Updating VMware Tools for VMware ESXi

A bit of a segue from the usual SQL Server posts this week but I wanted to share a recent challenge I encountered with a VMware ESXi host. I needed to to ensure that all high CVSS vulnerabilities were resolved for upcoming Cyber Essentials compliance. This necessitated an upgrade of a VMware ESXi host as a first step as the version in use had known vulnerabilities.

Post upgrade of the ESXi host what I found however was that this did not fully resolve the security concerns. Our Microsoft Defender for Endpoint dashboard picked up that all the servers on the host were still using a vulnerable version of the VMware tools. Upon further investigation despite that the tools had upgraded to a higher version included with the ESXi release there were still unresolved issues with that particular version. It would be necessary to upgrade to a even more recent version of VMware Tools from VMware’s downloads site to fully resolve the vulnerability findings.

You most certainly could manually logon to each server and perform the tools upgrade manually however if your ESXi host has as many servers as ours then the process to upgrade each one might take some time and cause service disruption. After all this is IT and we pursue the noble art of automation in all areas right?

I have to apologise for the lack of screenshots in this post as this was done on a server I’m not privileged to take screenshots of but hopefully you can make sense of the steps below. Comment below for any clarifications required.

  1. Ensure compatibility of the updated VMware tools using the VMware Compatibility Guide and then test on an isolated server – you don’t want to risk potential downtime by installing a version of VMware tools that has a compatibility problem.
  2. Enable SSH access to the VMware Server – to do this open the Host tab in the ESXi web front-end then go to actions > services > Enable Secure Shell (SSH).
  3. Logon to the ESXI host using an SCP tool such as WinSCP – once in navigate all the way to /vmimages/tools-isoimages. You’ll notice that this contains ISO images and manifests for Windows and Linux versions of the VMware tools. Note that his folder actually is a symlink to a folder at /vmfs/volumes/<GUID>/packages/<version>/vmtools.
  4. Backup the contents of the folder – just in case y’know.
  5. Get a copy of the VMware Tools and upload into /vminmages/tools-isoimages. Make sure you overwrite what’s in the folder and include all the files from the download.
  6. Disable SSH access by repeating step #2 – reducing the ESXi host’s attack surface area is always a good idea.

Shortly after completing the above process the ESXi host will automatically pickup that there’s been a change in the VMware Tools in the store. You can from that point upgrade using one of the following methods:

  1. Right click the VM > Guest OS > Install/Upgrade VMware Tools…
  2. If the option to automatically upgrade tools is selected for a VM then reboot and it will handle things itself.

You should at this point have VMs running the latest VMware Tools which you can check the version in the list of hosts. You can add in the column for the VMware Tools version to check all VMs without logging onto each one.

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