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USB dongle VirtualBox passthrough

Jul 9, 2021

Virtualization is a great solution for maximizing hardware resources by running multiple operating systems on a single computer. Unfortunately, when you passthrough USB to VirtualBox, you won’t be able to access a USB security key to run a commercial software product. A frequent problem users face is the lack of reliable VirtualBox USB dongle connectivity.

Contents:

  1. Simple way for VirtualBox USB dongle passthrough
  2. VirtualBox USB license dongle access
  3. VirtualBox USB Dongle Capturing


VirtualBox USB passthrough can be implemented but only partially solves the problem. This technique only enables VirtualBox users to connect to security dongles attached to the host computer. We will now discuss two different methods of enabling VirtualBox USB device capture to access a security key: on the fly or with a filter.

Implementing VirtualBox USB license dongle access

Use the following steps to connect a USB security dongle to a virtual machine running the protected Telium software application:
1
If you want the functionality of USB 3.0, you need to install the free VirtualBox Extension Pack.
2
Start the virtual machine
3
Connect the USB security dongle to an open USB port on the host machine.
4
In the VirtualBox interface, click on Devices -> USB and then select ‘USB device to share’ to enable USB passthrough.
 dongle access

After the USB connection is configured by VirtualBox, the guest operating system, such as Ubuntu, will recognize the dongle. You can verify this by executing the lsusb command and reviewing its output. It will typically recognize the dongle as ‘Philips Elite’.

Two Ways to Perform VirtualBox USB Dongle Capturing

A common misconception is that USB devices are easily used in virtual environments. Getting the host and guest operating systems to play together nicely requires navigating multiple software layers to eventually communicate with the drivers controlling the hardware resources.

On-the-fly is the first method of capturing a USB device in VirtualBox. Simply use the icon located on the bottom of the GUI’s window or menu and go to "Devices → USB → …” In the list that is displayed, captured devices are identified by the "✓" next to their name.

Using a USB filter is the second method of capturing a USB device in VirtualBox. Capturing with a filter is considered to usually be more effective and reliable than the on-the-fly technique. Using a filter, a VM that is up and running can immediately capture a dongle connected to the host OS. Filters work best if each device has an individual filter.

Note: If you are using a Linux host like Fedora or Ubuntu, you need to be a member of the “vboxusers” group. Verify membership in the group after you log out or reboot. You will not see the connected USB devices if you are not a current member of “vboxusers”.

Follow the steps outlined below to use a filter to capture a USB device:

1
Make sure you have installed the VirtualBox extension to provide support for virtual USB 2 and USB 3 host controllers. Make sure the extension is the same version as the base VirtualBox environment.
2
Verify that the VM is configured so that either USB 2 (EHCI) or USB 3 (xHCI) is enabled.
3
With the USB device connected to the host, go to “VM Settings'' → “Port” → “USB” to create a new USB filter for the connected peripheral in the VM’s guest settings. Delete all values except for the “Name”, “VendorID”, and “ProductID’’. Fill in these values with the appropriate information for the connected device to create the filter.

You can select a name of your choice and obtain the VendorID and ProductID from the operating system.

  • On Linux hosts, the output of the “lsusb” command will provide the VendorID and ProductID.

  • On Mac systems, look at "System Information".

  • On Windows hosts, the information is available in Device Manager.

These steps allow you to use the filter to capture a USB device:

1
Unplug the device.
2
Start the guest OS with the filter. Log in if necessary and let all hard drive and VMDK activity stop before proceeding.
3
Connect the device and it will be captured by the filter so it can be controlled by the guest operating system.
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