VMware's Lost Source Code: Not A Panic Situation

VMware lost some of its ESX source code. Cue the sky-is-falling claims. Don't worry, there's no need to panic.

Mike Fratto

April 27, 2012

4 Min Read
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VMware has confirmed that some of its source code to its ESX Server has been leaked. Cue the dramatic music and breathlessly worded missives claiming the sky is falling and your VMware environment will be secure only if you buy someone's stuff. There's no need to panic. Clearly, having its source code leaked is bad for VMware, but that doesn't mean it's bad for you. If you are using virtualization, you most likely are using VMware. If a security problem is found via the leaked source code, it may affect your current version or it may not. Either way, let's not panic. There are likely going to be other hurdles that an attacker will have to leap over to leverage a vulnerability in a hypervisor or even management system.

Before you freak out (or if you are dealing with someone who is curious, concerned or freaking out over the leaked source code), ask the following:

Are your hypervisors available from outside the data center in an uncontrolled manner?
Put another way, can anyone connect to the hypervisor through HTTP/HTTPS, SSH or Telnet? If the answer is yes, you have done a bad thing and you should be banished from the data center for life and made to answer level-one help desk calls.

Most likely, the answer is no. Why would you make your hypervisor available outside the confines of where it resides? There is no reason to. Sure, you might be able to access vSphere over an IPSec or SSL VPN from Starbucks, but hopefully you have that locked down pretty well. Ideally, you don't even allow that.

The point is that before attackers can do damage, they have to have access to the target. It's pretty unlikely that organizations are putting their bare ESX servers on the Internet or even on the internal network. If you are, you get what you get and you only have one place to point that finger of blame.

Are your applications on VMs running code so buggy that an attacker could break through to the underlying OS?
If the answer is yes, your programmers should be banished from writing any code that will run on a server and made to sling Microsoft VBasic for Office. While bugs and vulnerabilities in code occur, you hopefully have taken the proper steps to mitigate the damage. These can include making sure you have a software development lifecycle that addresses problems; ensuring that you have security checks built into your SDLC; using, where possible, development methods that are less prone to mistakes and services running with minimal privileges and limited access to the OS.An attack vector through an application has a multitude of dependencies to be successful. I am not saying it's impossible, but if there are vulnerabilities that big in your outward-facing servers, you were in trouble regardless. Go fix those problems first.

Are your VMware admins irresponsible miscreants who can't be trusted to run your operations?
If the answer is yes, whoever hired them should be fired, along with the miscreants, now. Right now. Run, don't walk, to HR and can 'em. If you can't trust your employees to act responsibly, then you have bigger problems than some leaked software and any potential vulnerability that may arise from it.

There should be only a handful of ways that an attacker can even get access to your hypervisors, including physical access. Your IT department should be aware that laptops, USB keys and other devices brought into the data center (or anywhere) could carry malware on them.

Are your VMware hosts running versions dating back to the 2003 to 2005 time frame?
If the answer is yes, then go find a crowbar, pry open your wallet, and cough up the dollars for new software. Or go install a free alternative like VMware ESXi, VirtualBox or Xen. Running 8-year-old software is just not a good idea for anyone, anywhere, anytime.

I don't want to downplay the significance of leaked software and the potential advantage that it gives a savvy attacker, but access to the source code doesn't mean it's game over, either. Think of the context within which your VMware hypervisors run. A well-run data center should be resilient to attack regardless of what the attacker knows. You have plenty of security tools and processes that can address nearly every situation and lessen the likelihood of a successful attack.

P.S.: I don't think cloud/hosting providers that rely on VMware's software are at great risk, either. Hopefully, they have robust security programs in place to protect against attackers that are both external as well as paying customers.

About the Author(s)

Mike Fratto

Former Network Computing Editor

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