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Recognizing and Reducing the Risks in Digital Environments

Recognizing And Reducing The Risks In Digital Environments
Cloud computing and digital technologies have significantly changed the management and administration of IT environments. Digital environments, however, are subject to risks different from their traditional counterparts.  Organizations, therefore, should understand the type of risks these systems face and apply the necessary mitigating measures.

How to Recognize and Reduce Risks in Digital Environments

Here are the risks common to virtualized environments, regardless of architecture or vendor:

Public Cloud Pathways in Hybrid Cloud Systems

A hybrid cloud system consists of both private and public cloud components. Risks and vulnerabilities may arise from this type of system.  The encryption and authentication standards present in a private cloud during data exchange, for instance, may conflict with the public cloud.

To lower the risk at this level, you may use an identity management program that offers a single service for all systems in a public or private cloud. Another option is to implement a common set of compliance standards and enterprise-level security to hybrid cloud systems.

Execution of Virtual Machines (VMs) with Varying Trust Levels

VMs with different trust levels typically operate from a single physical server. This setup may open attack points through a VM with a lower trust level. Since the security controls for a VM with a lower trust level is weaker than the controls for the VM with a higher trust level, the former could become a potential pathway for security breaches and compromise the more secure VM.

The solution to decreasing this risk is to run VMs with different trust levels on separate logical or physical servers and networks. You can also use a firewall to keep VM groups isolated from one another.

Unauthorized Access to the Hypervisor

The hypervisor acts as a layer of software between the VM and the underlying hardware platform. Besides serving as a software layer, the hypervisor is a program that controls VM operations. This layer may be a potential attack point for unwanted users to secure access to a VM. Taking care of this serious vulnerability should be a priority, as malware originating from an infected VM can penetrate the hypervisor and compromise other VMs in the system.

You can mitigate the risks of hypervisor attacks by:

  • Using hypervisor monitoring technologies
  • Reviewing hypervisor logs regularly
  • Applying hypervisor configuration to disable high-risk activities, including file sharing services and sharing memory between VMs operating with the same hypervisor

Dormant and Offline VMs

A significant loophole in virtualized systems are the virtual machines that are either offline or dormant. When an organization suspends a VM to make it inactive, the machine stops deploying critical code patches and security software. This makes the VM outdated during the time it is discontinued. When the organization brings it back online, it becomes a vulnerability in the system until the organization deploys the necessary programs and patches to upgrade it. While the VM remains outdated, it is prone to data theft.

Organizations can reduce the risk associated with dormant VMs by coming up with specific policies to manage these machines. On top of that, companies must install software that automatically identifies recently resurrected offline VMs so that it can deploy the necessary updates to these machines immediately.

Insufficient Network Visibility into Virtual Network Traffic

Inadequate virtual network visibility becomes a problem when implementing security policies, as traffic going through virtual networks may not be noticeable to devices, such as intrusion-detection systems located on a physical network.

This risk is due to the nature of a virtualized system. The hypervisor is usually unable to monitor all communications occurring between virtual machines. You can manage this risk by using a program that monitors virtual network traffic effectively. Additionally, consider getting a hypervisor that can check each operating system separately.

Resource Exhaustion

Resource-intensive programs may deplete the available resources in a physical server when organizations implement these programs in multiple VMs. Security software, for instance, can interrupt calls to memory or disk to prevent and monitor security incidents, such as viruses and hacking. When an anti-virus program operates simultaneously in multiple VMs on a single physical server, it could drain the host resource pool.

Lower this risk by applying the following security controls:

  • Use “virtualization-aware” security programs, which are software designed to scan outside individual VMs.
  • Implement mechanisms that decrease resource contention. A few of the mechanisms you can apply are a workload affinity policy, distributed storage resources, the use of agentless deployment of an anti-virus program, and staggered scanning of machines on the same physical server.
  • Classify VMs according to sensitivity or risk level, and implement reservation policies and suitable resource allocation.
  • Define and apply a standard operating procedure (SOP) that recognizes throttled VMs caused by resource exhaustion and remedies the problem immediately.

Service or Account Hijacking via the Self-Service Portal

Organizations use a self-service portal to delegate certain parts of virtual infrastructure management and provisioning to assigned self-service administrators. Using these portals liberally in cloud computing services will raise vulnerability to security risks, such as service or account hijacking.

Companies can reduce the likelihood of hijacking by:

  • Enforcing secure management of credentials, identities, and accounts
  • Including the creation and use of self-service portals when reviewing and updating guidelines and policies
  • Implementing proactive monitoring to catch unauthorized activities
  • Applying strong authentication techniques to secure both the client and server side of cloud computing from possible attacks
  • Using administrative controls selectively based on the needs and roles of the users
  • Performing periodic penetration testing of the self-service portal to spot and remedy vulnerabilities

VM Sprawl

VM sprawl is a phenomenon that happens when VMs on a network reaches a point where an administrator could no longer manage them effectively. Since an organization can easily create instances of a VM and clone them to physical servers, the quantity of dormant VM disk files will likely rise. On top of that, moving VMs from one physical server to another creates security and audit monitoring complexity, as well as loss of potential control. As a result, many VMs will likely be unsecured, unpatched, and unmanaged.

You can take care of a VM sprawl by:

  • Designing a formal change management process that controls the use, storage, and creation of VM images
  • Using virtualization programs with management solutions to evaluate, patch, and implement security configuration updates to VMs
  • Implementing processes, guidelines, and policies to control and govern VM lifecycle management

Data Theft, Loss, and Hacking

Similar to physical computers, VMs contain a lot of sensitive and critical data, including license keys, passwords, user profiles, and personal information. The risk of data loss is higher with VMs than with physical computers. Moving files and images from VMs is easier than hacking into physical machines via network links. On top of that, the snapshots captured by VMs to deploy system restores are vulnerable to data theft.

A couple of ways to reduce the risk of data loss and theft is to use a private key-based encryption solution. You can also implement comprehensive controls and policies around the storage of snapshots and images.

When you need a reliable cloud security solution to keep your data safe and available, turn to NetStandard. Our services enable you to access your data easily, as well as avoid unwanted cyber attacks that can lead to loss of data.

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