Virtualization: Issues, security threats, and solutions

Michael Pearce, Sherali Zeadally, Ray Hunt

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

150 Scopus citations


Although system virtualization is not a new paradigm, the way in which it is used in modern system architectures provides a powerful platform for system building, the advantages of which have only been realized in recent years, as a result of the rapid deployment of commodity hardware and software systems. In principle, virtualization involves the use of an encapsulating software layer (Hypervisor or Virtual Machine Monitor) which surrounds or underlies an operating system and provides the same inputs, outputs, and behavior that would be expected from an actual physical device. This abstraction means that an ideal Virtual Machine Monitor provides an environment to the software equivalent to the host system, but which is decoupled from the hardware state. Because a virtual machine is not dependent on the state of the physical hardware, multiple virtual machines may be installed on a single set of hardware. The decoupling of physical and logical states gives virtualization inherent security benefits. However, the design, implementation, and deployment of virtualization technology have also opened up novel threats and security issues which, while not particular to system virtualization, take on new forms in relation to it. Reverse engineering becomes easier due to introspection capabilities, as encryption keys, security algorithms, low-level protection, intrusion detection, or antidebugging measures can become more easily compromised. Furthermore, associated technologies such as virtual routing and networking can create challenging issues for security, intrusion control, and associated forensic processes. We explain the security considerations and some associated methodologies by which security breaches can occur, and offer recommendations for how virtualized environments can best be protected. Finally, we offer a set of generalized recommendations that can be applied to achieve secure virtualized implementations.

Original languageEnglish
Article number17
JournalACM Computing Surveys
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2013


  • Encryption
  • threat
  • virtual machine
  • virtual machine monitor
  • virtualization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Theoretical Computer Science
  • General Computer Science


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