Seven essentials for VM management and security

Virtualisation isn't a new trend, these days it's an essential element of infrastructure design and management. However, while common for the most part, organisations are still learning as they go when it comes to cloud-based initiatives.

Virtualization isn't a new trend, these days it's an essential element of infrastructure design and management. However, while common for the most part, organizations are still learning as they go when it comes to cloud-based initiatives.

[Security practices wanting in virtual machine world, survey finds]

CSO recently spoke with Shawn Willson, the Vice President of Sales at Next IT, a Michigan-based firm that focuses on managed services for small to medium-sized organizations. Willson discussed his list of essentials when it comes to VM deployment, management, and security.

Preparing for time drift on virtual servers. "Guest OSs should, and need to be synced with the host OS...Failure to do so will lead to time drift on virtual servers -- resulting in significant slowdowns and errors in an active directory environment," Willson said.

Despite the impact this could have on work productivity and daily operations, he added, very few IT managers or security officers think to do this until after they've experienced a time drift. Unfortunately, this usually happens while attempting to recover from a security incident. Time drift can lead to a loss of accuracy when it comes to logs, making forensic investigations next to impossible.

Establish policies for managing snapshots and images. Virtualization allows for quick copies of the Guest OS, but policies need to be put in place in order to dictate who can make these copies, if copies will (or can) be archived, and if so, where (and under what security settings) will these images be stored.

"Many times when companies move to virtual servers they don't take the time the upgrade their security policy for specific items like this, simply because of the time it requires," Willson said.

Creating and maintaining disaster recovery images. "Spinning up an unpatched, legacy image in the case of disaster recovery can cause more issues than the original problem," Willson explained.

To fix this, administrators should develop a process for maintaining a patched, "known good" image.

Update disaster recovery policy and procedures to include virtual drives. "Very few organizations take the time to upgrade their various IT policies to accommodate virtualization. This is simply because of the amount of time it takes and the little value they see it bringing to the organization," Willson said.

But failing to update IT policies to include virtualization, "will only result in the firm incurring more costs and damages whenever a breach or disaster occurs," Willson added.

[3 key issues for secure virtualization]

Maintaining and monitoring the hypervisor. "All software platforms will offer updates to the hypervisor software, making it necessary that a strategy for this be put in place. If the platform doesn't provide monitoring features for the hypervisor, a third party application should be used," Willson said.

Consider disabling clip boarding between guest OSs. By default, most VM platforms have copy and paste between guest OSs turned on after initial deployment. In some cases, this is a required feature for specific applications.

"However, it also poses a security threat, providing a direct path of access and the ability to unknowingly [move] malware from one guest OS to another," Willson said.

Thus, if copy and paste isn't essential, it should be disabled as a rule.

Limiting unused virtual hardware. "Most IT professionals understand the need to manage unused hardware (drives, ports, network adapters), as these can be considered soft targets from a security standpoint," Willson said.

However, he adds, "with virtualization technology we now have to take inventory of virtual hardware (CD drives, virtual NICS, virtual ports). Many of these are created by default upon creating new guest OSs under the disguise of being a convenience, but these can offer the same danger or point of entry as unused physical hardware can."

Again, just as it was with copy and paste, if the virtualized hardware isn't essential, it should be disabled.

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