Whonix - How it keeps people anonymous

Whonix logo

Whonix is a Debian-based Linux distribution that offers its users superior privacy assurances. Accordingly, the open-source operating system is hailed by proponents as an all-in-one tool to “anonymize everything you do online.”

A little history

Notably, the anonymous computing platform rebranded from the fledgling TorBOX privacy project in 2012. The name “Whonix” -- i.e. who + nothing -- was adopted to make it more readily apparent that TorBOX was not affiliated with Tor’s maintainers. The impetus for the OS arose out of the interest its founder, Patrick Schleizer, had in using virtual machine technology to route all network traffic through Tor’s anonymous communications software.

How it works

Unlike the Tails operating system which is USB or DVD-based, Whonix is powered by two virtual machines. The first, dubbed the Gateway, is responsible for running Tor and communicating with Tor relays. It performs these tasks with the help of two virtual network interfaces: one that’s externally focused and another that connects internally to the host’s virtual LAN. The second VM, the Workstation, is tasked with running applications. It runs these apps in highly secure fashion, too, since it exclusively communicates with the Gateway.

This dual-VM structure means that apps run on Whonix become blocked from learning anything about a user’s IP address or hardware. This structure can even be applied across two physical computers for better security, wherein one computer runs the Gateway that communicates with the Workstation VM hosted on the other.

Zooming out, the major advantages of this OS are found in its flexibility as a general purpose platform, its advanced customization possibilities, and its ability to be easily updated. Moreover, Whonix is malware-resistant, and one can readily use it in tandem with virtual private networks (VPN) for more advanced privacy assurances. On the flip side, the platform has high system requirements and its setup process can be difficult.