will continue as normal
    • Has been merged but QWT needs to be rebuilt to include it and there’s currently no maintainer

Mailing list threads

  • qubes-users
  • qubes-devel

Windows tagged Qubes OS GitHub issues

  • C: windows-tools
  • C: windows-vm

Todo

  • Gain the ability to reliably unpack/insert answer file/repack for any given ISO 9660 (Windows ISO format)
    • ISO 9660 is write-once (i.e. read-only) filesystem; you cannot just add a file to it without creating a whole new ISO
    • Blocking issue for supporting other versions of Windows
    • This is the same way VMWare does it as can be seen by the “Creating Disk…” part in the video below (Further research indicates that they use mkisofs)
    • In the future, it would be best for Qubes to do this by extending core admin for libvirt XML templates
      • Much faster
      • Saves storage due to not having to create a new ISO
  • auto-qwt takes D: making QWT put the user profile on E:; it would be nicer to have it on D: so there is no awkward gap in the middle
  • Make Windows answer file automatically use default trial key for Windows installation without hard-coding any product keys anywhere (Windows is finicky on this one)
  • Support Windows 8.1-10 (Note: QWT doesn’t fully officially any OS other than Windows 7 yet, however, everything is functional except the GUI driver)
  • Support Windows Server 2008 R2 to Windows Server 2019
  • Support Windows 10 Enterprise LTSC (Long Term Support Channel)
    • Provides security updates for 10 years, very stable and less bloat than stock Windows 10
  • Provision Chocolatey
  • Add an option to slim down Windows as documented for Qubes here
  • Make windows-mgmt air gapped
  • I recently discovered this is a Qubes Google Summer of Code project
    • Add automated tests
      • Using Travis CI for automated ShellCheck
    • ACPI tables for fetching Windows the license embedded there
      • Found more info on this, should be very simple by just placing the following jinja libvirt template extension in /etc/qubes/templates/libvirt/xen/by-name/<windows_qube>
        • Thanks to @jevank for the patch
    • Port to Python
      • This seems like it would be unnecessary for scripts like create-media.sh where the Python script would essentially just be calling out to external programs
      • This would certainly be suitable for qvm-create-windows-qube.sh though
        • This would allow us to interchange data between Dom0 and the VM without worrying about another Shellshock
  • Automatically select which answer file to use based on Windows ISO characteristics gathered from the wiminfo command (Currently a WIP; see branch)
    • wiminfo works just like DISM on Windows
    • Once core admin is extended to allow for libvirt XML templates (answer files) becomes possible (previous todo), we can also securely read the answer file from the ISO without even having to mount it as a loop device using libguestfs
      • I’ve also seen libguestfs used on QEMU/KVM so it’s definitely a good candidate for this use case
      • Note that libguestfs cannot write (an answer file) to an ISO which is why we cannot use this library until we no longer need to create a whole new ISO to add the answer file to it
  • Follow this Whonix documentation to make Windows-Whonix-Workstation
  • Add functionality for create-media.sh to add MSUs (Microsoft Update standalone packages) to be installed during the Windows PE pass (“Installing updates…”) of Windows setup
    • We could fix currently not working QWT installation for old Windows 7 SP1 and Windows Server 2008 R2 ISOs using KB4474419 to add SHA-256 support
    • Allows us to get rid of allow-drivers.vbs hack by fixing SHA-256 automatic driver installation bug
      • The other option is to have Xen sign their drivers with SHA-1 as well, which other driver vendors seem to do, but is not ideal from a security standpoint
    • Patch a couple Windows security bugs?
      • Patch BlueKeep for Windows 7 out-of-the-box
      • Windows Server 2008 R2 base ISO is also vulnerable to ETERNALBLUE and BlueKeep out-of-the-box
      • Probably not worth getting into that, users should just update the VM upon making it
  • Headless mode
    • Help wanted
      • What mechanism is there to accomplish this in Qubes? Something in Qubes GUI agent/daemon?
  • Package this project so its delivery can be made more streamlined and secure through qubes-dom0-update
    • Coming to Qubes R4.1
  • Consider adding ReactOS support as an open source alternative to Windows
    • This would be a good at least until a ReactOS template is made
    • Perhaps ReactOS developers may want to use this to develop ReactOS
    • Or maybe just add ReactOS as a template (outside of this project)
      • However, someone would have to maintain this template
      • Also, there may not be much point if QWT/Xen PV drivers don’t work
        • At least for basic features like copy/paste and file transfer
    • Interest from both sides
      • Qubes OS
      • ReactOS
        • “one of the most interesting offers for collaboration we got till today”
    • ReactOS unattended installations look to be different than Windows ones
    • Only blocking issue I could find is the QEMU SCSI controller type
      • Qubes could extend core admin to support configuring the SCSI controller in the libvirt template
        • This solution seems better because according to this comment it would also fix a bunch of other OSs whose installer doesn’t support our current SCSI controller
      • ReactOS could add support for our current SCSI controller type
      • ReactOS Issue
      • Qubes OS Issue
      • Exposing a different SCSI controller does not expand attack surface because QEMU runs in a Xen stub domain
    • ReactOS is in alpha so for most users this probably won’t be viable right now
    • Help wanted
      • No timeline for this currently

End Goal

Have a feature similar (or superior) to VMWare’s Windows “Easy Install” feature on Qubes. VMWare’s solution is proprietary and only available in their paid products.

VirtualBox also has something similar but it’s not as feature-rich.

Download Qvm-Create-Windows-Qube

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