VMWorld Focuses On Virtualisation Security


With VMworld in full swing, virtualisation security is at the tip of some people’s tongues

In some ways, the virtualisation security market may be in a good news, bad news situation.

The good news: More tools are appearing that focus on securing virtual environments. The bad news: Many may not be making their way into the IT infrastructure. A survey by Nemertes Research found that only 10 percent of organizations have deployed virtualisation security technology, and 70 percent of respondents have no plans to do so in the next three years.

A separate survey by identity management vendor Centrify also provided a glimpse into the mindset surrounding virtual security. According to the study, 55 percent of the 480 respondents said they had virtualization security concerns but were proceeding with deployments anyway. It is against that backdrop that IT pros are flooding the VMworld conference in San Francisco on 31 Aug to 3 Sept.

“The biggest mistake is that organizations are failing to appreciate how little visibility or control into [and] over the security of the virtualized environment they really have,” Scott Crawford, an analyst with Enterprise Management Associates, said in an e-mail interview. “Because virtualisation offers a lot of inherent security benefits (such as VM [virtual machine] isolation), and because threats that target virtualization specifically have yet to make a significant appearance ‘in the wild,’ organizations are moving aggressively to take advantage of the business benefits of virtualization with limited investment in proactive or preventive security controls.”

To help organisations deal with security concerns, RSA—the security division of VMware parent company EMC—released some new advice to help organisations meet the security and compliance needs of virtual environments. (PDF) In a paper entitled “Security Compliance in a Virtual World,” the authors touch on subjects such as platform hardening, administration access control, and configuration and change management using VMware’s management and security tools.

The paper emphasises the importance of learning how to harden virtualisation software using guides from the Center for Internet Security, Defense Information Systems Agency and an organisation’s respective virtualisation vendor. In addition, organisations should pay attention to the speed of changes enabled by virtualisation, VM mobility and offline VMs coming online. As servers and networks are consolidated within the virtualisation infrastructure, the paper recommends the use of fine-grained access control to ensure separation of duties between administrator roles within the virtualisation software.

“The lag in a mature approach to virtual systems management has been one of the biggest roadblocks of all to taking full advantage of virtualisation,” Crawford said. “This is a symptom of enthusiasm for the vision running up against the hard wall of reality. Vendors and enterprises alike are still coming to grips with this reality—no small thing considering the central role virtualisation plays in even grander ambitions such as cloud computing.”

Forty-six percent of the respondents to the Centrify survey counted security as the leading reason virtualisation adoption could be slowed. Bolting security on after the fact doesn’t always work out, Frank Cabri, vice president of marketing at Centrify, told eWEEK in an e-mail.

“There can be technical challenges with this, or even operational challenges,” Cabri said. “Security—in the form of access controls, segregation of duties and the like—should be built into virtualisation deployments whenever possible. It’s often less expensive in the long run, and more secure.”