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Disarm BusKill in QubesOS

This post will describe how to setup keyboard shortcuts in QubesOS so that you can temporarily disarm (pause) the BusKill laptop kill cord.

This allows the user to, for example, go to the bathroom without causing their computer to shutdown or self-destruct.

This is a guide that builds on part one: A Laptop Kill Cord for QubesOS (1/2). Before reading this, you should already be familiar with how to setup udev rules for BusKill on QubesOS.

  1. A Laptop Kill Cord for QubesOS (1/2)
  2. Disarm BusKill in QubesOS (2/2)

ⓘ Note: This post is adapted from its original article on Tom Hocker's blog.

What is BusKill?

What if someone literally steals your laptop while you're working with classified information inside a Whonix DispVM? They'd also be able to recover data from previous DispVMs--as Disposable VM's rootfs virtual files are not securely shredded after your DispVM is destroyed.

QubesOS Logo
QubesOS: A reasonably secure OS

Are you a security researcher, journalist, or intelligence operative that works in QubesOS--exploiting Qubes' brilliant security-through-compartimentalization to keep your data safe? Do you make use of Whonix Disposable VMs for your work? Great! This post is for you.

I'm sure your QubesOS laptop has Full Disk Encryption and you're using a strong passphrase. But what if someone literally steals your laptop while you're working with classified information inside a Whonix DispVM? Not only will they get access to all of your AppVM's private data and the currently-running Whonix DispVM's data, but there's a high chance they'd be able to recover data from previous DispVMs--as Disposable VM's rootfs virtual files (volatile.img) are not securely shredded after your DispVM is destroyed by Qubes!

Let's say you're a journalist, activist, whistleblower, or a human rights worker in an oppressive regime. Or an intelligence operative behind enemy lines doing research or preparing a top-secret document behind a locked door. What do you do to protect your data, sources, or assets when the secret police suddenly batter down your door? How quickly can you actually act to shutdown your laptop and shred your RAM and/or FDE encryption keys?


BusKill utilizes a magnetic trip-wire that tethers your body to your laptop. If you suddenly jump to your feet or fall off your chair (in response to the battering ram crashing through your door) or your laptop is ripped off your table by a group of armed thugs, the data bus' magnetic connection will be severed. This event causes a configurable trigger to execute.

The BusKill trigger can be anything from:

  1. locking your screen or
  2. shutting down the computer or
  3. initiating a self-destruct sequence

While our last post described how to setup such a system in QubesOS with BusKill, this post will describe how to add keyboard shortcuts to arm & disarm the dead man switch (eg so you can go to the bathroom).

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BusKill available in-store (Leipzig ProxySto.re)

🇩🇪 Deutsche Version dieses Artikels

We're happy to announce that, for the first time ever, BusKill cables can be purchased in-person in Leipzig, Germany.

[BusKill] Our Dead Man Switch Magnetic USB Breakaway cables are Now Available in-person in Leipzig, Germany at ProxyStore

The BusKill project has partnered with ProxyStore to make BusKill laptop kill cords finally available from a brick-and-mortar location. You can now go to the following location and purchase a BusKill cable with cash or cryptocurrency.

Bernhard-Göring-Straße 162
04277 Leipzig
Germany

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3D Printable BusKill Proof-of-Concept

We're happy to announce that we were successfully able to initiate a BusKill lockscreen trigger using a 3D-printed BusKill prototype!

3D Printable BusKill Proof of Concept (2023.08)

While we do what we can to allow at-risk folks to purchase BusKill cables anonymously, there is always the risk of interdiction.

We don’t consider hologram stickers or tamper-evident tape/crisps/glitter to be sufficient solutions to supply-chain security. Rather, the solution to these attacks is to build open-source, disassembleable, and easily inspectable hardware whose integrity can be validated without damaging the device and without sophisticated technology.

Actually, the best way to confirm the integrity of your hardware is to build it yourself. Fortunately, printing your own circuit boards, microcontroller, or silicon has a steeper learning curve than a BusKill cable -- which is essentially just a USB extension cable with a magnetic breakaway in the middle.

Mitigating interdiction via 3D printing is one of many reasons that Melanie Allen has been diligently working on prototyping a 3D-printable BusKill cable this year. In this article, we hope to showcase her progress and provide you some OpenSCAD and .stl files so you can experiment with building your own and help test and improve our designs.

ⓘ Note: This post is adapted from its original article on Melanie Allen's blog.

Demo

Last month, I successfully triggered a lockscreen event using our 3D-printed BusKill prototype.


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3D Printable BusKill Prototypes

We're happy to announce that we've had good progress on the design of the 3D printable BusKill USB-A magnetic breakaway couplers this year!

3D Printable BusKill (2023.04)

While we do what we can to allow at-risk folks to purchase BusKill cables anonymously, there is always the risk of interdiction.

We don’t consider hologram stickers or tamper-evident tape/crisps/glitter to be sufficient solutions to supply-chain security. Rather, the solution to these attacks is to build open-source, disassembleable, and easily inspectable hardware whose integrity can be validated without damaging the device and without sophisticated technology.

Actually, the best way to confirm the integrity of your hardware is to build it yourself. Fortunately, printing your own circuit boards, microcontroller, or silicon has a steeper learning curve than a BusKill cable -- which is essentially just a USB extension cable with a magnetic breakaway in the middle.

Mitigating interdiction via 3D printing is one of many reasons that Melanie Allen has been diligently working on prototyping a 3D-printable BusKill cable this year. In this article, we hope to showcase her progress and provide you some OpenSCAD and .stl files so you can experiment with building your own and help test and improve our designs.

ⓘ Note: This post is adapted from its original article on Melanie Allen's blog.

Developing the Prototype

Screenshot of a GitHub Issue
The original issue posted in GitHub

Ideation

A few years ago, Michael asked me if I was interested in developing a 3D-printed case for the magnetic breakaway. He enumerated the following design requirements:

  • The case should be as small as possible, because it shouldn’t block neighboring ports, nor sit heavy in the port causing it to bump into objects on the desk.
  • The case should be able to be dissembled, so that people can make sure it isn’t tampered with. It shouldn’t be glued together.
  • In order to avoid using glue, we had a factory specially manufacture some hexagonal shaped magnets that we believed would be able to sit inside the printed part without glue.
  • Much like USB breakaways that are designed to prevent wear and tear on ports, the case would house a pogo pins and magnets, and a USB.
Photo of the design on a napkin
Napkin drawing, when you know its serious

However, over the past years' iterations, we adjusted the requirements:

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