by George Wilson, IBM Linux Technology Center
I was recently reading through the NIST “Draft Guide to Security for Full Virtualization Technologies” (SP 800-125 draft) [http://csrc.nist.gov/publications/drafts/800-125/Draft-SP800-125.pdf]. It discusses various considerations relating to hypervisor security. One section that particularly struck me was the comparison of bare metal vs hosted hypervisors. These are also known as Type I and Type II hypervisors, respectively. The document states that choosing between them is a critical security decision. That started me wondering if it is actually true that Type I hypervisors offer superior security to Type II hypervisors. While a Type I hypervisor may have a small kernel, it relies on and trusts an entire OS instance in the resource-owning partition (Dom0 in Xen parlance) for device access. So while it might at first blush appear that a Type I hypervisor has a much smaller TCB than a Type II, the TCB is really just in a different place. Given imperfect knowledge of the implementations and similar size, complexity, and maturity, it would seem that Type I and Type II hypervisors would in general offer similar security. I can’t find any solid evidence to the contrary. I’d love to hear from someone who can clarify why the Type I vs Type II distinction is in any way a major factor in hypervisor security analysis.