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Virtualization security concerns: The threat of hypervisor malware

What is hypervisor malware, and how worried should enterprises employing virtualization be about it? Threats expert Nick Lewis explains.

Recently, researchers have made strides toward detecting malware in hypervisors, but are there a few best practices, particularly for hypervisors, that can prevent malware from getting on there in the first place? Also, how common is hypervisor malware?

Malware for hypervisors is rare, but could have a significant effect on the trustworthiness of the system as reported. For hypervisor malware to increase in occurrence, it's likely that criminals would need to find ways to more easily monetize attacks on the hypervisor. However, given the high level of access that could be gained by compromising a hypervisor, these types of attacks are one of several virtualization security concerns that are likely to increase in occurrence and could cause significant disruptions, such as denial-of-service (DoS) attacks or compromises of sensitive data.

Also, some hypervisors are vulnerable to malware attacks because of the platform they run on. Microsoft Hyper-V, VirtualPC and certain versions of VMware, run on top of Windows, and other hypervisors run on top of Linux-based systems. The Linux or Windows server components could be attacked to compromise the security of the virtual infrastructure.

A new method that can be used to prevent malware from infecting a hypervisor was discussed in a recent technical report by researchers at North Carolina State University and IBM, but some other best practices can be taken. These could include isolating the management interfaces of, and connections to the hypervisor to only the systems that need access, not running un-trusted code on the hypervisor , such as software not provided by the hypervisor vendor and keeping the hypervisor software up to date. This excludes any security measures that should be taken on the guest OSes on the virtual infrastructure to ensure the guests cannot be used to attack the hypervisor.

This was first published in October 2010

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