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Déjà Vu All Over Again

Posted September 16, 2011    Peter McCalister

Several months ago I commented on the 3 Pillars of Desktop Security – patch management, virus protection and least privilege. Reviewing our 2010 Microsoft Vulnerability report, I realized just how much most people in IT underestimate the importance of properly limiting administrative privileges in protecting desktops for vulnerabilities.

As I now talk to customers about desktop virtualization and cloud computing its déjà vu all over again. I see some who think that because they can easily spin up a new virtual desktop they don’t need to worry about up to date patches and virus protection Least privilege on a virtual desktop – not a big deal, I can lock down the corporate image and let people spin up their other apps in a virtual sandbox. And it’s worse for cloud based apps. “Well the app is in the cloud so that’s’ where we apply security”.

While there is some truth in all of these strategies, the reality is that the physical device – desktop, laptop or mobile – on which the virtual applications run or where the cloud is accessed from is the weak link in the security chain. All the attack surfaces in the purely physical world are still there in the virtual world. A user with administrative rights can still control access to memory, processes and storage and reroute data and passwords and so can anyone who hacks their way into that desktop. They can install anything they want – like a keystroke logger – change security settings and cover their tracks. So if you are worried about the vulnerability of your desktops in the brave new world of virtualization and clouds then continue to use all three pillars of desktop protection – patch management, virus protection and implement a secure least privilege solution.

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