Feeds

How safe is VMware's hypervisor?

The debate rages on

Application security programs and practises

CanSecWest VMware researcher Oded Horovitz got an earful when he told a group of security buffs his company's virtualization software was theoretically impenetrable. Speaking at the CanSecWest conference in Vancouver, his hour-long presentation, titled Virtually Secure, included a slide titled "VM Escape" that carried the following bullet point:

"Though impossible by design, the hypervisor can still have implementation vulnerabilities."

It was more than some attendees could bear.

"And the Titanic was unsinkable," Mike Poor, a senior security analyst for IntelGuardians shot back. Other attendees complained that security increasingly looked like an afterthought as VMware continued to add new bells and whistles to its Workstation and ESX Server products - many from third party companies.

"I take strong issue with your saying 'trust the hypervisor' when you're expanding it to run other people's APIs," one attendee, who asked not to be identified, told Horovitz immediately following his talk.

The topic is of supreme importance to the future of security. Researchers already depend on VMware Player and Workstation as a means of protecting their machines when analyzing Trojans and other types of malware. And increasingly, large companies are considering virtualization as a means of insulating their servers against rootkits and other types of malware that can burrow into the deepest recesses of their machines and remain there undetected for months or years.

VMware is increasingly holding out ESX as a safer alternative for enterprise computing. It provides a hypervisor that runs directly on top of the hardware and in turn allows one or more "guest" operating systems to run above. VMware says the hypervisor provides an additional layer of protection that is much more resistant to malware than various operation systems. What's more, the hypervisor can sit below the OSes and perform various tasks such as malware detection and patch monitoring.

If the dissenters sound skeptical that hypervisor is impervious, they have their reasons. Poor said his firm received $1.2m from the Department of Homeland Security to look for ways attackers can penetrate hypervisors and ways security researchers can detect and prevent such escapes. Because the two years worth of research is under lock and key, Poor could only say: "We were successful in all three."

And it was only last month that researchers from Core Security Technologies found a bug in VMware's desktop virtualization applications that in some cases allowed attackers to take complete control of the underlying PC. While the vulnerability didn't affect the hypervisor in ESX, it did demonstrate that the protective layer in related VMware products wasn't always as secure as some researchers assumed.

"I'm thrilled they're taking security seriously," Poor said in an interview. "I'm thrilled they have people like Oded on board, and I'm thrilled that the community has brought security to the forefront of VMware's developers. I'm opposed to blindly trusting anything." ®

Eight steps to building an HP BladeSystem

More from The Register

next story
Sysadmin Day 2014: Quick, there's still time to get the beers in
He walked over the broken glass, killed the thugs... and er... reconnected the cables*
SHOCK and AWS: The fall of Amazon's deflationary cloud
Just as Jeff Bezos did to books and CDs, Amazon's rivals are now doing to it
Amazon Reveals One Weird Trick: A Loss On Almost $20bn In Sales
Investors really hate it: Share price plunge as growth SLOWS in key AWS division
US judge: YES, cops or feds so can slurp an ENTIRE Gmail account
Crooks don't have folders labelled 'drug records', opines NY beak
Auntie remains MYSTIFIED by that weekend BBC iPlayer and website outage
Still doing 'forensics' on the caching layer – Beeb digi wonk
BlackBerry: Toss the server, mate... BES is in the CLOUD now
BlackBerry Enterprise Services takes aim at SMEs - but there's a catch
The triumph of VVOL: Everyone's jumping into bed with VMware
'Bandwagon'? Yes, we're on it and so what, say big dogs
Carbon tax repeal won't see data centre operators cut prices
Rackspace says electricity isn't a major cost, Equinix promises 'no levy'
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Prevent sensitive data leakage over insecure channels or stolen mobile devices.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.