With the advent of virtualization, software and hardware options have expanded for many users, allowing them to create multiple virtual machines running on different operating systems without incurring additional hardware and licensing costs. Because of its undeniable advantages and the greater flexibility it offers, virtualization is very popular today. However, in addition to the benefits of creating multiple virtualized IT environments, businesses are also faced with new and unprecedented risks that do not exist in traditional IT infrastructures. It is therefore important to understand these risks and take all necessary precautions to ensure the safety of sensitive data on virtual machines. Click here to learn more about effective backup solutions for virtual machines and to identify and mitigate risks to your virtualized environment.
New environments, new risks
Virtualized environments differ from traditional physical environments in that they are elusive. While a loss of physical data can be repaired by restoring the hardware, a VM failure can be truly irreparable because the data in the VM does not have a physical storage point. Due to the specific nature of virtualisation, the risks to which these environments are exposed can roughly be divided into three areas:
VMs are completely virtual, but still have a connection to the physical hardware via switches. These can then become the target of attacks – from the outside or other (malicious) VMs in the network.
A hypervisor is an important piece of software that makes virtualisation possible. As a result, any security flaws in hypervisors can lead to widespread failure and data loss. Operators need to master the appropriate infrastructure and management software to ensure that hypervisors function properly and are fully compatible with the rest of the hardware.
Connected to configuration
A feature touted as an advantage of virtualization – the quick and easy implementation of new environments – can also threaten the IT infrastructure of a virtualized enterprise. Cloning and copying images may take a few minutes, so there is a risk that the configuration does not match.
Risk identification and management
The most common risks falling into one of these three categories are the following
- VM proliferation – uncontrolled proliferation of VMs in the same environment, resulting in their uncontrollable state, the presence of unprotected and unattended VMs and increased security risks.
- Threats to privacy – Sensitive data stored on virtual machines can be compromised to a much greater extent than on physical hardware due to the ease of data transfer in a virtualized environment.
- Lack of control over virtual networks – traffic passing through virtual networks is not visible, making network security vulnerabilities a tangible threat that needs to be addressed.
- Hypervisor Security – Given the critical importance of this software, organizations must ensure its security throughout its lifecycle. If compromised, the hypervisor can provide a single point of unauthorized access to all VMs in the system, creating the risk of loss or theft of important data.
- Standalone virtual machine protection – there may be many standalone and inactive virtual machines on the network that are not covered by current security. Therefore, their activation alone can lead to security threats.
- Resource Overload – When creating multiple virtual machines, the load on physical hardware resources can become too great for efficient server performance.
Once you are aware of the main types of risks your virtual machines may be exposed to, it is time to conduct a comprehensive risk assessment to determine your exposure to each of these risks. Assessing risks in terms of the probability of their occurrence (low to high) and the impact on the system as a result of the trade-off between confidentiality, integrity and availability. These data can provide insight into the expected level of risk and the management of the risk treatment during execution. The final step in the risk assessment is to determine the level of residual risk specific to your company.
As you can see, it’s easy to protect your virtualized environment as long as you know which threats to monitor and include in your protection plan. Carry out regular risk audits and adjust your security measures accordingly to ensure that your IT environment is not vulnerable to attacks of any kind.
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