Security key to virtualizing your network

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Security key to virtualizing your network
Virtualization offers a host of benefits, tempting IT managers to leap before thinking through all of the security ramifications. That’s why understanding – and planning against – the risks inherent in virtualization is growing more important every day. Through 2012, 60 percent of virtualized servers will be less secure than the physical servers they replace, according to Gartner, Inc. Although Gartner expects this figure to fall to 30 percent by the end of 2015, analysts warned that many virtualization deployment projects are being undertaken without involving the information security team in the initial architecture and planning stages. “Virtualization is not inherently insecure,” said Neil MacDonald, vice president and Gartner fellow. “However, most virtualized workloads are being deployed insecurely. The latter is a result of the immaturity of tools and processes and the limited training of staff, resellers and consultants.” Gartner research indicates that at the end of 2009, only 18 percent of enterprise data center workloads that could be virtualized had been virtualized; the number is expected to grow to more than 50 percent by the close of 2012. As more workloads are virtualized, as workloads of different trust levels are combined and as virtualized workloads become more mobile, the security issues associated with virtualization become more critical to address. Gartner has identified the six most common virtualization security risks together with advice on how each issue might be addressed:
  1. Information security isn’t initially involved in virtualization projects. Survey data from Gartner conferences in late 2009 indicated that about 40 percent of virtualization deployment projects were undertaken without involving the information security team in the initial architecture and planning stages. Typically, the operations teams will argue that nothing has really changed — they already have skills and processes to secure workloads, operating systems (OSs) and the hardware underneath. This argument ignores the new layer of software in the form of a hypervisor and virtual machine monitor (VMM) that is introduced when workloads are virtualized.
  2. A compromise of the virtualization layer could result in the compromise of all hosted workloads. The virtualization layer represents another important IT platform in the infrastructure, and like any software written by human beings, this layer will inevitably contain embedded and yet-to-be-discovered vulnerabilities that may be exploitable.
  3. The lack of visibility and controls on internal virtual networks vreated for VM-to-VM communications blinds existing security policy enforcement mechanisms. For efficiency in communications between virtual machines (VMs), most virtualization platforms include the ability to create software-based virtual networks and switches inside of the physical host to enable VMs to communicate directly. This traffic will not be visible to network-based security protection devices, such as network-based intrusion prevention systems.
  4. Workloads of different trust levels are consolidated onto a single physical server without sufficient separation. As organizations move beyond the “low-hanging fruit” of workloads to be virtualized, more critical systems and sensitive workloads are being targeted for virtualization. This is not necessarily an issue, but it can become an issue when these workloads are combined with other workloads from different trust zones on the same physical server without adequate separation.
  5. Adequate controls on administrative access to the hypervisor/VMM layer and to administrative tools are lacking. Because of the critical support the hypervisor/VMM layer provides, administrative access to this layer must be tightly controlled, but this is complicated by the fact that most virtualization platforms provide multiple paths of administration for this layer.
  6. There is a potential loss of separation of duties for network and security controls. When physical servers are collapsed into a single machine, it increases the risk that both system administrators and users will inadvertently gain access to data that exceeds their normal privilege levels. Another area of concern is which group configures and supports the internal virtual switch.
For our clients, we rely on solutions from Juniper Networks to protect virtual servers and the networkst they support. For example, the Juniper vGW Virtual Gateway is a comprehensive security solution for virtualized data centers and clouds that is capable of monitoring and protecting virtualized environments while maintaining the highest levels of VM host capacity and performance. vGW includes a high-performance hypervisor-based stateful firewall, integrated intrusion detection, and virtualization-specific antivirus protection. vGW provides complete virtual network protection. Its VMsafe-certified virtualization security approach, in combination with “x-ray” level knowledge of each virtual machine through virtual machine introspection, gives vGW a unique vantage point in the virtualized environment. vGW can monitor each VM and apply protections adaptively as changes to the VM configuration and security posture make enforcement and alerts necessary.

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