AMD SME/SEV on Ubuntu 20

Enable SME on your ubuntu server and spawn an SEV virtual machine

Last updated May 7th, 2020


Enable AMD SME on your Ubuntu 20.04 server, and spawn a KVM/QEMU virtual machine secured with SEV


  • A dedicated server with an AMD Naples/Rome Epyc CPU
  • Administrative (root) access to the server via SSH
  • Ubuntu 20.04 installed


Step 1 - Enable SME and SEV

Enabling SME just requires adding mem_encrypt=on on the kernel's boot cmdline. To be able to use SEV in KVM, we need to add kvm_amd.sev=1 as well.

To do this, we need to add it to GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX_DEFAULT.

The usual way to do this is by editing /etc/default/grub, however, on Ubuntu cloud images, we need to edit this file instead : /etc/default/grub.d/50-cloudimg-settings.cfg

Here's what it looks like on a freshly installed Ubuntu 20.04, after editing the file :

ubuntu@nsXXX:~# grep mem_encry /etc/default/grub.d/50-cloudimg-settings.cfg
GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX_DEFAULT="modprobe.blacklist=btrfs mem_encrypt=on kvm_amd.sev=1"

Now, we need to update our grub configuration to make our change effective :

sudo update-grub

Step 2 - Reboot the server to have SME/SEV available

Let's reboot the server to apply our cmdline changes :

sudo reboot

Once the server is back up, we should see mem_encrypt=on and kvm_amd.sev=1 in /proc/cmdline :

ubuntu@nsXXX:~# cat /proc/cmdline
BOOT_IMAGE=/boot/vmlinuz-5.4.0-26-generic root=UUID=41b1b860-c5d2-4b43-a7e5-cb45c2f44e08 ro vga=normal nomodeset modprobe.blacklist=btrfs mem_encrypt=on kvm_amd.sev=1

You should also see the following messages in dmesg :

ubuntu@nsXXX:~# dmesg | grep SME
[    1.247928] AMD Secure Memory Encryption (SME) active
ubuntu@nsXXX:~# dmesg | grep "SEV supported"
[    7.637219] SVM: SEV supported

You can also check /sys/module/kvm_amd/parameters/sev to verify that SEV is available :

ubuntu@nsXXX:~# cat /sys/module/kvm_amd/parameters/sev

Step 3 - Install/download requirements for spawning our guest VM

Install packages :

sudo apt update
sudo apt install libvirt-daemon-system virtinst qemu-utils cloud-image-utils

Let's download the image for our VM. We'll use an Ubuntu 20.04 cloud image :


Step 4 - Prepare the image

Let's ensure that the image is in the correct format for QEMU/KVM, and put it in the proper folder :

sudo qemu-img convert focal-server-cloudimg-amd64.img /var/lib/libvirt/images/sev-guest.img

Since we're using a cloud image, we also need to prepare a small ISO that will configure the ubuntu user's password :

cat >cloud-config <<EOF

password: CHANGEME.aiZ4aetiesig
chpasswd: { expire: False }
ssh_pwauth: False

sudo cloud-localds /var/lib/libvirt/images/sev-guest-cloud-config.iso cloud-config

Step 5 - Launch our VM

sudo virt-install \
              --name sev-guest \
              --memory 4096 \
              --memtune hard_limit=4563402 \
              --boot uefi \
              --disk /var/lib/libvirt/images/sev-guest.img,device=disk,bus=scsi \
              --disk /var/lib/libvirt/images/sev-guest-cloud-config.iso,device=cdrom \
              --os-type linux \
              --os-variant ubuntu20.04 \
              --import \
              --controller type=scsi,model=virtio-scsi,driver.iommu=on \
              --controller type=virtio-serial,driver.iommu=on \
              --network network=default,model=virtio,driver.iommu=on \
              --memballoon driver.iommu=on \
              --graphics none \
              --launchSecurity sev

Note : at the time of writing, there is an issue in apparmor/libvirt that wil make the above command fail with the following message :

ERROR    internal error: process exited while connecting to monitor: 2020-04-28T15:04:14.348979Z qemu-system-x86_64: sev_guest_init: Failed to open /dev/sev 'Permission denied'

To fix it, we'll edit /etc/apparmor.d/abstractions/libvirt-qemu to authorize rw access to /dev/sev. Here's what it should look like once edited :

  /dev/net/tun rw,
  /dev/kvm rw,
  /dev/ptmx rw,
  /dev/sev rw,
  @{PROC}/*/status r,

Once we've succesfully spawned the VM, we can login using the credentials defined in cloud-config earlier, and check that SEV is indeed enabled :

ubuntu@ubuntu:~$ dmesg | grep SEV
[    0.158239] AMD Secure Encrypted Virtualization (SEV) active

References and additional resources

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