Chapter 15. Securing virtual machines

As an administrator of a RHEL 8 system with virtual machines (VMs), ensuring that your VMs are as secure as possible significantly lowers the risk of your guest and host OSs being infected by malicious software.

This document outlines the mechanics of securing VMs on a RHEL 8 host and provides a list of methods to increase the security of your VMs.

15.1. How security works in virtual machines

When using virtual machines (VMs), multiple operating systems can be housed within a single host machine. These systems are connected with the host through the hypervisor, and usually also through a virtual network. As a consequence, each VM can be used as a vector for attacking the host with malicious software, and the host can be used as a vector for attacking any of the VMs.

Figure 15.1. A potential malware attack vector on a virtualization host

virt sec successful attack

Because the hypervisor uses the host kernel to manage VMs, services running on the VM’s operating system are frequently used for injecting malicious code into the host system. However, you can protect your system against such security threats by using a number of security features on your host and your guest systems.

These features, such as SELinux or QEMU sandboxing, provide various measures that make it more difficult for malicious code to attack the hypervisor and transfer between your host and your VMs.

Figure 15.2. Prevented malware attacks on a virtualization host

virt sec prevented attack

Many of the features that RHEL 8 provides for VM security are always active and do not have to be enabled or configured. For details, see Section 15.4, “Automatic features for virtual machine security”.

In addition, you can adhere to a variety of best practices to minimize the vulnerability of your VMs and your hypervisor. For more information, see Section 15.2, “Best practices for securing virtual machines”.

15.2. Best practices for securing virtual machines

Following the instructions below significantly decreases the risk of your virtual machines being infected with malicious code and used as attack vectors to infect your host system.

On the guest side:

  • Secure the virtual machine as if it was a physical machine. The specific methods available to enhance security depend on the guest OS.

    If your VM is running RHEL 8, see Configuring and managing security in RHEL 8 for detailed instructions on improving the security of your guest system.

On the host side:

  • When managing VMs remotely, use cryptographic utilities such as SSH and network protocols such as SSL for connecting to the VMs.
  • Ensure SELinux is in Enforcing mode:

    # getenforce

    If SELinux is disabled or in Permissive mode, see the Using SELinux document for instructions on activating Enforcing mode.


    SELinux Enforcing mode also enables the sVirt RHEL 8 feature. This is a set of specialized SELinux booleans for virtualization, which can be manually adjusted for fine-grained VM security management.

  • Use VMs with SecureBoot:

    SecureBoot is a feature that ensures that your VM is running a cryptographically signed OS. This prevents VMs whose OS has been altered by a malware attack from booting.

    SecureBoot can only be applied when installing a Linux VM that uses OVMF firmware. For instructions, see Section 15.3, “Creating a SecureBoot virtual machine”.

  • Do not use qemu-* commands, such as qemu-img.

    QEMU is an essential component of the virtualization architecture in RHEL 8, but it is difficult to manage manually, and improper QEMU configurations may cause security vulnerabilities. Therefore, using qemu-* commands is not supported by Red Hat. Instead, it is highly recommended to interact with QEMU using libvirt utilities, such as virsh, virt-install, and virt-xml, as these orchestrate QEMU according to the best practices.

Additional resources

15.3. Creating a SecureBoot virtual machine

The following provides instructions on creating a Linux virtual machine (VM) that uses the SecureBoot feature, which ensures that your VM is running a cryptographically signed OS. If the guest OS of a VM has been altered by malware, SecureBoot prevents the VM from booting, which stops the potential spread of the malware to your host machine.


  • The VM is using the Q35 machine type.
  • The edk2-OVMF packages installed:

    # yum install edk2-ovmf
  • An operating system (OS) installation source, which can be one of the following, and be available locally or on a network:

    • A physical installation medium, such as a DVD
    • An ISO image of an installation medium
    • A disk image of an existing VM installation
  • Optionally, a Kickstart file can also be provided for faster and easier configuration of the installation.


  1. Use the virt-install command to create a VM as detailed in Section 2.2.1, “Creating virtual machines using the command-line interface”. For the --boot option, use the uefi,nvram_template=/usr/share/OVMF/OVMF_VARS.secboot.fd value. This uses the OVMF_VARS.secboot.fd and OVMF_CODE.secboot.fd files as templates for the VM’s non-volatile RAM (NVRAM) settings, which enables the SecureBoot feature.

    For example:

    # virt-install --name rhel8sb --memory 4096 --vcpus 4 --os-variant rhel8.0 --boot uefi,nvram_template=/usr/share/OVMF/OVMF_VARS.secboot.fd --disk boot_order=2,size=10 --disk boot_order=1,device=cdrom,bus=scsi,path=/images/RHEL-8.0-installation.iso
  2. Follow the OS installation procedure according to the instructions on the screen.
  3. After the guest OS is installed, access the VM’s command line by opening the terminal in the graphical guest console or connecting to the guest OS using SSH.
  4. Verify that SecureBoot is enabled by using the mokutil --sb-state command:

    # mokutil --sb-state
    SecureBoot enabled

15.4. Automatic features for virtual machine security

In addition to manual means of improving the security of your virtual machines listed in Section 15.2, “Best practices for securing virtual machines”, a number of security features are provided by the libvirt software suite and are automatically enabled when using virtualization in RHEL 8. These include:

System and user sessions

To access all the available utilities for virtual machine management in RHEL 8, you need to use the system session of libvirt. To do so, you must have root privileges on the system or be a part of the libvirt user group.

Non-root users that are not in the libvirt group can only access a user session of libvirt, which has to respect the access rights of the local user when accessing resources. For example, in the user session, you cannot detect or access VMs created in the system session or by other users. Also, available VM networking configuration options are significantly limited.


The RHEL 8 documentation assumes you have libvirt system session privileges.

Virtual machine separation
Individual VMs run as isolated processes on the host, and rely on security enforced by the host kernel. Therefore, a VM cannot read or access the memory or storage of other VMs on the same host.
QEMU sandboxing
A feature that prevents QEMU code from executing system calls that can compromise the security of the host.
Kernel Address Space Randomization (KASLR)
Enables randomizing the physical and virtual addresses at which the kernel image is decompressed. Thus, KASLR prevents guest security exploits based on the location of kernel objects.

15.5. Virtualization booleans

For fine-grained configuration of virtual machines security on a RHEL 8 system, you can configure SELinux booleans on the host to ensure the hypervisor acts in a specific way.

To list all virtualization-related booleans and their statuses, use the getsebool -a | grep virt command:

$ getsebool -a | grep virt
virt_sandbox_use_netlink --> off
virt_sandbox_use_sys_admin --> off
virt_transition_userdomain --> off
virt_use_comm --> off
virt_use_execmem --> off
virt_use_fusefs --> off

To enable a specific boolean, use the setsebool -P boolean_name on command as root. To disable a boolean, use setsebool -P boolean_name off.

The following table lists virtualization-related booleans available in RHEL 8 and what they do when enabled:

Table 15.1. SELinux virtualization booleans

SELinux BooleanDescription


Enables non-root users to create and transition VMs to sVirt.


Enables unprivileged users to create and transition VMs to sVirt.


Enables sandbox containers to send audit messages.


Enables sandbox containers to use netlink system calls.


Enables sandbox containers to use sys_admin system calls, such as mount.


Enables virtual processes to run as user domains.


Enables virt to use serial/parallel communication ports.


Enables confined virtual guests to use executable memory and executable stack.


Enables virt to read FUSE mounted files.


Enables virt to manage NFS mounted files.


Enables virt to interact with rawip sockets.


Enables virt to manage CIFS mounted files.


Enables confined virtual guests to interact with the sanlock.


Enables virt to use USB devices.


Enables virtual machine to interact with the X Window System.