Can a virus inside a virtual machine infect its host?

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In plain language, a virtual machine (VM) is the digital version of a physical computing device such as a laptop, server, or smartphone. All the physical aspects of a virtual machine such as its storage, memory, etc. exist only in code. Virtual machines play an important role because they are used for various purposes. It includes testing beta software releases, deploying applications in the cloud and as a backup solution.

For everyday users, a common query is whether a virus inside a virtual machine can infect its host computer. People usually have this doubt, because maybe they are trying to use software which may be from unknown sources or from an unverified publisher. Within a virtual machine, it is believed that virus or other malware may be contained. But is it true? To find the answers, here are some things we need to know.

Hard, but doable

An attacker can script specially crafted malware to infiltrate through a virtual machine. However, it will be a difficult task. The inherent vulnerabilities present in the virtual machine must be identified and exploited. It becomes even more difficult, as there are several different types of virtual machine products. Theoretically, it is possible that a virus inside a virtual machine infects its host. However, that would be hard work in practical terms.

How to reduce the risks?

There are several things you can do to prevent a virus / malware inside a virtual machine from infecting your computer. Some of them are described below.

  • No shared material – Make sure your virtual machine is not sharing hardware like ports and devices with the host machine. This will establish a communication link between the virtual machine and the host computer. Such vulnerabilities can be exploited by malicious code. RAM is not a problem, as the virtual machine uses dedicated RAM allocated to it. It is only available until the virtual machine is running. Once the virtual machine is closed, any code in RAM will be disabled or cleared.
  • No shared services – Just like the hardware, make sure there are no shared services like file sharing, print sharing, network connection etc. Your virtual machine should not have write access to any of the network drives.
  • Different VM operating system – Choose a virtual machine program that uses an operating system (OS) different from that of the host machine. This will further limit the risk of infection. Viruses and malware are generally designed to target a specific operating system. They usually don’t have the ability to target two types of operating system at the same time.

As long as you follow these steps and precautions, you can use your virtual machine for any task you want. The risk of a virus or malware inside the virtual machine infecting your computer will be greatly reduced.


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