SecureDrop Workstation Architecture

Warning

SecureDrop Workstation is in a limited beta phase, and is not recommended for general use at this time. See our blog post for more information.

SecureDrop Workstation networking architecture

One key security feature of Qubes OS is that it enables users to configure the appropriate level of network access for each VM. For example, you could have a VM for password storage that has no network access, a work VM that is firewalled to only connect to work servers, and a personal VM that always uses Tor.

SecureDrop Workstation tightly controls access to the network, in order to prevent the exfiltration of messages, replies, documents, or encryption keys by adversaries. Specifically, the following VMs have no network access:

  • sd-app, which runs the SecureDrop Client, and holds decrypted messages, replies, and documents.
  • sd-viewer, which is the template for disposable VMs used for opening documents from the SecureDrop Client.
  • sd-gpg, which holds the Submission Private Key required to decrypt messages, replies, and documents.
  • sd-devices, which passes exported documents through to USB devices like printers and encrypted flash drives.

By design, the Qubes OS host domain, dom0, also does not have Internet access.

Note

If you attempt to directly access the network in any of these VMs, it will not work. That is the expected behavior.

Because the SecureDrop Client must connect to the SecureDrop Application Server in order to send or retrieve messages, documents, and replies, it can communicate through Qubes-internal Remote Procedure Calls (RPCs) with another VM, sd-proxy, which can only access the open Internet through the Tor network, using the separate sd-whonix VM.

Like all networked VMs, sd-whonix uses the sys-firewall service to connect to the network, which is provided via sys-net. All four VMs must be running for the SecureDrop Client to successfully connect to the server.

Important

The sd-whonix VM contains a sensitive authentication token required to access the SecureDrop API via Tor, and should not be attached to VMs that are unrelated to SecureDrop.

Qubes OS ships with a Whonix service called sys-whonix. When troubleshooting connection issues specific to SecureDrop, sys-whonix is only relevant during updates of the Whonix VMs (e.g., while the preflight updater is running).