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NIST Releases Virtualization Security Guidelines

The security of a virtualization solution is "heavily dependent" on the security of each of its components, according to the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has issued new guidelines for the implementation of full virtualization that address common security concerns with the technology.

In the "Guide to Security for Full Virtualization Technologies," published this month, NIST makes several recommendations to garner the full benefit of using virtualization to improve operational efficiency and cut costs.

Though it's not as swift on adoption as the private sector, the federal government is increasingly using virtualization across agencies. A recent report from CDW found that 77 percent of federal, state and local agencies are implementing at least one form of virtualization, and of those, 89 percent said they are benefiting from the technology.

Above all, organizations should carefully plan their virtualization deployments, factoring security in as they plan installation and configuration of the system, according to NIST. The standards body said that many performance and security problems with virtualization solutions can be traced back to a lack of planning or management controls in the initial stage of the project.

The security of a virtualization solution also is "heavily dependent" on the security of each of its components, according to NIST.

The standards body recommends that organizations secure each individual component of a virtualization implementation -- such as the hypervisor, host OS, guest OSes, applications and storage -- to ensure the deployment as a whole is secure.

A general rule of thumb should be to apply the same security standards to a virtualized OS as an organization would apply to one running on physical hardware, according to NIST.

"If the organization has a security policy for an application, it should apply the same regardless of whether the application is running on an OS within a hypervisor, or on an OS running hardware," according to the guide.

Organizations also should restrict and protect administrator access to a virtualized solution to improve security. This is especially important because some virtualization products offer multiple ways to manage hypervisors, according to NIST.

"Organization should secure each management interface, whether locally or remotely accessible," the standards body recommended.

In terms of hypervisors, NIST recommends that each one of those be individually secured and monitored for signs of compromise. Moreover, organizations also should provide physical access controls for the hardware on which the hypervisor is running.

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