VDI Under The Security Microscope

Black Hat USA researchers explore security risks with virtual desktop infrastructure with BYOD.



Desktop virtualization is often mentioned as an attractive way to address some of the security challenges around bring-your-own-device (BYOD) approaches.

Yet the promise of security that typically goes along with talk of VDI (virtual desktop infrastructure) is not ironclad. Understanding the security risks that exist with VDI as enterprises embark on BYOD initiatives is the subject Michael Shaulov and Daniel Brodie of Lacoon Mobile Security plan to address during their presentation at the upcoming Black Hat USA conference in Las Vegas.

"Our presentation is not about destroying the myth about VDI but rather a guidance of how to evaluate and quantify different security aspects when moving forward with mobility initiatives," Shaulov tells Dark Reading. "VDIs bring a lot of value in use cases when the device is lost ... it's just that VDI vendors do not have any cybersecurity expertise and therefore do not close the gap in that space."

One of the most touted security benefits of VDI is that data stays in the data center and is not stored locally on the device. Yet that may not matter in the event the device is compromised. As part of the research, the focus was on the idea of smartphones infecting with screen scraping, keylogging malware designed to steal data. With the malware in tow, it is possible for infected phones to cough up user login credentials for VDI sessions, leading to a wider compromise. The malware and surveillance kits the researchers used are in the wild and can be purchased for $50 to $100.

Two-factor authentication cannot fully address the issue, says Shaulov, nothing that a text message notification of a login attempt could still be intercepted by malware.

"We quantify the in-the-wild threats using the research we've conducted with [CheckPoint Software Technologies] and provide the statistics on their prevalence on employees' smartphones within enterprise networks," says Shaulov. "We show that many corporate clients are now exposed to targeted malicious activity on their employees' mobile devices."

"While we demoing the attacks with Citrix," he adds, "[these] attacks apply on and VDI solution. Moreover we are very careful with not to destroy the value of VDI solutions, as they do bring a lot."

The solution to the issue is mobile malware detection and scanning, he says. The company is currently working on a partnership with Citrix to provide the functionality.

"We are moving forward with our partnership with Citrix," he says, "and [are] just trying to raise the awareness around the gaps and why enterprises need to make sure that they cover everything when implement a mobility program." 

Brian Prince is a freelance writer for a number of IT security-focused publications. Prior to becoming a freelance reporter, he worked at eWEEK for five years covering not only security, but also a variety of other subjects in the tech industry. Before that, he worked as a ... View Full Bio

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