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Sum Of All Virtual Fears

Do virtualized servers???and, increasingly, desktop virtual environments that may circumvent corporate security standards???expose your applications and sensitive data to risk? We take the pulse of the marketplace and ask readers

In March Gartner ignited the blogosphere by stating the obvious: Virtualization creates new attack opportunities. There's still lots of smoke billowing around, but only time will tell how much fire is behind it, and who's fanning the flames. Vendors of new virtualized security "appliances" clearly have a stake. But many enterprises are realizing they rushed headlong into virtualization without considering the impact on their data protection policies, so IT pros do have legitimate concerns over the amount of real estate that could be consumed by a successful attack on a hypervisor.

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If you're squirming right now, the big question you want answered is: Just how risk-exposed are we today? After all, in that same report Gartner predicted that a patch-worthy hypervisor vulnerability would be discovered in a mainstream product before year's end 2008. These potential vulnerabilities fall into two broad categories: First, if you can escape a client OS and move into a host OS, you have access to the data on all the other client OSes on that machine. And, there are whole new realms of rootkits being designed to take advantage of virtualization technology.

"People have been working on breaking out of the guest OS in VMware for some time now," says Greg Shipley, CTO of Neohapsis, a Chicago security consultancy, and InformationWeek contributor. "And having a hypervisor rootkit installed would be a serious threat to any org. However, I don't see the development of the rootkit being the big challenge."

It's the process used to deploy such a rootkit that really intrigues Shipley.

"What's going to require more effort: Researching a vulnerability that allows us to break out of a guest OS and gain control of the hypervisor layer, or going after an administrator and hijacking the credentials required to install the rootkit, just like any other application? If the task was on my plate, I know which route I'd go."

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