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7/27/2007
07:24 AM
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Virtualization's New Benchmark

Consortium gives recommendations for securing emerging virtualized technology

If you're not sure how best to configure your virtual machines for security, sit tight. The nonprofit Center for Internet Security (CIS) is about to release a security benchmark that gives you the lowdown on how to lock down your virtualized systems.

Virtualization may be convenient, efficient, and eco-friendly, but it's also a big fat security risk if you don't configure it properly. There's no guarantee your security policies will carry over to those tens of thousands of virtual servers affiliated with your thousands of physical machines. The hypervisor layer, for instance, creates a new security attack vector, and tracking moves, changes, and patching of VM machines can get out of control. (See VMs Create Potential Risks.)

Chris Farrow, director of the center for policy and compliance for Configuresoft, says the creation of a security benchmark for virtual machines began last year. Some large financial firms were retooling their data centers with virtualization, and they urged CIS to consider addressing virtual machine security as well.

"We found that no one was building a best-practices [model] for securing the virtual infrastructure," says Farrow, who works with the CIS, which is made up of vendors, universities, consultants, government agencies, and enterprises. "That alarmed us. It was like VOIP, a technology so hot that there are great big massive rollouts before you can figure out the risk and how secure it is."

Configuresoft is among the organizations working on the security benchmark, which will include benchmarks for specific virtualization software, including VMware's ESX Server, Microsoft's Virtual Server, and Xen Virtual Machine. CIS, which has benchmarks for everything from Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 to wireless LANs, Cisco IOS routers, and Apache Web Server, creates consensus-built benchmarks that can be used by enterprises, federal agencies, and the vendors themselves, to configure products securely.

The virtualization benchmark covers virtual machine monitoring; hypervisor security; network parameters; port permissions; system access, authentication, and authorization; and kernel-tuning.

"CIS has traditionally been very prescriptive in its benchmarks -- set this setting at this, to this parameter, and use this configuration file," Farrow says.

To prevent malicious activity from a "guest" virtual operating system, for instance, the benchmark recommends disabling the copy-and-paste operations between the guest OS and the remote console, says Joel Kirch, information assurance programs manager for WBB Consulting and a member of the CIS team working on the virtualization benchmark.

The CIS' overview document for the virtualization benchmark will be released for public review in the next few weeks. The individual vendor benchmarks will follow, according to Configuresoft's Farrow.

— Kelly Jackson Higgins, Senior Editor, Dark Reading

  • Configuresoft Inc.
  • Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT)
  • VMware Inc. (NYSE: VMW)

    Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Executive Editor of Dark Reading. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

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