Virtual machines have gotten a big name for themselves in the IT field, as well as on a more casual and business side.
In short words, virtual machines let you open and execute apps on systems that otherwise you couldn’t. For example, run Windows on a Mac or Linux inside Windows.
But most importantly, cybersecurity experts use them to test, play, and protect from malware.
So, everything seems interesting and useful so far. Let’s analyze what they are, how many of them exist, and how we can help protect your business using virtual machines.
Virtual Machines: Definition & Benefits
They’re online computers running inside a physical one (that’s called a Host).
As it was mentioned, they’re used to experiment with different apps and systems, without having to install it on physical hardware.
Like the example at the top, having Windows and Linux on the same computer is possible with virtual machines. It gives the perception of being on different “boxes,” when they’re connected.
You can test their distributions, customize the appearances, and run any compatible program for a while, to later deactivate this VM and continue using your original OS.
This can be applied not only to operative systems but as well as for users’ accounts inside the main host. You can create and destroy faster than you would originally, saving security team members and testers a lot of time.
Of course, money can be saved as well. Several team members simulating different systems on the same computer can stretch the budget if done correctly.
And while virtual machines don’t require specific hardware to run correctly, they do ask for more bandwidth and processing requirements than traditional computers.
There’s a good reason for that: virtual environments open higher scalability.
Lastly, virtual machines are mostly used to avoid risking the main system with malware, when testing different software, and to restore data. They’re virtual and distant, after all.
… Or that’s the majority of VM users believe.
We’ll talk about it in a moment. Just before, let’s touch upon the different types that exist.
Different Types of Virtual Machines
Virtual machines can be classified into two and a half different types.
You’ll see why…
First and foremost, there’s the System Virtual Machine, which imitates a real computer’s components and processes. Here’s where you can host different operative systems in one.
The second type is called Process Virtual Machines (also known as Application Virtual Machine). These are used to execute individual processes and applications, so it exists when one starts and it doesn’t anymore when the software is closed.
Of course, they’re useful to test programs that are incompatible with your current OS.
And, the “half” type of virtual machines, is quite new and popular these days: Containers.
We can count them as another component of the virtualized server itself, but not based on the same hypervisor software. They don’t require the hardware components that the other types of VM do. Containers are used to run many applications, without a multi-OS scenario.
This is clear proof that virtualization is also evolving (it has existed for over two decades)… But threats keep evolving as well.
Threats Targeting Virtual Machines in 2020
Multiple case studies have proven throughout the years that virtual machines can open undesired security vulnerabilities.
For its very nature, all security threats that you have on a real machine, you’ll also have it with a virtual one. Remember, they mimic almost all qualities of your hardware-powered OS.
And because virtual machines are used to share one physical computer among several team members, to provide high-value services and test high-risk software… The odds point out to even worse scenarios you must protect from.
Especially, when you know in fact that virtual machines are less likely to be patched (they’re started and reset over and over). They also contain weaker passwords than real machines.
High-risk websites (full of infectious threats) are the most accessed using virtual machines. Because users believe they will be able to quickly reset it when a bad situation is identified…
But after all, users wouldn’t need VM in the first place if they’re that good at recognizing malware.
To be clear, the worst part is that having a virtual machine connected to your domain and network, it translates to opening the doors to possible malicious attacks.
And by what it was exposed, casual users and expert teams implement security measures after the consequences are too deep and stuck into the root.
That’s not what we want to achieve here.
Defense Mechanism to Safely Use Virtual Machines
The following are the same defense mechanism and security measures you can replicate for your virtual machines:
- Firewall Virtual Machine Layered Ports: In addition to the normally open ports within an operating system for its servers and clients, the virtual machine can open its ports (using the IP addresses of the host operating system).
These ports can allow others to remotely connect to the virtual machine to view or configure it, share drives, or perform other tasks. Access to these ports must be strictly limited to machines that are authorized to manage the virtual infrastructure.
At a minimum, a firewall (either attached in or apart from the host) should protect the ports, only offering access to a few admin machines. So no remote access to the host itself or the hypervisor.
- Encrypt Communication: Encryption for secure communication should be used whenever possible.
Encrypted HTTPS, TLS, SSH, or VPN will be used from guest to host or management devices to hosts.
Encrypted links provide not only encryption to hide requests and responses between machines and hosts, they also provide packet authentication to prevent spoofed sources from conducting attacks, connection hijacking, route hijacking, and man-in-the-middle attacks.
You see… It doesn’t have to be complicated.
My objective with today’s read is to boost general consciousness about potential threats that can present if we forget about Virtual Machine Cybersecurity.
If you are now motivated to implement it into your business, then I got good news for you:
We help design, configure, and manage the entire server virtualization that you need now to… Improve productivity and privacy, while decreasing complexity and resource usage.