VMware Inc. is attempting to quell virtual machine (VM) security concerns with a new technology called VMware VMsafe that adds an additional level of protection to applications running in virtual machines.
The company officially announced VMsafe on Feb. 27, during the VMworld Europe conference in Cannes, France. VMware will integrate the technology into third-party software from 20 different security vendors, including Symantec Corp., McAfee Inc. and RSA Security Inc., among many others.
Virtual machine insecurity
All along, VMware has asserted that virtual machines are just as secure, if not more so, than physical machines, so what is VMware's strategy with VMsafe?
"Security is an important issue in general, especially for a company data center to protect company assets. On physical systems, it is very important to deploy secure solutions. We have always advised customers to secure their [virtual] environments as they would on physical systems, which includes utilizing security software and implementing processes to protect systems," said Nand Mulchandani, VMware's senior director of security product management.
With VMsafe, VMware says it has added another level of security above and beyond traditional security products. "Because the hypervisor has a view into virtual machines to control and manage them, we can also get a better view of malware," said Mulchandani. "VMsafe technology utilizes the fundamental properties of virtualization to provide a completely new way to identify and eliminate even the latest generation of malware."
Mulchandani said security concerns have not deterred virtualization adoption, but many of the companies running virtualization won't surrender mission-critical applications to a virtual host. In fact, security tops the list of the most significant challenges in managing server virtualization, according to a recent study of 300 IT managers worldwide sponsored by Islandia, N.Y.-based CA.
VMsafe will be included in future versions of VMware Infrastructure, specifically within ESX Server hypervisor, and will integrate with third-party security products using a set of security application programming interfaces (APIs).
Third-party products built with VMsafe have visibility into VM resources like CPU, memory, disk and I/O systems to identify and eliminate malware. The products themselves will be installed as virtual machines.
Specifically, VMsafe performs the following functions:
- introspection of virtual machine memory pages and CPU states;
- filtering of network packets inside hypervisors and within the security virtual machine itself for network security;
- monitoring and control of process execution by VMsafe's in-guest, in-process APIs;
- mounting, manipulation and modification of guests' virtual machine disk files as they persist on storage devices.
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