Why use a Virtual Machine?

Well their is good news and bad news about simple Virtual Machines. At it’s simplest, a virtual machine is just a live Linux CD on an old computer without even a hard drive. The one I’m currently using has a motherboard with a fried BIOs and an embedded Trojan but Linux does not rely on the BIOS and Trojans rarely are cross platform.

With a live Linux CD, you don’t need a storage area and with a gig of RAM, you can quickly surf without worrying about porn loaders or malware of any sort. The nice thing is there is no permanent record in hidden index.dat files or in log files written in geek. Shut the machine down and everything you did is gone including all cache files of images, cookies and history. Since possession of weird shit is the major crime and the easiest to prove with the un-erasable hidden files on your hard drive, you avoid that trap. Unbelievably, your hard drive holds a near permanent record of your surfing history and a copy of every image you have ever seen whether on purpose or not.

So on one hand you get some element of protection but on the other hand there is still information being conveyed to anybody that wants to spy on you. First, at the local level we have the FBI’s ability to spy on every private citizen in America. The powers of Carnivore and Echelon to track all of your surfing activity whether wired or wireless are incredible. I wouldn’t bet that a keystroke logger won’t work on a virtual machine. After all, my virtual machine uses an older version of Firefox which accepts an update and installs it in RAM. Not much different than accepting a keystroke logger with “ET call home” capabilities which would report on all of your surfing habits, emails, and instant messages. Since wireless intercepts are up close and personal and Carnovor is nestled at your ISP level, I’m not even sure that a proxy will help to hide your surfing activity because the spying is already done by the time you request reaches a proxy. (a keystroke logger even defeats encrypted URL’s)

This is one of those classic Mexican stand-offs. You will be observed and unless you are actually making kiddie porn or building bombs, I doubt that anybody would really want to explore spy technology at a trial because the Government’s technical capabilities of information gathering is probably being illegally used. It’s far easier to trash your machine, get you to a repair shop, and let you self incriminate as the courts have ruled that you have no expectation of privacy when you take a machine in to get it repaired so any evidence on the machine can be used to set you up. This is the biggest advantage to virtual machines- they dont go to repair shops.

While there is no evidence on your machine that you are engaging in dangerous activity, never assume there is no evidence at all.

I got a little bolder on my virtual machine and found out just how much information can be gathered from a virtual machine which allows cookies. (If you don’t allow cookies, you can’t explore many sites and as soon as you allow them there is information being transfered.)

Please check the comment section for an intelligent bit of information from linuxcrayon.

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4 Responses to “Why use a Virtual Machine?”

  1. linuxcrayon Says:

    You probably should have left Virtual Machine out of there and just called it a Live CD. Although a Live CD is similar to a VM, it’s debatable as to whether it actually is one. According to the Wikipedia definition, they are not because Live CDs still interact directly with the real hardware of the machine.

    Besides that, VMs are MUCH more complex and have far greater advantages (and disadvantages) than Live CDs.

  2. fatsavage Says:

    Thanks for a very intelligent comment. I have let it stand as written with a link to your comment.

  3. fatsavage Says:

    Of course as an afterthought, there is very little hardware left on this particular machine.

  4. linuxcrayon Says:

    Yeah. Live CDs are a great way to build a cost effective PC. Especially for the “Mom” user who only checks her e-mail and browses the web. You can easily just cut the hard drive out of the equation, saving anywhere from $50 – $80. I’ve really wanted to do that, but I just don’t have that kind of money floating around. 😦

    Which, by the way, is one of the reasons I love VMs. 🙂

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