Virtualization Security Curriculum

Virtualization technology, which is an abstraction of computer resource that we can access, is a key technology of cloud computing. As the virtualization technology is becoming widely used, virtualization security problems will gain more and more attention.

This course introduces basic knowledge on Xen virtualization and Intel hardware virtualization technologies. In the meantime, two kinds of security vulnerabilities and threats in the Xen hypervisor technology are inlcuded.The first one is about the vulnerabilities and threats in a Xen-based cloud computing environment while the second one is about those in the Xen-based virtualized platform itself. What's more, something about XSM(Xen Security Modules) architecture and sample security policies enforced in Xen hypervisor, as well as the Intel VT-d IOMMU support technology, are also introduced. At the same time, some mitigation technologies, including secure VM(virtual machine) migration mechanism, VM safety monitoring technology, covert channel analysis technology between VMs, and virtual trusted platform technology are explained with case study.

We are integrating following teaching contents into our undergraduate course 1A007 "Principles of Operating System" and our graduate course 0BI04 “Operating System and Virtualization Security”.

Xen virtualization and Intel hardware virtualization technology
  • For Xen virtualization, we focus on Xen architecture design and basic virtualization mechanisms, including CPU virtualization, memory virtualization, I/O device virtualization.
  • For Intel hardware virtualization technology, we focus on the design and basic functions of Intel-VT architectures, including Intel VT-x, VT-d and VT-c.

  •  Security Vulnerabilities in Xen Hypervisor
  • For the vulnerabilities and threats in the Xen-based cloud environment, we analyze the features of VM migration, VM identification, VM transient existence and VM diversity in the cloud, and explain the vulnerabilities and threats based on these features of VMs in the cloud.
  • For the vulnerabilities and threats in the Xen-based virtualized platform itself. We analyze the architecture of the virtualized platform, including the VM layer, VMM(virtual machine monitor) layer, and the hardware layer, and explain the vulnerabilities and threats in each layer in the virtualized platform.

  •  Vulnerabilities Mitigation Technologies
  • For XSM framework and security policies, we tell students how to understand and apply XSM for mitigating above vulnerabilities in virtual platforms.
  • For Intel IOMMU technology, we focus on the two functions of IOMMU, DMA remapping and Interrupt remapping, and explain the I/O access security with IOMMU by comparing with MMU in virtual platforms.
  • For secure VM migration mechanism, VM safety monitoring technology, and covert channel analysis technology between VMs, we cover some security migration protocols, VMSafe & XenAccess, and several covert channel instances founded in Xen hypervisor.
  • For virtual trusted platform technology, we introduce the trust computing technology, and explain the virtual trusted platform architecture, TCG VPWG working group, and key technologies of the virtual trusted platform.

  •  Practice modules
  • Installation and operation of Xen platform and its ACM(Access Control Module) based on XSM
  • Related resources: Xen source code, Compiling Xen From Source, Xen Beginners Guide
    Ubuntu, Fedora, OpenSUSE
    ACM Demonstration(Video)
  • Programming implementation and show of a typical covert storage channel scenario
  • Related resources: Installation Guide of GuestOS and covert channel configuration based on Xen(PDF)
    Xen covert channel code(Download)
    Xen covert channel Demonstration(Video)


    Here are all the related course slides. In addition, we provide some reading lists for you.

    Course Downloads

    Introduction to Virtualization (slides
    Hardware virtualization technology and its security (slides)
    Security technology of system virtualization platform (slides)
    Virtual Trusted Platform Technology (slides)

    Reading Lists

    1. Paul Barham, Boris Dragovic, Keir Fraser, Steven Hand, Tim Harris, Alex Ho, Rolf Neugebauer, Ian Pratt, Andrew Warfield. (2003). "Xen and the art of virtualization." ACM SIGOPS Operating Systems Review 37(5): 164-177.
    2. Hiremane, R. (2007). "Intel virtualization technology for directed I/O (Intel VT-d)." Technology@ Intel Magazine 4(10).
    3. G Neiger, A Santoni, F Leung, D Rodgers, R Uhlig. (2006). "Intel virtualization technology: Hardware support for efficient processor virtualization." Intel Technology Journal 10(3): 167-177.
    4. Coker, G. (2006). "Xen security modules (xsm)." Xen Summit: 1-33.
    5. Cherkasova, L. and R. Gardner (2005). Measuring CPU Overhead for I/O Processing in the Xen Virtual Machine Monitor. USENIX Annual Technical Conference, General Track.
    6.Uhlig Rich, Neiger Gil, Rodgers Dion, Santoni Amy L, Martins Fernando CM, Anderson Andrew V, Bennett Steven M, Kagi Alain, Leung Felix H, Smith Larry (2005). "Intel virtualization technology." Computer 38(5): 48-56.
    7. Timothy Wood, Prashant Shenoy, Arun Venkataramani, and Mazin Yousif. (2007). Black-box and gray-box strategies for virtual machine migration. Proceedings of the 4th USENIX conference on Networked systems design & implementation.
    8. D Challener, K Yoder, R Catherman, D Safford. (2007). A practical guide to trusted computing, IBM press.
    9. Trusted Computing Group TPM Working Group. TPM Main Part 1 Design Principles. Specification, Specification version 1.2 Level 2 Revision 103 (July 9, 2007),
    10. R Perez, R Sailer, L van Doorn. (2006). vTPM: virtualizing the trusted platform module. Proc. 15th Conf. on USENIX Security Symposium.
    11. Salaün, M. (2010). "Practical overview of a Xen covert channel." Journal in computer virology 6(4): 317-328.
    12. Jianjun Shen, Sihan Qing, Qingni Shen, Liping Li. (2005). Optimization of covert channel identification. Security in Storage Workshop, 2005. SISW'05. Third IEEE International, IEEE.
    13. Yangwei Li, Qingni Shen, Cong Zhang, Pengfei Sun, Ying Chen, Sihan Qing. (2012). A Covert Channel Using Core Alternation. Advanced Information Networking and Applications Workshops (WAINA), 2012 26th International Conference on, IEEE.
    14. 石磊,邹德清,金海,Xen虚拟化技术,湖北:华中科技大学出版社,2009
    15. 卿斯汉,沈晴霓,刘文清等,操作系统安全,第2版,北京:清华大学出版社,2011.6
    16. 沈晴霓,卿斯汉等,操作系统安全设计,北京:机械工业出版社,To be published in 2013.8


    Project Members


    Project Leader: Dr. Qingni Shen, Associate Professor, School of Software and Microelectronics, Peking University. Researcher, MoE Key Lab of Network and Software Assurance, Peking University




    We appreciate the support from Peking University and Intel Corporation.