In the rush to implement virtualization technologies, organizations are re-creating the same security mistakes that were made in physical environments over the past two decades. This is happening largely because they have failed to recognize that new technologies create the same risks, albeit from a different perspective. Knowledge Center contributor Richard Rees explains the five steps you need to take to improve virtualization security in your data center.
With the potential for compromises in one virtual system or hypervisor to
lead to compromises in multiple applications in a virtualized environment, the
risks are too great for organizations to make security an afterthought. With
virtualization technologies becoming pervasive in the data center, here are
five essential steps for addressing virtualization security challenges:
Step No. 1: Include security in total cost of ownership calculations
A top driver when considering virtualization is cost savings achieved
through improving server utilization and server consolidation in the data
center-savings based on hardware, data center footprint and provisioning cost
reductions. Security needs to be factored into these calculations to provide a
complete picture. For example, virtual appliances that provide monitoring,
intrusion detection, patch validation and tracking, and other security services
may need to be installed on each physical platform. This can reduce the number
of virtual servers supported per physical host, impacting return on investment.
Step No. 2: Make security a priority in the virtualization design phase
Organizations need to monitor security metrics along with performance within
the virtual world-requiring intelligent choices to be made in isolating
applications and systems. For example, isolating credit card information to a
single virtual environment can greatly reduce the PCI (Payment Card Industry)
compliance footprint for e-commerce merchants.
However, placing the Internet-facing Web server that takes credit card
information on the same physical host as the application server checking
inventory and the database managing order tracking increases the risk of data
Step No. 3: Monitor the invisible network
While a physical server environment passes data traffic across a physical
network that can be monitored, a virtual server connects to a virtual
network-making it difficult to monitor and protect data in transit between
virtual machines. This is driving proven solutions in the physical world, such
as intrusion detection and sniffers, to be adapted for virtual environments.
Other solutions on the horizon include increased monitoring at the hypervisor
level, virtual patch management and tools to conduct security investigations on
Step No. 4: Control portable storage
Controlling the use of personal data storage devices has never been more
important than in a virtualized environment. Virtualization is an excellent
technology to enhance recovery due to the portable nature and size of virtual
server images. Organizations can copy their system images to a hard drive,
bring them to a recovery site, connect them to the replicated data and be hours
ahead on their recovery timeline.
However, USB flash drives, secure digital
cards and iPods can provide gigabytes of portable storage to any user-suitable
to copy a few server images and walk out the door. Having a management solution
for these devices is necessary to protect sensitive, personally identifiable
and proprietary business information typically present in a server image.
Step No. 5: Stay current on virtualization security research
At the 2008 DEFCON hacker conference, a leading security researcher
demonstrated multiple ways to compromise hypervisors, which in turn compromise
the virtual hosts, exposing corporate assets such as credit card information,
salaries and benefits, and proprietary business strategies and research. Keep
in mind that these potential attacks are only the tip of the iceberg.
Organizations need to stay current to deploy appropriate countermeasures and,
in some cases, other controls to address a problem for which there is no
These steps reflect the strategic belief that information security must be
integral to the assessment, design and implementation phases of virtualized
environments to protect data assets and meet compliance requirements. With many
organizations focusing on virtualization benefits, they must also examine core
risks before it is too late-meaning security needs to be built in from the
Richard Rees is director of Security Solutions at SunGard Availability Services.
Richard is a nationally recognized expert in how information security
trends and technologies effectively support business operations.
Richard works with SunGard Availability Services customers to define
and architect reliable, independent and timely information security
solutions designed to keep them out of harm's way, combating both
external and internal threats against the enterprise. When things go
awry, Richard helps deploy SunGard's forensic team to investigate and
address computer incidents.
Richard's experience ranges from mentoring chief security
officers in implementing security programs to conducting enterprise
security assessments of global organizations, regulatory reviews
(HIPAA, GLBA, SOX), vulnerability assessments and penetration testing.
He can be reached at Richard.Rees@sungard.com.