Playing with SMM and QEMU

10 years ago, playing with SMM seemed to be quite risky. Audacious people were flashing their BIOS, running the risk of bricking their machine. Since a few years, the raise of UEFI and Secure Boot is an incentive for virtualisation solutions to implement SMM. For instance, KVM developers work hard on the subject.

The excellent training material Advanced x86: Introduction to BIOS & SMM covers a lot topics in details, including SMM. SMM is a recurrent topic which has been talked over and over again since a long time. The idea of playing with the SMM of an hypervisor isn't new either. For instance, .aLS and Alfredo modified the BIOS of VMWare in Persistent BIOS Infection (2009), and chpie implemented a keylogger for VMWare in Implementing SMM PS/2 Keyboard sniffer (also 2009).

Even if there's nothing new in this blogpost, I hope these quick notes may help people willing to have testing platform to play with SMM on a legacy BIOS.


$ wget
$ wget
$ wget
$ sudo dpkg -i linux-*-4.4*.deb
$ wget
$ tar xjvf qemu-2.5.0.tar.bz2
$ cd qemu-2.5.0/
$ ./configure --target-list=x86_64-softmmu --enable-debug --enable-spice --disable-vnc --enable-sdl
$ make
$ sudo make install

VM configuration

libvirt is used to manage the VMs. After the installation of Ubuntu 14.10 in a new VM, the following modifications (with virsh edit ubuntu-utopic) must be applied to load a custom BIOS (/home/user/bios.bin) and output SeaBIOS debug messages in a file:

<domain type='kvm' xmlns:qemu=''>
     <qemu:arg value='-bios'/>
      <qemu:arg value='/home/user/bios.bin'/>
      <qemu:arg value='-chardev'/>
      <qemu:arg value='file,id=seabios,path=/tmp/bios.log'/>
      <qemu:arg value='-device'/>
      <qemu:arg value='isa-debugcon,iobase=0x402,chardev=seabios'/>

On Ubuntu, files under /home/user/ and /tmp/ can't be accessed if the AppArmor profile of libvirtd is enabled. The following command disables QEMU's AppArmor profile:

$ sudo ln -s /etc/apparmor.d/usr.sbin.libvirtd /etc/apparmor.d/disable/
$ sudo apparmor_parser -R /etc/apparmor.d/usr.sbin.libvirtd


Since SeaBIOS is the default BIOS for QEMU and KVM, it's a good target to play with SMM. As said in Advanced x86 - BIOS and SMM Internals - SMM, the code that executes in SMM (called the SMI handler) is instantiated from the BIOS flash. Our goal is to modify the default SMI handler by modifying the BIOS, in order to get our code running in ring-2. The SeaBOS SMI handler prints a debug message each time it is called:

$ grep -A 7 'handle_smi(' src/fw/smm.c
handle_smi(u16 cs)
    if (!CONFIG_USE_SMM)
    u8 cmd = inb(PORT_SMI_CMD);
    struct smm_layout *smm = MAKE_FLATPTR(cs, 0);
    u32 rev = smm->cpu.i32.smm_rev & SMM_REV_MASK;
    dprintf(DEBUG_HDL_smi, "handle_smi cmd=%x smbase=%p\n", cmd, smm);

Activate debug log, increase debug log level and decrease SMI log level in order to get some feedback:

$ git clone git:// seabios
$ cd seabios/
$ sed -i 's/DEBUG_HDL_smi 9/DEBUG_HDL_smi 1/' src/config.h
$ make

Once the BIOS is compiled and copied into /home/user/bios.bin, the VM will boot on this one.


How can we ensure that SMM is working? One can simply write a byte to port 0xb2 with the following program:

#include <err.h>
#include <stdio.h>
#include <stdlib.h>
#include <sys/io.h>

#define PORT_SMI_CMD      0x00b2

int main(void)
    if (ioperm(PORT_SMI_CMD, 1, 1) != 0)
            err(EXIT_FAILURE, "ioperm");

    outb(0x61, PORT_SMI_CMD);

    return EXIT_SUCCESS;

and the SMI handler should print a debug message in /tmp/bios.log:

$ virsh start --console ubuntu-utopic
user@ubuntu-utopic:~$ sudo ./trigger_smi

$ tail -1 /tmp/bios.log
handle_smi cmd=61 smbase=0x000a0000

If you have a doubt about the generation of SMIs by KVM, check that SMM is supported and KVM_SMI correctly issued. Here are the ioctl's constants:

#define KVM_CAP_X86_SMM     0x17
#define KVM_SMI             _IO(KVMIO,   0xb7)

KVM_CHECK_EXTENSION ioctl is called at the start of the VM, and KVM_SMI each time a SMI is triggered:

$ sudo strace -e ioctl -ff -p $(pidof qemu-system-x86_64) \
[pid 24432] ioctl(10, KVM_CHECK_EXTENSION, 0x75) = 1
[pid 24432] ioctl(10, 0xaeb7, 0x56353ed70500) = 0


That's it, just modify the handle_smi() function of SeaBIOS to give SMM a try.