Mitigating Risks in Virtualized Environments: An Expert Guide

Mitigating Risks in Virtualized Environments: An Expert Guide

The advent of virtualization has expanded the software and hardware capacity of many users, which has made it possible to create multiple virtual machines running on different operating systems without any additional expense in equipment and licenses. Because of its compelling advantages and the greater degree of flexibility it offers, virtualization is very popular today. But along with the benefits of creating diverse virtual IT environments, businesses are suffering from unprecedented new risks not typical of conventional IT infrastructures. Therefore, it is imperative to understand these risks and take all necessary precautions to ensure the security of sensitive VM data. Click here to learn more about effective VM data backup solutions, and read on if you’re interested in identifying and mitigating risks for your virtualized environment.

New environments, new risks

Virtualized environments are different from traditional physical environments because they are not tangible. Although the loss of physical data can be resolved by restoring the hardware, the escape of the VM can be truly irreparable because the data in the VM does not have a physical storage point. Due to the specificities of virtualization, the risks facing these environments are broadly divided into three areas:

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Architectural

VMs are fully virtual, but they still have a connection to physical hardware through switches. They can thus become the target of attacks – external or from other (malicious) VMs in the network.

Linked to the hypervisor

Hypervisor is the critical software enabling virtualization. Thus, any security vulnerability in hypervisors can lead to large-scale outages and data loss. Owners must monitor the associated infrastructure and management software to ensure flawless operation and full compatibility of the hypervisors with the rest of the equipment.

Related to configuration

A feature that has been propagated as a benefit of virtualization – rapid, hassle-free deployment of new environments – can also pose an inherent threat to a company’s virtualized IT infrastructure. Cloning and copying of images can be done in minutes, leading to the risk of configuration drift.

Identification and management of risks

The most common risks belonging to one of the three categories mentioned are:

  • VM expansion – uncontrolled multiplication of virtual machines in the same environment leading to its unmanageable state, the presence of unpatched and unprotected virtual machines and an increase in security threats.
  • Privacy Threats – Sensitive data stored on virtual machines can be compromised much more accessible than on physical hardware due to easier data transport in the virtualized environment.
  • Loose virtual network controls – traffic passing through virtual networks is not visible, so network security breaches are a tangible threat to be addressed.
  • Hypervisor Security – Given the critical importance of this software, organizations must ensure its security throughout the lifecycle. If a hypervisor is compromised, it can provide a single point of unauthorized access to all VMs in the system, posing a significant risk of data loss or theft.
  • Protecting Offline Virtual Machines – There may be many offline and dormant virtual machines in a network, which do not fall under the current security protection system. Thus, their activation alone can cause inherent security threats.
  • Resource overload – With the creation of many virtual machines, the load on physical hardware resources may become too great for the server to operate efficiently.
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Risk assessment

Once you have learned the basic types of risks that your VMs may encounter, it is high time to undertake a comprehensive risk assessment to determine the degree of exposure to each. Rank risks based on their likelihood of occurrence (low to high), system impact resulting from the confidentiality tradeoff, integrity tradeoff, and availability tradeoff. This data can indicate the level of risk you should expect and the risk treatment control for the implementation. The final step in the risk assessment is determining the level of residual risk, which is specific to your organization.

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As you can see, securing your virtualized environment is not difficult if you know which threats to consider and include in the protection plan. Regularly perform a risk audit and adapt security measures accordingly to ensure that your IT environment is intact against attacks of any kind.


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