Virtualized Security Best Practices: Protecting Your Data and Applications

Visualized security

With over 80% of workloads worldwide virtualized,  security is a concern for organizations regardless of size, goal, and industry. Proper protection systems for organizations’ workloads and data are necessary to support production and service availability.

In this post, we explain: 

  • Virtualization security definition
  • Main virtualization security issues
  • VM security best practices 

What Is Virtualized Security and How Can It Help? 

Virtualized security (aka security virtualization) refers to software solutions and measures specifically created and applied to protect virtualized environments. Unlike usual, static hardware-based network security on physical switches, firewalls, and routers, virtualization security is all about virtual nodes.

Organizations can significantly boost their IT infrastructure security using virtualized servers, networks, and desktops. Virtualized servers, for example, help isolate sensitive data with the appropriate network segmentation, turning the internal network into a labyrinth for intruders. Virtualized networks simplify traffic management, and virtualized desktops streamline endpoint security and turn virtualization into an effective security tool.

Virtualization Security Issues: Main Threats for Virtualized Environments

Some of the most dangerous virtualization security risks remain similar to physical environments. However, virtualization-specific issues arise when an organization uses virtual workloads to enable or support production and service availability. The list of main problems for VM security in particular, and for the entire environment’s stability, in general, can include:

  • External threats
  • Insider threats
  • Malware and ransomware
  • VM sprawl
  • VM snapshot storing

External Threats

A bad external actor is the standard threat that comes to mind when thinking of IT challenges. That actor can be, for instance, a lone hacker attempting to breach an organization’s protection system for fun or a paid professional group aiming for corporate espionage. These and other external attack cases are challenges that IT security specialists reasonably prioritize.  

Insider Threats

In this case, the risk is from within the organization, not outside. And just like external cybercriminals are the obvious danger sources that every security expert aims to counter, malicious insiders are invisible and frequently ignored. Neglecting the threat results in the absence of security measures. Combine this with the fact that such insiders can remain undetected until they commit an attack, and you receive a perfect storm for any IT infrastructure.

Malware and Ransomware

Viruses, adware, spyware, and other malware have been around for a long time. Nowadays, malware remains among the most significant threats to individuals and organizations. However, one malware kind stands out: ransomware. 

Ransomware is malware that sneakily infiltrates the IT environment, encrypts the data at reach, and starts demanding a ransom for decryption keys. Throughout 2021 and 2022, over 1.1 billion ransomware attacks occurred worldwide, which means that any organization must have a well-prepared plan to counter ransomware and mitigate the successful consequences of an attack if it occurs.  

VM Sprawl

This case is typical for virtual infrastructures, and the easy creation of new virtual machines is the reason here. IT specialists can benefit from the flexibility of virtualized environments and create VMs, for example, to test new apps, features, or tools before deploying them on production machines. Then, such test VMs are forgotten and exist in a virtual environment. 

The threat here is that each of these “abandoned” virtual machines is not updated correctly regarding software and security. While remaining vulnerable, a VM has a higher chance of becoming an entry point for a cyberattack. 

VM Snapshot Storing

Although regular VM snapshot deletion is included in VMware security best practices, organizations tend to keep those point-in-time copies of virtual machines for much longer than experts recommend. The worst thing is when you treat a snapshot as a backup. A snapshot relies on a virtual machine’s disk, meaning that you won’t be able to restore a VM’s data from a snapshot if an error occurs above the VM’s level. 

Additionally, snapshots require significant storage space. When kept without correct control and configuration, snapshots of a single VM can fill the entire disk and cause a global system failure. 

Virtualization Best Practices for Improved Security

Threats are always there, and organizations have to react adequately and quickly. Efficient security systems built around virtualized workloads are a solution to keep your organization’s data and production resources under control. Below is a list of three methods for securing a virtual machine and strengthening overall infrastructure protection.

Least Privilege for Users

The principle of least privilege (aka PoLP) is a commonly known concept in IT. To implement the principle, administrators minimize the range of actions that users can perform and the locations that they can access. The access rights are set at the minimum level required for employees to fulfill their duties. Applying the role-based access control model can streamline implementing the principle of least privilege in your organization’s environment.

Multi-Layer Security

Another tip to boost security in virtualization is to avoid relying on a single protection measure or solution. Even the most advanced solutions working alone most probably won’t be enough to provide efficient security. You can and should have antivirus software installed on VMs, firewalls configured, networks segmented, and active threat monitoring up and running, among other custom practices. 

Saving time and effort by postponing the creation of a complementary multi-layer protection system can result in a global failure. Recovering from an IT disaster can cost you much more than investing enough resources to organize and regularly update your security measures. 

Backup and Disaster Recovery (DR)

Unfortunately, no virtualization security system designed to prevent and counter threats can be perfect. Combined and thoroughly organized protection can dissuade less skilled hackers or give you more time to react correctly to cyberattacks. However, 100% protection is not possible. Therefore, virtualization security should be part of a comprehensive protection plan, and this plan should include prevention as well as response tools to help with successful recovery following an incident.

Having the right Hyper-V or VMware backup solution is the only way to control your data and infrastructure when the leading site is down following an attack or a disaster. Modern backup solutions can help you create and refresh VM backups automatically, schedule data protection activities, and plan disaster recovery sequences for various emergency cases. 

Virtualized Security – Conclusion

Virtualization security is a set of tools, techniques, and activities to protect virtual IT environments from threats such as external and internal attacks, malware, ransomware, VM sprawl, and snapshot issues. You can use the principle of least privilege to set up a reliable protection system for your organization’s environment. Also, consider establishing multi-layered security using such measures as segmented networks, configured firewalls, virtualized routers, special antivirus, and active monitoring solutions. 

Still, implementing a backup and disaster recovery system is the most reliable choice to protect your virtual infrastructure. Advanced all-in-one solutions enable you to automate backup and disaster recovery workflows, ensuring your control over VM data even when the main site is down. Advanced DR sequences can help minimize infrastructure downtime and support production continuity, saving your organization’s reputation, assets, and resources.

FAQ

Q: What is virtualization security?

A: Virtualization security refers to the measures and best practices implemented to protect data, applications, and virtualized environments from potential security risks and threats. It involves securing the underlying virtualization infrastructure, virtual machines, and the data stored and transmitted within virtualized systems.

Q: Why is virtualization security important?

A: Virtualization security is important because it ensures data and applications’ integrity, confidentiality, and availability in virtualized environments. It helps prevent unauthorized access, data breaches, malware attacks, and other security vulnerabilities that could impact the stability and security of the virtual infrastructure.

Q: What are some virtualization security best practices?

A: Some virtualization security best practices include implementing robust access controls, regularly patching and updating virtualization software and hypervisors, encrypting sensitive data, segregating virtual networks, monitoring and auditing virtualized environments, conducting vulnerability assessments, and providing security training for IT staff.

Q: How can organizations protect their virtualized data and applications?

A: Organizations can protect their virtualized data and applications by implementing a multi-layered security approach. This includes deploying firewalls, intrusion detection and prevention systems, antivirus software, and security monitoring tools specifically designed for virtual environments. Regular backups, disaster recovery planning, and secure network configurations are also essential.

Q: Can virtualization security impact performance?

A: Virtualization security can impact performance, but proper implementation and optimization can minimize adverse effects. It is crucial to strike a balance between security measures and performance requirements. Using efficient security solutions, properly configuring virtualization settings, and monitoring performance metrics can help maintain optimal performance levels while ensuring robust security for virtualized environments.

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Alex Tray

Alex Tray

Alex Tray is an experienced IT professional with a decade of expertise in system administration and cybersecurity consultation. With a primary focus on Windows Server and Desktop Administration, Alex possesses a wealth of knowledge in various areas, including Azure, Active Directory, Office 365, DNS, DHCP, Group Policy, Endpoint Manager (Intune), and Microsoft Endpoint Configuration Manager (SCCM).