Hacking Tool Lets A VM Break Out And Attack Its Host

June 4, 2009 – 9:57 PM

Researchers for some time have demonstrated the possibility of one of virtualization’s worst nightmares — a guest virtual machine (VM) infiltrating and hacking its host system. Now another commercial tool is offering an exploit that does exactly that.

The newest version of Immunity’s Canvas commercial penetration testing tool, v6.47, includes the so-called Cloudburst attack module, which was developed by Immunity researcher Kostya Kortchinsky to exploit a VMWare vulnerability (CVE-2009-1244) in the VMware Workstation that lets a user or attacker in a “guest” VM break into the actual host operating environment. VMware issued a patch for the bug in April.

“Companies and administrators tend to trust that breaking out of a VM is not possible,” says Nick Selby, director of the enterprise security practice at The 451 Group. “A lot of people consider this to be just another proof-of-concept. They don’t understand that is a commercially available exploit.”

Even though VMware has issued a patch, many enterprises may not necessarily have implemented it, Selby says. “We know that people don’t patch,” he adds.

Immunity’s VM “breakout” exploit follows that of Core Security Technologies’ VMware Shared Folders exploit in its Impact penetration testing tool announced last year. The module “weaponized” a vulnerability discovered by Core that lets an attacker create or alter executable files on the Windows host OS. For the attack to work, VMware’s Shared Folders feature must be enabled and at least one folder on the underlying host system must be configured to share files with the VM.


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