Posted in Cloud Computing, Cloud Security, Virtualization, VMware

Best Practices For Combating Virtualization Security Risks

Virtualization Security Risks

Virtualization enables the enterprises to increase the server capacity, enhance the flexibility and agility along with automating the operations without incurring any large capital expenditures. Even as the companies become increasingly accustomed to harnessing the benefits of virtualization, enough attention is not being paid to the security issues associated with the progress.

There is a prominent assumption that the virtual machines are highly secure in comparison to the physical servers. However, the reality is that both, the virtual machines and physical servers are equally susceptible to malware attacks. The repercussions of a crash in a virtualized environment might be more severe as compared to the repercussions in a regular server setting. In many situations, users simply do not realize the risks or they do not have the administrative authority for implementing the required security controls.

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As the adoption of virtualization expands across an enterprise, the buildup of security issues might pose some serious challenges to the performance in terms of outages, increase in the costs and data loss. Therefore, in order to set up your business website, it is imperative to be aware of the basic risks along with some fundamental approaches for mitigating those risks while performing the transition to the virtualized environment.

The following are Virtualization Security Risks:

In many cases, CXOs tend to overlook the virtual machines during the security phase. The lack or inadequacy of security in the virtual machines might result in some serious risk scenarios

  • The amalgamation of sensitive or critical workloads with the workloads from different trust zones present on the same physical server. This has to be taken care of especially when the provisions for separation have not been made as this might result in some serious security challenges.
  • Hidden weaknesses in the virtualization layer might increase the vulnerability of the system. As a result of these vulnerabilities, the hackers can compromise all the hosted workloads.
  • In order to enable the virtual machines for communicating directly, virtualization platforms are often used for the software-based switches and for the virtual networks present within the physical host. As this traffic is hidden from the network-based security protection devices, it is more susceptible to hacking attacks.
  • Access to the Hypervisor / Virtual Machine Monitor (VMM) layer has to be monitored tightly as this is the most serious form of support. However, security is affected in most of the virtualization platforms with the creation of multiple administration paths into the VMM.
  • Risk is also increased to a great extent when the administrators and users are provided with data access more than their normal privilege levels when the physical server is integrated into a single machine.
  • In many situations, the complete network is compromised just because separate teams are assigned the responsibility of configuring the physical server environment and the virtual environment.

In light of the risks mentioned above, there are some fundamental best practices that help in mitigating these risks:

  • It is always better to consider the hosted virtual desktop workloads as ‘untrusted’ and to keep it separated from the rest of the physical data. By establishing a specific security policy for the virtual machines. This will prevent the increase in workloads from various trust levels into the same server.
  • It is important to configure the Hypervisor layer correctly and the security upgrades should be done regularly on it. It is also important to make sure that the virtualization layer is adequately thin during the process of configuration against the unlicensed changes so that it does not become an easy target for the hackers. Make sure that the virtualization vendors provide with Hypervisor / VMM layer measurement at the time of boot-up for avoiding any kind of compromise.
  • Go beyond host-based security for ensuring that the vulnerabilities present in the lower layers are easily tracked and corrected.
  • Monitoring plays a vital role in any security mechanism. Virtualized workloads and networks should be allotted with the same levels of monitoring that is offered to the physical servers.
  • Work with the security vendors who provide with a trustworthy policy management and enforcement framework in order to reduce the issues related to configuration and management.
  • Set up a single team for managing the network configuration and for the overall management across the physical and virtual environments for ensuring a consistent and unified approach towards server infrastructure management. Utilize the virtualization platform architectures along with replicable switch code in order to make sure that the virtual and physical configurations are covered in the same policies.

Moreover, follow these simple rules for ensuring that the virtual environments are operating at the required security levels:

  • Separate the critical operations from the virtualization plans
  • Select certified hardware and operation systems for avoiding failover
  • Operate the staging and development servers on distinct machines or Hypervisors
  • Stop failover by setting up a ‘Cold-Spare’
  • Backup all the server images
  • Apply new patches / upgrades only when the complete virtual infrastructure is up and running
  • Establish role based privilege levels and data access rights
  • Always operate VDI in the high-availability mode
  • Prevent the data I/O from the user workstation
  • Make sure that continuous monitoring is done for the virtualized servers
  • Centralize the home directory data

It is possible to combat all the risks associated with virtualization by abiding to the basic fundamental rules. But as a standard practice, it is important to focus on the security from the beginning of the virtualization process as the challenges might become more difficult down the line. It is evident that virtualization has a lot of benefits for the enterprises; however, in order to extract the maximum value from this technology, it is absolutely crucial to ensure that all the necessary security protocols are in place.


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