ALTHOUGH THE FIELD of virtualisation is still young, there is already emerging concern that organisations are at risk of overlooking the opportunity to create a safe environment in the early stages of deployment.
This is one of the findings in a new report by US-based IT management research firm Enterprise Management Associates (EMA). The study, Virtualisation Security: The Early Stages of a New Battleground, has identified a number of potentially serious threats against virtualisation security, including so-called VM (virtual machine) escapes, solution-specific threats and traditional attacks.
“These threats, combined with vulnerabilities in virtualisation, are cause for alarm,” said EMA security and risk management analyst Mike Montecillo. “Although many organisations extend security-enhancing measures to the virtualised environment, the numbers decreased when the techniques became more specific to virtualisation.”
Nearly two-thirds of survey respondents extend configuration and change controls to the virtualised environment. The lowest numbers in the survey, however, related to questions regarding specific controls to the hypervisor (an emerging virtualisation platform that allows multiple operating systems to run on a host computer at the same time). Only 26 per cent of respondents said they have security controls in place to prevent hypervisor threats. In addition, only 17 per cent said they leverage measures to detect these types of threats.
“A disciplined approach to IT management reduces risk while yielding business benefits across multiple interests — and nowhere is this more the case than in virtualisation,” Montecillo said. “Security is no exception, and may in fact be one of the greatest beneficiaries of a disciplined approach to virtual systems management.”
Many of today’s gaps and potential security risks of virtualisation are related directly to the maturity and effectiveness of management. In earlier EMA studies which focused on the effectiveness of IT risk control, the highest performers were found to have four cardinal virtues in common: they define IT risk management and compliance objectives; they actually implement them; they investigate the environment to monitor and assess their effectiveness; and they enforce adherence to requirements through education and positive incentives, as well as through negative consequences for deviations.
Montecillo believes the key to any security strategy is to simplify the approach. “Virtualisation is at the forefront of many security professionals’ minds. Unfortunately, it has become very difficult to create a strategy that addresses the real security issues without being drawn in by the hype and publicity, which has created an awareness based on a warning, rather than an actual real-world threat.
“By becoming aware of the environments in which virtual technologies operate, and understanding the technology itself, enterprises can develop and properly implement an effective virtualisation security strategy and attain the full benefits of virtualisation,” he said.