Vendors Push Virtual Security

Hypervisors may be the key to securing virtual data

James Rogers, Contributor

February 13, 2007

4 Min Read

With users voicing their concerns about the security challenges of virtualization, vendors are slowly cranking up their efforts to lock down virtual data. (See Tales From the Virtual Crypt.)

Today, for example, Virtual Iron teamed up with Reflex Security in an attempt to protect virtual data from denial-of-service (DOS) attacks, viruses, and worms. (See Virtual Iron, Reflex Security Team.)

The idea is that the Reflex Virtual Security Appliance (VSA) can check for threats on Virtual Iron virtual machines. Starting in the second quarter, the two firms will cross-sell each other's software, with prices for VSA starting at around $1,000 per CPU.

Reflex Security has already established a similar partnership with Virtual Iron's rival VMware and is also involved in talks with XenSource, according to Bob Darabant, Reflex's vice president of sales and marketing. "We're talking to almost every [virtualization] player," he says.

Whether this approach is enough to satisfy the long-term security needs of enterprise users remains to be seen. "Realistically, virtualization hasn't addressed the majority of security issues," explains Steve Reed, CTO of consulting and analyst firm Virtual Ngenuity, explaining that adding additional software brings more complexity to users' data centers. Instead, he says, virtualization vendors should focus on the hypervisors at the core of their technology.

Hypervisors are essentially programs that enable multiple operating systems to use the same hardware and, as such, could fulfill a critical security role for users. "Rather than blocking traffic, [hypervisors] focus on transferring data to VMs," says Reed. "Once security has been implemented into the hypervisor, the ability to compromise VMs will significantly decrease."

Users at a virtualization event in New York last week urged vendors to bolster their hypervisor security stories, and processor giant Intel admitted publicly that more and more of its customers are demanding secure virtual machines. (See Users Talk Virtual Troubles.)

VMware is rumored to be building a firewall into its virtualization software, although the vendor would not speak to Byte and Switch about its roadmap today. That said, VMware has already moved to lock down virtual machines with its Assured Computing Environment (ACE) product and is expected to focus its security efforts at the hypervisor level.

XenSource, for its part, told Byte and Switch that efforts to fortify its Xen open source hypervisor are well underway. (See XenSource.) Last week, for example, the vendor built IBM's Secure Hypervisor Architecture or "SHype," into the hypervisor in an attempt to lock down virtual workloads. (See Virtually Secure.)

Essentially, SHype lets users tie security policies to their virtual machines. [Ed. note: Holy SHype!] "You can set certain constraints," explains Simon Crosby, the XenSource CTO. "You could say that this VM may not talk to certain IP addresses, or say that this [virtual] application may not run after midnight."

The vendor has also added support for the Trusted Computing Group's Trusted Platform Module (TPM) specification into its hypervisor. (See TPM To Bolster Laptop Security.) This, according to Crosby, lets the hypervisor check whether software running on VMs complies with certain security keys and certificates.

Next up for XenSource are support for Intel's LT security initiative, formerly known as Lagrande, and AMD's Presidio technology. Crosby said that XenSource will add support for the LT security architecture, which is due out in the third quarter this year, along with support for Presidio. "These give the hypervisor the ability to continually check whether software running [on VMs] has been compromised," explains Crosby.

Virtual Iron, which also uses the Xen hypervisor, is working on a similar roadmap, according to Chris Barclay, the vendor's director of product management. Although he would not go into specifics, the exec explained that Virtual Iron is also looking at adding firewall features to virtual switches and building packet inspection and intrusion detection technology into its software. "Over the coming quarters, we will be making more announcements," he says.

— James Rogers, Senior Editor Byte and Switch

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