Virtualisation fans warned on security

Virtualisation could leave your company more vulnerable to attack, a security researcher has warned.

Virtualisation might save your budget, but it could increase the security risk facing your business, a McAfee researcher has warned.

As the economy drives firms to cut costs, many are turning to virtualisation, but they should be aware of the security risks involved, McAfee security analyst Greg Day told IT PRO ahead of VMworld Europe this week.

"More and more are looking at the cost efficiency, and virtualisation as a way of achieving that," said Day. "Make sure we don't leave the risk discussion behind... security is sometimes the afterthought."

"Every business has to look and say this is great, but what does this change to my IT security risk profile'," advised Day. "It might be a litle or a lot."

He added that those firms already using virtualisation technologies should ensure they've closely looked at what's changed in their risk profile. The key question is to decide what you're using viritualisation for be it server consolidation or desktops or testing and to decide how that change to your systems will affect the risks you face, Day said.

As virualisation becomes more popular, the threat will increase. Day said malware is not yet specifically targeting virtualised environments, but that attacks are more "aware" of the technology. "The volume of threats continues to explode," Day warned. "A lot more threats are virtualisation aware."

Indeed, he said some malware generation tools let attackers choose if their criminal creation will work in a virtual environment. "Malware researchers use virtualisation to mimic environments," Day explained. "Some attackers choose to circumnavigate [virtual systems] to avoid researchers."

While Day said he's yet to see any virtualisation-specific attacks, he has seen examples of "poking and proding" around such environments, which he said is "only a sign of what's to come".

"As more and more people use VMware and virtualisation in general, we're more likely to see focus on that space," Day said. "Cybercriminals go where the money is... as more people are in that space, it's more worth the effort."

And as that happens, it may lead attackers to target the virtual machine level instead of applications not good news, as although it would take extra work, successfully hacking at such a low level would offer the "keys to the city," Day said.

Click here for more virtualisation news from VMworld Europe 2009.

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