The Perils of Virtualization

March 9, 2009

With all of the talk recently regarding the availability of Microsoft’s Intelligent Application Gateway (IAG) SP2 and its official support for running in a virtual infrastructure, as well as the support for Microsoft’s Forefront Threat Management Gateway running in virtual environments, there has been a quiet debate running among my colleagues and peers regarding the virtualization of security systems.

I realize that by virtue of the fact that I work for a hardware vendor (Celestix Networks) that my opinions will be considered by many to be biased. Somewhat perhaps, but the fact remains that virtualization, especially the virtualization of a security system, can prove to be extremely risky. Without proper planning, deployment, and ongoing monitoring of the virtual infrastructure the likelihood of a configuration error leading to a total and complete compromise of your security model is extremely high.

For those of you who might think this is just an alarmist’s point of view, I would encourage you to read this story posted recently at InformationWeek.Com. The article talks about a new virtualization security product, but the interesting thing to note here is that it includes a reference to a documented case where the misconfiguration of a virtual network resulted in a sensitive internal database server being connected directly to the public Internet. According to the article, this was put in to operation and was running for some period of time, until someone later discovered the error. Can you imagine if in this case it wasn’t a database server, but a security system responsible for protecting your entire internal private network?

This of course illustrates clearly the point I am trying to make – that there are substantial security risks associated with virtualizing your security infrastructure. Yes, there are some benefits, but I firmly believe that the risks far outweigh the rewards.