Virtualization Security
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Although virtualization was conceived fifty years ago, it has evolved and is now capable of supporting complex applications. Virtual Machines (VMs) are used by half of all servers. The IDC predicts that VMs will be used by 70% of total computer workloads by 2024. The main concern is how to ensure safety and integrity as virtualization components grow and expand. Here’s a quick overview of some of the issues, risks, and differences that virtualization presents. This paper contains some recommendations for ensuring that your network is secure to the desired degree.

Virtualization offers security benefits

These security benefits will be realized by virtualizing the environment:

  • A properly configured network can share systems without sharing any vital data. One of the core security advantages of a virtual environment’s flexibility is its ability to share systems without having to share vital data or information.
  • Virtualized environments are protected by a central storage system that protects sensitive data in the event of theft or malicious compromise.
  • It is possible to isolate VMs and apps to reduce the risk of multiple attacks in the event of a threat.
  • Virtualization increases physical security by reducing hardware within an environment. A virtualized environment will have fewer hardware, which means fewer data centers.
  • Server virtualization allows servers that have been compromised to be restored to their default state. This improves incident management because an event can be tracked from before and during the attack.
  • The hypervisor software is small and simple. Hypervisor software has a smaller attack surface. There are fewer vulnerabilities if the attack surface is smaller.
  • Administrators of network and system administrations have higher access control. This separation can increase the system’s efficiency. One person may be responsible for managing VMs within the network’s perimeters while another may be responsible for VMs inside the DMZ. You can integrate the system so that administrators are able to deal with Linux servers and others with Windows servers.

You will notice that I use the term “if setup or configured appropriately” quite often. This is because virtualization is complex. It must be secured in order to reap the benefits.

Security risks and challenges

Now we can address some of the risks and challenges that virtualization presents.

File sharing between hosts and guests

  • When file-sharing is used, a compromised guest can remotely access the host file and make modifications. A malicious guest could modify files transfer directories.
  • If API is used to program or guests and hosts use clipboard sharing for file sharing, there are greater chances of bugs in the area. This could compromise the infrastructure.

Hypervisor

  • Hypervisors can affect VMs that are attached to them. Hypervisors are not designed to be 100% secure against attacks and threats.
  • Although the hypervisors may be small and have a smaller exposure area, they are also very effective in controlling everything. However, the single point of failure can pose a threat to the entire system. A single attack on a hypervisor could put the entire environment at risk.
  • Administrators can modify and share security credentials as they wish because hypervisors have control over almost everything. Administrators have the keys to the kingdom which makes it difficult for anyone to see who did what.

Snapshots

  • Snapshots can be reverted to erase any existing configurations and modifications. If you have modified the security policy, the platforms could be made accessible. Even worse, audit logs can also be lost, so it is impossible to trace changes. It can be difficult to meet compliance requirements without these.
  • As with physical hard drives, images that contain PII (Personally Identifiable information) and passwords can cause problems. Additionally, any previously stored photos can be loaded later to cause havoc.
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Network storage

  • Fibre Channel and iSCSI are both susceptible to man in the middle attacks because they are clear text protocols. Sniffing tools can be used to track and monitor storage traffic. They can also be used in the future by attackers.

Access to the Administrator and seperation of duties

  • Network administrators handle network administration, while server admins manage servers. This is the ideal physical network. Security personnel can play both roles. In a virtualized environment network and server management can be delegated from one management platform. This presents a unique challenge in order to effectively separate duties. Virtualization systems allow full access to all activities of the virtual infrastructure. This happens most often when the system is hacked. However, the default settings have never been changed.

Time Synchronization

  • Tasks may run late or early due to VM clock drift, as well as other normal clock drifts. The logs are therefore less accurate. Insufficient data will result in inaccurate tracking if forensic investigation is required in the future.

Partitions

  • Multiple VMs on the same host are isolated so that they can’t be used interchangeably to attack another VM. The partitions still share resources like CPU, memory and bandwidth, despite their isolation. If a partition uses a large amount of either one or both of these resources, or all of them due to a threat like the virus then other partitions could be subject to a Denial of Service attack.

VLANS

  • VLANs can only be used if VM traffic is routed from the host to a firewall. This can lead to complex or latency that could impact the network’s performance.
  • The communication between VMs cannot be monitored on a VLAN and is therefore not secure. If the VMS is connected to the same VLAN, malware can spread like wildfire and cannot be stopped.

Common attacks

Here are three of the most common attacks against virtualization.

  • DoS Attack on Service (DoS)

If this happens, hypervisors will likely be shut down completely. A backdoor for the black hats to gain access to the system at their discretion is created.

  • Interception of Host Traffic

The hypervisor may have loopholes or weaknesses that can be used to track files, paging system calls, monitor memory, and track disk activity.

  • Jumping

A security hole in a supervisor can allow a user to seamlessly move from one VM into another. The user can then steal or manipulate valuable information from another VM by unauthorized users.

TRADITIONAL SILENT SECURITY APPROACHES FOR VIRTUALIZATION

Virtualization has many security issues that can be partially addressed using existing technology, people and processes. Their inability to protect virtual switches, hypervisors, management systems and their virtual fabric is the main problem. Here is a look at some of the more traditional methods used to secure virtualization, as well as their flaws.

Firewalls

Security personnel may place traffic between VMS and standard system firewalls to log traffic and provide feedback to VMs. Firewalls are not designed to handle virtualization, as it is a new technology. Before virtualization was adopted in data centers and enterprises, firewalls were already in use. Because virtualization security threats are complex, pre-installed management systems can’t handle them. These setbacks could lead to manual administrations being deployed, which can be costly and prone to errors.

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Reducing VMs allocated to physical NICs/per host

This method allows for fewer VMs to be installed on a host, and assigns each VM a physical network interface (NIC). Although this is the best way to secure your firm, it doesn’t allow you to reap the ROI associated with virtualization or other cost savings.

Detection and Prevention of Network-Based Intrusions

Devices that have multiple VMs on a host do not function well when there are. The IPS/IDS systems are unable to efficiently monitor network traffic between VMs. When an application is moved, data cannot be accessed.

VLANs

VLANs are widely used in booth environments that have a high degree of virtualization or none. It becomes more difficult to manage access control lists and the increasing number of VLANs as the VLANs become more numerous. It becomes increasingly difficult to maintain compatibility between virtualized and non-virtualized elements of an environment.

Anti-virus

An agent-based antivirus approach involves mapping a complete copy on each VM of anti-virus software. Although it is a safe method, it will require a lot of financial input to load anti-virus software across all VMs. It is heavy and increases hardware usage. It can have negative effects on storage, memory, CPU, and performance.

Even with the above-mentioned drawbacks, a larger number of companies still use traditional methods for their network safety. With the rapid advancements in technology, virtualized environments can be highly dynamic and subject to rapid change. It is recommended to combine the benefits of the existing security approach with the recommendations below for virtualized environments to get maximum protection.

Recommendations and best practices for a secure virtualized environment

Internet security

  • Disconnect any inactive NIC to eliminate loopholes in the system.
  • You can secure the host platform connecting guests and hypervisors with a physical network. This includes setting up time synchronization and log logging, regulating users and groups, as well as setting file permissions.
  • To secure IP communications between two hosts, use authentication and encryption for each packet.
  • To avoid interference from man-in the-middle attacks, it is important to eliminate default self-signed verifications.
  • To prevent MAC spoofing attacks, strategically place virtual switches in a promiscuous mode to track traffic.
  • Make sure that all traffic between the hypervisor, host and clients using SSL is encrypted.

Disaster Recovery

  • Make sure that you have a change control system in place so that both the main site as well as the backup sites remain as identical as possible.
  • Auditing and PEN testing should be done separately for the DR site and main site, but with the same frequency of significance.
  • Logging and any other records sourced via the DR site must be treated with the same respect as records from your primary site.
  • Make sure your production firewall is up and running. Regular audits should be conducted at the main site until the firewall is functional again.
  • It is important to protect any copies of sensitive data or information.
  • Create a unique storage matrix

Administrator access

  • Administrators of servers should have the credentials for each server they manage.
  • Administrators should have the ability to create new VMs, but not modify existing VMS.
  • Each guest OS should have a unique authentication, unless there are compelling reasons for multiple guest OSs to use the same credentials.
  • Security personnel discovered that virtual environments are more efficient than traditional ways of distributing responsibilities. The entire management process cannot be done by an admin alone.

Desktop security

Here are four ways to stop unauthorized or unsecured virtualization within an environment.

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Clearly outline acceptable use policy

Define the approvals required and the conditions in which virtualization software can install.

Lower the ratio of Users to VMs

VMs are not required by every user. Restriction the installation of any freely available software on corporate laptops or desktops.

Use security policies to secure the second virtualization

Make sure that your system doesn’t have any conflicting security policies to the existing virtualization platforms.

A library of Secure VM builders

Security software, patches and configuration settings can be stored in a repository that users can access to make changes or re-use them if necessary.

Virtual Machine Security

  • Hypervisors are not recommended to be connected to management networks to store virtual machines.
  • Using CPU-intensive screensavers on physical servers can overload the processor required to support the VMs.
  • Only create VMs that are required. Black hats can gain access to unused VMs.
  • VMs should have easy access to the kennel and other host resources such as storage networks.
  • All unused ports (e.g. USB ports) should be disabled.
  • Data encrypted being transmitted between the Host VM.
  • VLANs can be used within a single VM to segment traffic.
  • A comprehensive plan that I provide on how to plan and deploy, patch, back up, and recover VMs.
  • You can place workloads with different trust levels on different security domains or physical servers.
  • VMs that are still in use should be checked regularly or restricted access granted.

Management System

  • To secure communication between management and host systems, enable SSL, SSL, or IPSec protocols. This is essential in eliminating the possibility of man-inthe-middle attacks and loss of data.
  • It is essential to have a single, unifying security policy for virtual and physical environments. This will avoid having to double-check reports and analysis.
  • Management servers and database servers should be kept apart.
  • Limit access to the management server. It shouldn’t be accessible from all workstations.

Hypervisor Security

  • As soon as updates and patches are available, install them. Hypervisor vulnerabilities can be mitigated by good patch management.
  • Unwanted services such as file sharing can be eliminated
  • To eliminate any weaknesses in the system, it is important to regularly analyze Hypervisor logs.
  • Use multi-factor authentication to access hypervisor functions.
  • The LAN should not have access to the management interface of hypervisor.

Remote Access

  • Remote access management should only be done by a limited number of IP addresses from authorized management systems.
  • Every remote access should have a strong password policy. A 2-factor authentication system is preferred for high-risk environments or areas that are more likely to be attacked.
  • All data and information sent to management systems must be encrypted

Backups

  • Backups should not be made using root accounts.
  • Disk backups are just as important in a virtual environment as in a traditional one.
  • Do a complete system backup once per week.
  • Every data sent to a disaster recovery network should be encrypted

Conclusion

Virtualization is a rapidly evolving technology that poses new challenges for security companies. Virtualization is a dynamic and rapidly growing technology that has presented new challenges to security firms. Virtualization is a combination of a physically-centered network and a new, logical or virtual environment. Additional security measures and considerations are necessary to ensure strong security. It is essential that the firm has a plan in place and prepared for how it will handle security concerns arising from the new virtual infrastructure. Virtualization security should not be an afterthought, but a priority.

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Evangeline Christina is a Cyber Security Enthusiast, Security Blogger, Technical Editor, Certified Ethical Hacker, Author at Cyberspecial.net. Previously, he worked as a security news reporter in a reputed news agency.