Don’t Swallow the Blue Pill Just Yet

Virtualization is a quickly growing area in IT right now. The prospect of running dozens of virtual servers on one physical server is most appealing. As long as licensing costs don’t eat up too many of the savings, it really does have the potential to transform an infrastructure into something much more efficient.

Of course, with any new technologies there are risks. Sometimes the risks are completely new and sometimes they are the same risks we have been dealing with for years — just repackaged in a slightly different way.

When most people think of virtualization security, they think of things like breaking out of the guest machine onto the host. This would be a very serious attack if successful because it has the potential to leverage one attack into something that can compromise several hosts. Even malware is getting into the business. The Blue Pill proof-of-concept used a small hypervisor to intercept calls to and from the guest, thereby controlling it according to desires of the attacker.

These are real threats, but for most organizations they do not represent the most serious threats to virtualized hosts.¬†I was reminded of this last week when I read about Jason Cornish, a former IT employee of drug maker¬†Shionogi. Jason had a beef with his former employer and he took it out by logging in and deleting 88 virtualized hosts. That’s the functional equivalent of a tornado taking out a small data center. He was able to do this simply because of a password which was not changed upon his termination, thereby allowing him remote access.

What’s the lesson here? The point is that we cannot forget the fundamentals of information security when implementing new technologies. That means doing the non-sexy stuff like changing default passwords, revoking access immediately for terminated employees and sending logs to a centralized log server. In the virtual world, we might review the access levels of the virtual administrators to make sure they are appropriate, separate hosts of different sensitivities onto different hypervisors and get alerted when a virtual machine is added, deleted or moved.

We do need to keep an eye on evolving virtual security threats, but we also have to keep the other eye on the fundamentals. We need both.

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