In simple 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, as they are used for various purposes. It includes testing beta software versions, app deployment on cloud, and as a backup solution.
For everyday users, one common query is whether a virus inside a virtual machine can infect its host computer. People generally have this doubt, as they may be trying to use software that may have come from unknown sources or an unverified publisher. Within a virtual machine, it is believed that the virus or other malware can be contained. But is this true? To find the answers, here are some things we need to know.
Tough, but doable
A hacker can script a malware that is especially designed to infiltrate through a virtual machine. However, it will be a tough task. Inherent vulnerabilities present in the virtual machine need to be identified and exploited. Doing this becomes even tougher, as there are several different types of virtual machine products. Theoretically, it is possible for a virus inside virtual machine to infect its host. However, it would be a tough job in practical terms.
How can you reduce risks?
There are several things you can do to prevent a virus / malware inside virtual machine from infecting your computer. Some of these are described below.
- No shared hardware – Ensure that your virtual machine does not share hardware like ports and peripherals with the host machine. Doing so 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 concern, as the virtual machine uses a dedicated RAM allocated to it. It is available only till the virtual machine is running. After the virtual machine is closed, any code on the RAM will get inactivated or erased.
- No shared services – Just like hardware, ensure that there are no shared services such as file share, print share, network connection, etc. Your virtual machine should not have write access to any of the network drives.
- Different VM OS – Choose a virtual machine program that uses a different operating system (OS) than that of the host machine. This will further limit the risk of infection. Viruses and malware are usually designed to target a specific OS. They usually don’t have capabilities to target two types of OS at the same time.
As long as you follow these steps and precautions, you can use your virtual machine for any desired task. The risk of a virus or malware inside the virtual machine infecting your computer will be reduced significantly.