Network Virtualization: Security Benefits, Risks and Best Practices 

Network Virtualization: Security Benefits, Risks and Best Practices 

October 14

Virtualization is the type of technology that should be adopted with purpose; a specific goal in mind. Depending on the company, those goals may include anything from reducing capital investments in hardware to increasing the efficiency of existing IT systems. If network intrusion and data breaches are topics that keep you up at night, security may be the fuel behind your virtualization aspirations.

Ever so flexible, network virtualization can improve security in several ways. Here are some examples.

Centralizing Confidential Data 

Centralized control is something more organizations are chasing to neutralize one of today’s biggest corporate threats: the careless employee. Statisticsshow that lost laptops cost companies an average of nearly $50,000, which accounts for the cost of the resulting data breach, loss of intellectual property, and replacements. By allowing administrators to centrally manage data, virtualization offers solid defense against theft, virus infections, and other misfortunes that may come the employee’s way.

Providing Secure Access

The proliferation of smartphones and tablets has mobilized the workforce by making it possible for employees to be productive at home, the local cafe, and other locations outside the office. As a result, businesses of all sizes are scrambling to find ways to make sure employees have access to applications and data from anywhere. Virtualization gives employees immediate access to corporate resources from anywhere via a virtual network that is centrally managed and secured back at the office.

Setting Up a Sandbox

With all the malicious software, hackers, and scam artists running amok, employers are right to be apprehensive about allowing workers to access the web from company systems. The sandbox concept is all about isolating applications that may pose a threat to the network, and virtualization offers the ideal environment. For example, you can use a hypervisor to create one big sandbox that is exclusively designed for web browsing. This way, any attacks are isolated within the virtual environment without compromising the host server and the other applications it may be running.

How to Tackle Virtualization Security Challenges

Virtualization does a lot to sure up security, but simply using it can introduce all new security risks. Being isolated means security threats can evade existing security mechanisms and wreak havoc across the targeted host. If precautions are not taken, everything from DOS attacks to data breaches may compromise vital production aspects within, and possibly outside the virtual environment. The following guidelines are designed to minimize the gambles associated with network virtualization.

Know the Risks

We’ve already established the fact that virtualization comes with risks included, but if you plan on adopting it, you need to understand the risks it poses to your company. Although specific risks will vary depending on a number of factors, common risks may be introduced when you:

Keep login credentials or other sensitive data on the host machine

  • Allow virtual machines to access the internet
  • Allow virtual machines to access other networked computers and devices
  • Move virtual machines between physical host machines

Conducting some risk assessment will help you identify the most pressing security challenges for your business and come up with the answers needed to address them.

Harden the Host Machine

A single server can run dozens or hundreds of virtual machines. It’s an impressive feat, and also a lot to ask of your hardware. For this reason, the host machine, particularly the operating system, needs to be bolted down tightly. Make sure it’s equipped with regular updates, anti-virus software, firewalls, and all the recommended security applications. By bolstering the host platform, you can ensure that your VMs have a firm layer of protection right out of the gate.

Police Network Access

A big part of solving virtualization security challenges lies in creating the right access policies for the network. Not everyone with access to a virtual machine needs permissions that allow them to start, configure, and update those machines. Likewise, not every VM necessarily needs access to the internet. From accessing individual applications to security settings, strict access policies must be enforced to ensure the protection of the network.

Unplug What You’re Not Using

Like physical machines, virtual machines can exhaust their use over time. If you can help it, avoid deploying VMs that don’t offer any real purpose or value to business operations. Once they wear out their welcome, they should be immediately disconnected from the network and other connected devices, virtual or otherwise. You run the risk of compromising the production environment the longer these non-functional systems remain in circulation.

Be Realistic

Those desktops or servers you crank out of the hypervisor may be virtual, but they have most of the same needs of physical machines. That means updates and patches must still be applied. Automatic delivery is possible, yet problematic in scenarios where an organization only fires up VMs on an as-needed basis. Whatever the case, IT should be fully aware of all the virtual systems on the network to ensure they receive the proper attention from security personnel.

Virtualization delivers far too many perks to let horror stories about security act as adoption barriers. Sure, it takes some work, but it’s possible to enjoy the best this technology has to offer while keeping the risks to a minimum. Know your situation, understand the risks, and most of all, take the best practices to heart.

Photo Credit: Yuri Samoilov via Flickr