How Bad Is BadUSB with USB Redirection in VMware Horizon with View?

Nov 6, 2014


Based in Palo Alto, Peter Brown is a director of R&D for VMware EUC and leads development for VMware Horizon Cloud Service.

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By Peter Brown, Senior Research & Development Manager, VMware, London, United Kingdom

BadUSB has been getting a lot of press lately. For those of you who have not heard, this is a new security threat in which the firmware on some USB devices can be hijacked and replaced with malware. For example, a device can be made to redirect network traffic, or emulate a keyboard and capture keystrokes, or worse. A number of Web pages are talking about BadUSB, for example When Good USB Devices Go Bad, The Unpatchable Malware That Infects USBs Is Now on the Loose, and the original Blackhat presentation, BadUSB—On accessories that turn evil.

Scary stuff, and unfortunately we have no magic cure. We have all been using USB devices for years, and we all probably have many such devices at home and in the office. So how can an enterprise using VMware Horizon with View for VDI protect itself, or what can it do to minimize the risk? This blog post aims to answer those questions!

Disabling All USB Devices

For the ultimate protection, all USB devices should be disabled. This is quite hard to do on desktop machines, especially if the enterprise has a desktop machine on every user’s desk. However, when using View, this is relatively easy to achieve in one of three ways.

Do Not Install the USB Component on the View Agent

You can configure the desktop guest image (in the data center) so that the View Agent has the USB component “not installed.” This entirely prevents USB devices from being used in that desktop image. Then refresh all your desktop images so that the USB component is removed.

Disable USB Devices for Specific Desktop Pools

If you do not want to change the desktop image, from the View Administrator UI, navigate to Desktop Pools and select a specific pool. Next, select Policies within that pool. Finally, select Desktop Pool Policies and click Edit Policies, and disable USB redirection for a specific pool or pools.


You can also apply user overrides to enable or disable USB redirection on a per user basis in a specific pool. This is also done by way of the same View Administrator window, with the User Overrides choice (next to Desktop Pool Policies in the window).

Use GPOs to Disable All USB Devices on the View Agent

Alternatively, you can apply the ExcludeAllDevices configuration option on the View Agent by way of GPO configuration to prevent any devices from being forwarded.

Disabling Specific USB Devices

Disabling USB devices entirely is certainly the best way to completely avoid the risk of BadUSB. In some cases, however, disabling USB devices entirely might not be feasible because you may need specific USB devices to function for your use cases; an example might be doctors using Dictaphone-type USB devices to record patients’ records. In this case, it is not possible to entirely block USB devices, and so the following strategies should be employed to help mitigate the risk.

Educate Employees About Types of USB Devices to Connect

It is important that you completely trust any device connected to your enterprise, regardless of settings, and that includes trusting your supply chain and ideally having some sort of chain of custody as well. You should educate your employees to ensure that they do not connect devices from unknown sources. If possible, try to restrict the devices used in the environment to devices that accept only signed firmware updates, are ideally FIPS 140-3 Level 3-certified, and do not support any kind of field-updatable firmware. These types of USB devices are definitely hard to source and, depending on your specific device requirements, may be impossible to find. This may not be a practical solution to the problem, but certainly worth considering.

Exclude Some Devices Through the Group Policy Editor

You can allow only specific USB devices to be used. Each USB device has its own vendor and product ID that uniquely identifies it to the computer. Rather than allowing View to forward any USB device into the guest virtual machine, you set an Include policy for known device types. Then you can remove the risk of unknown devices being inserted, which might compromise the system. Of course, there will be ways around this, but you do reduce that risk.

Here is an example of how you can configure View to block all devices from being forwarded to the View virtual desktop, except for a known device vendor and product ID (vid/pid = 0123/abcd in this case):

ExcludeAllDevices   Enabled

IncludeVidPid       o:vid-0123_pid-abcd

Note: We should point out that while this sample configuration provides some protection, a compromised device can report any vid/pid, and so there is still a possible attack vector here.

You set these Global Policy Object (GPO) values in the View Agent Group Policy editor.

Note: By default, View blocks certain device families from being forwarded to the View desktop, for example, HID (human interface devices) and keyboards. So with the default filter policy enabled in View, such keyboard devices would be automatically blocked from appearing in the guest. Some of the released BadUSB code targets USB keyboard devices, and this default in View already protects these devices from the malware.

Specific device families can instead be blocked if required. For example, the following GPO value would block all video, audio, and mass storage devices:

ExcludeDeviceFamily o:video;audio;storage

Another configuration example is to block all devices, but only allow a specific device family (whitelist). For example, block all devices, but enable storage devices. This could be done as follows:

ExcludeAllDevices       Enabled

IncludeDeviceFamily     o:storage

Another risk might be someone from outside your office logging in to a desktop and infecting it. Again, this cannot be seen as a complete mitigation, but you can block USB access completely to any View connections that originate from outside the company firewall. The USB device could be used internally, but not externally.

To do this, block the TCP port 32111 from the View security server to the View desktops. Zero clients are slightly different, as the USB traffic for those is embedded inside a virtual channel on UDP port 4172. Because port 4172 is not used only for USB (it also carries the display protocol), it is not possible to block that port. You can disable USB on zero clients if required. Look at the zero client product literature or contact the zero client vendor for specific details.

Blocking certain device families or specific devices can help to mitigate the risk of BadUSB malware, but not completely solve it.

If you want to know more about USB redirection in View, check out my white paper USB Device Redirection, Configuration, and Usage in VMware Horizon with View.

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