Qubes goes commercial to keep its secure VM-focused OS dream alive

Financial necessity is forcing the security research group behind Qubes OS to begin establishing commercial funding to support its continued development.

Warsaw-based Invisible Things Labs was founded in 2007 by low-level security researcher Joanna Rutkowska, who spoke at the Chaos Communications Congress last year about the assumption of trust with Intel x86 processors.

In 2010, Rutkowska and her colleague Rafal Wojtczuk began working on Qubes OS; a security-focused desktop operating system which aimed to “to change the game of endpoint security” by separating domains using the Xen “bare metal” hypervisor – so called because they each run on the “bare metal” of the machine, rather than inside a parent operating system.

Qubes 1.0 was released back in 2012. The current stable build, version 3.2, came out on 29 September this year, supporting various GNU/Linux-based templates available for users to spin-off virtual machines, and shipped with Debian, Fedora and Whonix.

Today, however, the team developing Qubes announced that it would begin focusing on commercialising the OS because of financial limitations.

In order to continue to deliver on its promise of strong desktop security, Qubes must retain and expand its core team, and this requires substantial funding. At this point, we believe the only realistic way to achieve this is through commercialization, supplemented by community funding.

The commercial editions of Qubes OS that Invisible Things Labs aims to offer will be customised for specific corporate requirements.

For example, two features that might be particularly attractive to corporate customers are (1) “locking down” dom0 in order to separate the user and administrator roles and (2) integrating our local management stack with a corporation’s remote management infrastructure.

Both of these features could currently be implemented on Qubes 3.2 by the project’s developers, the team said, adding: “Let there be no misunderstanding: Qubes OS will always remain open source.”

We anticipate that the majority of our commercialization efforts will involve the creation of custom Salt configurations, and perhaps writing a few additional apps and integration code. In the event that any corporate features require reworking the core Qubes code, that new code will remain open source.

“Unfortunately, the financial necessity of shifting our priorities to commercial clients will mean that we have less time to work on features that benefit the wider, security-minded open source community, which has been our focus for the past seven years,” wrote the development team, explaining that Invisible Things Labs couldn’t afford to sustain the open source development of Qubes.

However, in an attempt to keep the open source development alive, the company has partnered with Open Collective, which will see to it that “individual developers who have been hired to work on the open source edition of Qubes” will be paid directly themselves.