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Bringing you news and commentary on solutions and strategies for protecting critical IT infrastructure in the context of your business.

Are You Putting All Your Eggs in One Virtual Basket?

Posted April 22, 2010    Brad Hibbert

With the annual VMWare Virtualization forum 2010 coming to a city near you this spring, I thought this might be a good time to explore some of the virtualization initiatives and challenges that eEye’s customers frequently deal with.

At eEye this is a topic we hear about a lot from our customers. The business drivers are typically focused on lowering hardware and management costs, or improving efficiencies of the IT staff. Whatever the rationale behind a virtualization initiative, the key piece of advice I can offer is to ensure your virtual plans are in alignment with your overall security and compliance goals.

Remember, although virtual machines are easily created, they have the same support, security, and compliance issues as physical machines. As you consolidate and run more critical services on fewer physical machines, the security and protection of those assets becomes increasingly important to your business. Below are three common concerns that typically come up when talking to our customers.

Virtualization Sprawl Concerns: One of the first questions we get asked with respect to virtualization is if eEye can help with asset discovery and documentation. This is a good first step in planning your virtualization strategy – understanding your initial state. Virtual machines (VMs) include an operating system, applications, and other services that may be connected to a network and therefore present the same operational and security issues as physical servers.

Uncontrolled deployment of VMs can result in a state known as virtualization sprawl, the impact of which can range from an inconvenience and loss of productivity to more serious issues that can impact compliance and profit margins. To minimize the impact of virtualization sprawl, the operations and security teams should have a formal process for deployment and should know the location and status of all authorized and unauthorized virtual machines running on the network. In a sprawl scenario, VMs might not be up-to-date and secured, opening the door for hackers and general noncompliance.

Security Concerns: Many organizations don’t understand the security impact of moving into a virtual world and this remains a primary barrier to adoption. While many customers focus on the virtual machines, ensuring the virtualization platform has the latest service packs and is properly configured is paramount (Most vendors offer hardening guides for their hypervisors).

A virtual host and virtualized machine must be properly configured, patched, and maintained. This helps ensure that the system can’t be exploited and used to attack other machines on the network or that data is not otherwise compromised. Most leading vulnerability assessment products, including eEye, identify virtualized environments and perform both configuration and vulnerability checks against the virtual platform vendors.

Compliance Concerns: Virtual platforms and virtualized machines are not treated differently than physical devices when it comes to compliance mandates that include PCI, SOX, HIPAA and FISMA. Organizations must be capable of demonstrating adequate implementation, management, and monitoring of computer and detailed security controls over both the host and virtualized environment.

And don’t forget that some mandates, like PCI, may have specific requirements that could impact your virtual rollout.

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