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  • Writer's picturekevingrutherford

Will WSL2 replace my hypervisors?

Why use Windows 11 (Win11) and Ubuntu? With the roll out of Windows Subsystem Linux Version 2 (WSL2), adding Kali Linux to Windows11 can be a nightmare or dream come true for many cyber security enthusiast. For me, I not only want to conduct cyber security research, but also play video games, and have an easy quick UI for accomplishing tasks.

My home labs and technology "system" I run, is quite unique. Between multiple computers I use for my 9-5 job, I also have a gaming mini-itx computer (win10) primary gaming, 15" gaming laptop (win11) gaming and cyber security research while traveling, and a 2-n-1 13" Samsung Flex2 Alpha running a dedicated Kali for a light weight and compact security research. Yes, I am very aware that all this is way over-kill for what I actually do. This also does not count my actual lab which has multiple switches, servers, etc… (that is also way overkill with what I actually do nor is it an everyday carry.)

But, as I dive into Win11 as my daily, using WSL instead of Virtual Box has been interesting. WSL2 is NOT a replacement for a hypervisor for several reasons. One of the biggest reasons I believe WSL is NOT a replacement for a hypervisor is the lack of a convenient, easy to use snapshot of the image. This is useful for many reasons such as reverse engineering malware, rebuilding the machines after a pentest engagement to prevent spillage, etc.

A critical tool I had to install to add more functionality to the Ubuntu machine is usbipd (https://github.com/dorssel/usbipd-win)

This allows the ubuntu or kali machine to interact directly with USB devices. This can be helpful for adding a Alfa wifi card for Wifi security research, hardware hacking tools such as a UART connector, or just adding a USB devices to the linux machine.

If you prefer a more GUI approach to Kali, I use kex. Kex is a useful tool as it can be used to RDP into the kali machine. I use "kex --esm -s" --esm enables a RDP session to the local kali instance, while -s enables sound.

However, one major downside is the inability to use network manager, or openvpn. I often use Hack The Box or Try Hack Me OpenVPN service to do CTFs or expand my knowledge on a subject. Systemd does not initialize in esm, which network manager relies on, it becomes near useless to use kali in WSL2. (this is a known documented issue as of March 2023).

This often results in me running back to my VirtualBox or other hypervisors to continue my progress on learning or research. I will 100% acknowledge that WSL2 is not designed to replace a hypervisor VM for my use cases.

Overall, until WSL2 can support systemd in esm, I will keep using a hypervisor until resolved. While it is nice to have a ubuntu machine or kali machine I can remote into, using it for cyber security research or HTB/THM won't be on my list. WSL2 won't replace my VMs in a hypervisor, at least for now.


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