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My friend handed me a .exe file of an old game we want to play together. My laptop has important files, so I do not want to install it immediately. I am still sceptical that he might not know it contains some malware.

So, I thought about playing this game on a virtual machine, like Hyper-V, or even the Windows sandbox, but the performance is not so great as far as I know (it's a very old FPS game that is sadly not hosted by any trusted video game platform like Steam).

I thought about whether I could create a new non-admin user on my Windows, but am still worried about malware that somehow attacks other users that own important files.

Is there any solution to this? Is an isolated user safe enough?

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    A virtual environment is the way to go. It's safe enough to run a test of the untrusted application to determine if there is a performance issue.
    – schroeder
    Jan 2, 2022 at 12:57

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Technically, having a separate hard disk with a fresh installation of Windows 10 is the way to go. Format and reinstall every time you start a new project or suspect something fishy. This is the only way to make 100% sure you will be OK.

Make sure this hard disk is the only one installed (connected). Use a non-spinning disk for faster performance. some people make bootable stick with scripts to automatically format a drive and install an image, which will save you time.

Virtual machines do the job, but lack of performance and the possibility of infecting parts of the hard disk outside of the VM is there. If what you doing is extremely sensitive, take all precautions!

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Containerization

Another user recommended a virtual machine - I would still go with Windows Sandbox if I were you. It's intended to be lightweight, and recently got a performance upgrade. You can also enable virtualized GPU to speed up rendering (instructions here). The sandbox is intended to be secure, and especially given that this is an old game, it's unlikely to be able to escape its container.

Notes on Security of Windows Sandbox

  • The sandbox uses hardware-based virtualization for kernel isolation, relying on the Microsoft hypervisor to run a separate kernel.
  • The sandbox is not network-isolated by default (which is presumably desirable if you are gaming) but does pose a slight risk. Network isolation can be enabled.
  • Each instance contains a clean new filesystem, protecting your important files from ransomware
  • It was released in 2018, which is relatively recent. It's in less use, and has been for less time, than the most popular virtualization technologies, making it a less valuable target for break-out kits. A single hyper-V 0-day has been found and publicly disclosed.
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    Old game might have new sandbox break out malware added.
    – schroeder
    Jan 2, 2022 at 20:32
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    Can you describe how the sandbox is secure?
    – schroeder
    Jan 2, 2022 at 20:32

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