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NWC’s Wittmann: Security in Virtualized Environments Overstated: Just Do It!

In the April, 2007 edition of Network Computing magazine, Art Wittmann talks about server virtualization, its impact on data center consolidation and the overall drivers and benefits virtualization offers. 

What’s really interesting is that while he rambles on about the benefits of power, cooling and compute cycle-reclamation, he completely befuddled me with the following statement in which he suggests that:

    "While the security threat inherent in virtualization is
     real, it’s also overstated."

I’ll get to the meaty bits in a minute as to why I think this is an asinine comment, but first a little more background on the article.

In addition to illustrating everything wrong with the way in which IT has traditionally implemented security — bolting it on after the fact rather than baking it in — it shows the recklessness with which evangelizing the adoption of technology without an appropriate level of security is cavalierly espoused without an overall understanding of the impact of risk such a move creates.

Whittmann manages to do this with an attitude that seeks to suggest that the speed-bump security folks and evil vendors (or in his words: nattering nabobs of negativity) are just intent on making a mountain out of a molehill.

It seems that NWC approaches the evaluation of technology and products in terms of five areas: performance, manageability, scalability, reliability and security.  He lists how virtualization has proven itself in the first four categories, but oddly sums up the fifth category (security) by ranting not about the security things that should or have been done, but rather how it’s all overblown and a conspiracy by security folks to sell more kit and peddle more FUD:

"That leaves security as the final question.  You can bet that everyone who can make a dime on questioning the security of virtualization will be doing so; the drumbeat has started and is increasing in volume. 

…I think it’s funny that he’s intimating that we’re making this stuff up.  Perhaps he’s only read the theoretical security issues and not the practical.  While things like Blue Pill are sexy and certainly add sizzle to an argument, there are some nasty security issues that are unique to the virtualized world.  The drumbeat is increasing because these threats and vulnerabilities are real and so is the risk that companies that "just do it" are going to discover.

But while the security threat is real –and you should be concerned about it — it’s also overstated.  If you can eliminate 10 or 20 servers running outdated versions of NT in favor of a single consolidated pair of servers, the task of securing the environment should be simpler or at least no more complex.  If you’re considering a server consolidation project, do it.  Be mindful of security, but don’t be dissuaded by the nattering nabobs of negativity."

As far as I am concerned, this is irresponsible and reckless journalism and displays an ignorance of the impact that technology can have when implemented without appropriate security baked in. 

Look, if we don’t have security that works in non-virtualized environments, replicating the same mistakes in a virtualized world isn’t just as bad, it’s horrific.   While it should be simpler or at least no more complex, the reality is that it is not.  The risk model changes.  Threat vectors multiply.  New vulnerabilities surface.  Controls multiply.  Operational risk increases.

We end up right back where we started; with a mess that the lure of cost and time savings causes us to rush into without doing security right from the start.

Don’t just do it. Understand the risk associated with what a lack of technology, controls, process, and policies will have on your business before your held accountable for what Whittmann suggests you do today with reckless abandon.  Your auditors certainly will. 


  1. Rory
    May 1st, 2007 at 02:35 | #1

    You've found auditors that understand the security & control requirements of virtualized environments ! Wow! Where?

  2. May 1st, 2007 at 05:15 | #2

    No, that's exactly my point! They fear what they do not know. If you cannot prove that you are secure, they will assume you are not. Default Deny.
    We ran through this exercise @ RSA on the Virtualization panel and a world of hurt is coming for folks who have put virtualized environments into production and yet to be audited.
    I *have* invested a tremendous amount of time educating my regulators and auditors on how virtualized security models can be efficiently and securely implemented and reaped the rewards of those efforts.

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