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I have an old laptop which is running Ubuntu 20.04 and I am planning to use a virtual machine of Windows 7 Pro (using VirtualBox maybe). As its an old laptop and not my primary source of using the internet, I plan to keep airplane mode on (if this even helps security-wise).

I saw on another thread about using a storage device to transfer anti-virus installers from my main laptop to the old laptop and to keep the "link folder" (whatever its called) closed at much as possible, for lack of a better phrase. Would I need an anti-virus for both Ubuntu and Windows 7?

Here is what I want to do: I have an external DVD drive and will be using it to play old games on the VM, which means I need to transfer data between the host and VM. I would like to know what I can could do to protect the laptop both during this use and in general?

Thanks.

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As a general rule, you want to enable as few "sharing" features, and as little hardware access, as you can get away with. For gaming in particular you'll need to enable some (unless everything you want to run will be fine with software-only graphics), but you can try to keep it minimal. The more isolated the VM is from the host, the better. Of course, "security" isn't a binary state, and 100% security is impossible on any computer that is actually useful, but you can make it safe enough.

Never mind airplane mode; if you want to keep the Windows VM off the Internet, just don't give the VM a network interface. (Also, Win7 - which came out 12 years ago and is obsolete - doesn't actually have an "airplane mode" feature except maybe if you have a cellular radio installed.)

The question of whether you "need" antivirus is a bit of an odd one; if AV is ever doing anything useful then you have probably already screwed up multiple times already, and you should never count on it to save you. It might be worth having installed in Windows anyhow - free options like Defender should be fine - but bear in mind that without regular signature updates it'll be even less likely to save you than usual. On the other hand, if you're only installing legitimate software from legitimate install media (i.e. not from pirate sites, which are full of malware), and aren't running anything downloaded from the Internet, then you really don't need AV at all... how do you imagine malware would even get into the system? With that said, if you're downloading warez, or even just unofficial patches or mods, then AV might be worth having.

Note that, for gaming in particular, you might not get full speed from the graphics card when running in a VM. Though if the games are old enough perhaps this doesn't matter. Make sure you use VM software that supports virtualizing the graphics card at all, though! Note that this technically does open a potential attack vector for guest-to-host (through the graphics card) and video drivers are often kind of bad at security, but it's probably fine. Malware that exploits a video driver might use it for local elevation of privilege; it's very unlikely to use to to try and pivot an attack off the VRAM to exploit a host machine running a different OS.

You should be able to expose specific USB devices (so, the DVD drive in this case) directly to the VM guest. In that way, you won't have to share any folders between the Ubuntu and Windows file systems. This will also solve the thing where lots of old games have copy protection that tries to prevent you running them from an ISO or similar, and want a real disk drive.

If you're not putting any downloaded files (or at least, none downloaded from anywhere sketchier than GOG) on the VM, and you're not connecting it to the Internet, the odds are very good it won't get infected with anything and therefore it won't pose any threat to the Ubuntu host. However, if you don't share any network connections or file system directories or so on, then the odds are very good that any malware on the VM wouldn't be able to attack the host anyhow (actually, the odds of that are already pretty good; most Windows malware has no idea how to attack Linux... but better if it doesn't even have a chance).

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  • I appreciate the detailed response, thanks! The most I'll be doing is maybe downloading Windows Defender and one or two other things onto a USB from another laptop and installing on the "VM" laptop. I may use some anti virus for Ubuntu but I'll do some more research. I do have a question regarding the network settings though (at least with VirtualBox); when giving the VM access to your wifi/network, does your host become the router/provider (for lack of a better term) or do you have to go into the VM itself to manually set up the Wifi as on a normal pc? Thanks.
    – renthus
    Nov 19, 2021 at 18:10
  • On my last comment, I have consulted the VirtualBox docs and think I found the answer.
    – renthus
    Nov 20, 2021 at 0:04
  • Usually (I don't use VirtualBox much myself) you can either give the guest (VM) exclusive use of a network interface, create a virtual interface that can only talk to the host but can optionally access the Internet through the host via connection sharing (host acts as router), or possibly you'll be able to share one interface without either one acting as router. Or you can just skip giving the guest an interface at all, in which case it will only have loopback.
    – CBHacking
    Nov 20, 2021 at 1:32

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