The advent of virtualization has expanded the software and hardware capacity for many users, making it possible to create several VMs running on different OSs without any extra expenditures on equipment and licensing. Due to its indisputable benefits and a greater degree of flexibility it delivers, virtualization is very popular now. But together with the pluses of creating diverse, virtual IT environments, businesses suffer from new, unprecedented risks non-typical for conventional IT infrastructures. Thus, understanding these risks and taking all the necessary precautions is imperative for keeping the sensitive VM data safe. Click here to learn more about efficient VM data backup solutions and read on if you’re interested in risk identification and mitigation for your virtualized environment.
New Environments, New Risks
Virtualized environments are different from the traditional, physical ones as they are non-tangible. While physical data loss may be addressed by restoring the hardware, VM escape can be truly irreparable as the VM data has no physical storage point. Due to the specifics of virtualization, risks that such environments face are broadly divided into three areas:
VMs are entirely virtual, but still, they have a connection to physical hardware via switches. The latter can thus become targets of attacks – external or those coming from other (malicious) VMs in the network.
Hypervisor is the critical software enabling virtualization. Thus, any security vulnerabilities of hypervisors can result in large-scale failures and data losses. Owners should monitor the associated infrastructure and management software to guarantee the flawless functioning and full compatibility of hypervisors with the rest of equipment.
A feature that has been propagated as a benefit of virtualization – quick, hassle-free deployment of new environments – can also pose an inherent threat to a virtualized IT infrastructure of a business. Cloning and copying of images may be done within minutes, thus causing the threat of configuration drift.
Risk Identification and Management
The most common risks falling within one of the three mentioned categories include:
- VM sprawl – uncontrolled multiplication of VMs within one environment leading to its unmanageable state, presence of unpatched and unprotected VMs, and an increase in security threats.
- Confidentiality threats – sensitive data stored on VMs may be compromised much more accessible than on physical hardware because of easier data transportation in the virtualized environment.
- Loose virtual network controls – the traffic going through virtual networks is not visible, so network security breaches are a tangible threat to address. In order to combat potential network threats, companies need to implement consistent audits, which are fundamental in preventing breaches. SecureLink specifies that the five keys of a successful network security audit are: identifying sensitive data, limiting access to data, using firewalls to protect data, controlling human error, and monitoring your network.
- Hypervisor security – with the critical importance of this software, businesses should guarantee its security throughout the entire lifecycle. If a hypervisor is compromised, it can provide a single point of unauthorized access to all VMs in the system, thus posing a risk of a significant data loss or theft.
- Offline VM protection – there can be many offline, dormant VMs in a network, falling outside the current security protection system. Thus, their activation alone can cause inherent security threats.
- Resource overload – with the creation of numerous VMs, the burden on physical hardware resources may become too massive for the server to function efficiently.
As soon as you have learned the basic types of risks your VMs can come across, it’s high time to undertake a comprehensive risk assessment to determine the degree of exposure to each. Rank the risks based on their likelihood of occurrence (from low to high), impact on the system stemming from the confidentiality compromise, integrity compromise, and availability compromise. These data can indicate the risk level you should expect and the risk treatment control for the implementation. The final step of risk assessment is the determination of the residual risk level, which is specific to your organization.
As you can see, securing your virtualized environment is not hard if you know what threats to look at and to include in the protection plan. Conduct a regular risk audit and tailor the security measures correspondingly to make sure that your IT environment is intact to attacks of any kind.