How VMware hacked iOS security (allegedly)

Virtualisation without a hypervisor avoids the need for Apple's cooperation, but so far VMware's iOS app virtualisation is just an alpha.

VMware pitches virtualisation as the answer to BYOD security. Running a work-related virtual smartphone inside an employee's physical host phone, as the company has previously deployed onto Android, brings security benefits.

So they say.

But Apple's tight control over what can and cannot be done on its operating system makes iOS virtualisation tricky. What to do?

The answer, says VMware, is to redefine the problem.

"We don't need to do a full device-level virtualisation on iOS, so we've taken the approach of doing application virtualisation," Srinivas Krishnamurti, VMware's senior director mobile solutions, told CSO Online.

"We take individual apps, put a security blanket around it, and put policies around managing that, and the collection of these wrapped applications becomes your work phone."

The apps are provisioned or taken away as a group, under the control of the employee's IT department.

"It's a different model, but it gives you the same security capabilities that we have done on Android, in the sense that nothing goes into your workspace, nothing comes out of your workspace, what happens in the workspace stays inside the workspace," Krishnamurti said.

"Users can't wrap [an application] by themselves. IT can do that and push it onto the device, but you as an end user can't get Angry Birds and say 'Hey, I want to wrap this'."

So in theory, just as with operating system virtualisation, nothing can run in the context of the employee's workplace without the IT department being in control.

"The notion would be that one side is the phone for your personal use, and you can do whatever the heck you want. And the other side of the phone is for corporate use, and you can only do what IT allows you to do. And IT can only see the corporate side of your phone, and not your personal side," Krishnamurti said.

"Having the clear separation between your personal and corporate lives, and allowing IT to only manage the corporate side of the phone, [means that] if you quit or get fired they can only wipe the corporate side of your phone, not the entire phone."

Sounds great. But remember, so far we've only seen an on-stage demo of an alpha product. Or to put it more bluntly, it's still vapourware. Let's wait and see.

Stilgherrian travelled to VMworld in San Francisco as a guest of VMware.

Contact Stilgherrian at Stil@stilgherrian.com or follow him on Twitter at @stilgherrian

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Incident handling is a vast topic, but here are a few tips for you to consider in your incident response. I hope you never have to use them, but the odds are at some point you will and I hope being ready saves you pain (or your job!).


  1. Have an incident response plan.

  2. Pre-define your incident response team 

  3. Define your approach: watch and learn or contain and recover.

  4. Pre-distribute call cards.

  5. Forensic and incident response data capture.

  6. Get your users on-side.

  7. Know how to report crimes and engage law enforcement. 

  8. Practice makes perfect.

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