Using the VMware DirectPath I/O feature to pass through a PCI or PCIe device to a virtual machine results in a potential security vulnerability. The vulnerability can be triggered when buggy or malicious code, such as a device driver, running in privileged mode in the guest OS. Industry-standard hardware and firmware do not currently have sufficient error containment support to protect ESXi hosts from the vulnerability.

Use PCI or PCIe passthrough to a virtual machine only if a trusted entity owns and administers the virtual machine. You must be sure that this entity does not to attempt to crash or exploit the host from the virtual machine.

Your host might be compromised in one of the following ways.

  • The guest OS might generate an unrecoverable PCI or PCIe error. Such an error does not corrupt data, but can crash the ESXi host. Such errors might occur because of bugs or incompatibilities in the hardware devices that are being passed through. Other reasons for errors include problems with drivers in the guest OS.

  • The guest OS might generate a Direct Memory Access (DMA) operation that causes an IOMMU page fault on the ESXi host. This operation might be the result of a DMA operation that targets an address outside the virtual machine memory. On some machines, host firmware configures IOMMU faults to report a fatal error through a non-maskable interrupt (NMI). This fatal error causes the ESXi host to crash. This problem might occur because of problems with the drivers in the guest OS.

  • If the operating system on the ESXi host is not using interrupt remapping, the guest OS might inject a spurious interrupt into the ESXi host on any vector. ESXi currently uses interrupt remapping on Intel platforms where it is available. Interrupt mapping is part of the Intel VT-d feature set. ESXi does not use interrupt mapping on AMD platforms. A false interrupt can result in a crash of the ESXi host. Other ways to exploit these false interrupts might exist in theory.