INTEROP - Virtual server sprawl highlights security concerns

INTEROP - Virtual server sprawl highlights security concerns

Ease of deploying virtual machines raises new risks

The relatively small amount of code in a hypervisor makes it somewhat resistant to malware. But a recently found flaw in VMware's desktop virtualisation software raises concerns about the safety of its server virtualisation technology, Lynch argued, saying he expects major hypervisor-based attacks this year. Gartner analyst Neil McDonald has said more than 60 per cent of virtual machines in production are less secure than their physical counterparts, Lynch noted.

IDC predicts that half of physical servers will be virtualized by 2011, Lynch said. So-called virtual appliances can be downloaded from VMware's Web site, and could ultimately become the most prevalent way to deploy software, Lynch said. But these appliances also raise new concerns. It's tough to know whether the virtual appliance downloaded over the Web actually comes from a trusted party, or whether updates come from a trusted source, Lynch said.

Virtualisation in general requires a new approach to security, but progress on this front is slow and full of roadblocks for enterprises who might be fooled by industry claims, Lynch contended.

IT has to watch out for security vendors that simply take an application, drop it into a virtual machine and claim it's now "virtualisation-aware," Lynch said.

Security could be built directly into the hypervisor, but hypervisor designers aren't necessarily security experts, Lynch said.

Some movement is afoot for security tools that are basically hypervisor plug-ins, he noted. IBM introduced an intrusion-prevention project related to virtualisation, and VMware in February released a set of APIs designed to give security vendors more visibility into the hypervisor.

This essentially gives more insight into the "black hole the hypervisor guys have created," Lynch said. But unless VMware is really selective about its APIs, new risks could be introduced, he said.

"There's no such thing as private APIs," Lynch said. "They're out and about pretty much as soon as they're announced."

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