Microservices Expo Authors: Elizabeth White, Mehdi Daoudi, Pat Romanski, Flint Brenton, Gordon Haff

Related Topics: Containers Expo Blog, Java IoT, Microservices Expo, @CloudExpo, @DXWorldExpo, SDN Journal

Containers Expo Blog: Article

Virtualization Security in Cloud Computing

A novel architecture design that aims to secure virtualization in cloud environments

2011 ended with the popularization of an idea: bringing VMs (virtual machines) onto the cloud. Recent years have seen great advancements in both cloud computing and virtualization. On the one hand there is the ability to pool various resources to provide Software as a Service, Infrastructure as a Service and Platform as a Service. At its most basic, this is what describes cloud computing. On the other hand, we have virtual machines that provide agility, flexibility, and scalability to the cloud resources by allowing the vendors to copy, move, and manipulate their VMs at will. The term virtual machine essentially describes sharing the resources of one single physical computer into various computers within itself. VMware and virtual box are commonly used virtual systems on desktops. Cloud computing effectively stands for many computers pretending to be one computing environment. Obviously, cloud computing would have many virtualized systems to maximize resources.

Keeping this information in mind, we can now look into the security issues that arise within a cloud computing scenario. As more and more organizations follow the "Into the Cloud" concept, malicious hackers keep finding ways to get their hands on valuable information by manipulating safeguards and breaching the security layers (if any) of cloud environments. One issue is that the cloud computing scenario is not as transparent as it claims to be. The service user has no clue about how his information is processed and stored. In addition, the service user cannot directly control the flow of data/information storage and processing. The service provider is usually not aware of the details of the service running on his or her environment. Thus, possible attacks on the cloud-computing environment can be classified into:

  1. Resource attacks: Include manipulating the available resources into mounting a large-scale botnet attack. These kinds of attacks target either cloud providers or service providers.
  2. Data attacks: Include unauthorized modification of sensitive data at nodes, or performing configuration changes to enable a sniffing attack via a specific device etc. These attacks are focused on cloud providers, service providers, and also on service users.
  3. Denial of Service attacks: The creation of a new virtual machine is not a difficult task and, thus, creating rogue VMs and allocating huge spaces for them can lead to a Denial of Service attack for service providers when they opt to create a new VM on the cloud. This kind of attack is generally called virtual machine sprawling.
  4. Backdoor: Another threat on a virtual environment empowered by cloud computing is the use of backdoor VMs that leak sensitive information and can destroy data privacy. Having virtual machines would indirectly allow anyone with access to the host disk files of the VM to take a snapshot or illegal copy of the whole system. This can lead to corporate espionage and piracy of legitimate products.

With so many obvious security issues (a lot more can be added to the list), we need to enumerate some steps that can be used to secure virtualization in cloud computing.

The most neglected aspect of any organization is its physical security. An advanced social engineer can take advantage of weak physical security policies an organization has put in place. Thus, it's important to have a consistent, context-aware security policy when it comes to controlling access to a data center. Traffic between the virtual machines needs to be monitored closely by using at least a few standard monitoring tools.

After thoroughly enhancing physical security, it's time to check security on the inside. A well-configured gateway should be able to enforce security when any virtual machine is reconfigured, migrated, or added. This will help prevent VM sprawls and rogue VMs. Another approach that might help enhance internal security is the use of third-party validation checks, performed in accordance with security standards.

In the above figure, we see that the service provider and cloud provider work together and are bound by the Service Level Agreement. The cloud is used to run various instances, whereas the service end users pay for each use the instant the cloud is used. The following section tries to explain an approach that can be used to check the integrity of virtual systems running inside the cloud.

Checking virtual systems for integrity increases the capabilities for monitoring and securing environments. One of the primary focuses of this integrity check should be the seamless integration of existing virtual systems like VMware and virtual box. This would lead to file integrity checking and increased protection against data losses within VMs. Involving agentless anti-malware intrusion detection and prevention in one single virtual appliance (unlike isolated point security solutions) would contribute greatly towards VM integrity checks. This will reduce operational overhead while adding zero footprints.

A server on a cloud may be used to deploy web applications, and in this scenario an OWASP top-ten vulnerability check will have to be performed. Data on a cloud should be encrypted with suitable encryption and data-protection algorithms. Using these algorithms, we can check the integrity of the user profile or system profile trying to access disk files on the VMs. Profiles lacking in security protections can be considered infected by malwares. Working with a system ratio of one user to one machine would also greatly reduce risks in virtual computing platforms. To enhance the security aspect even more, after a particular environment is used, it's best to sanitize the system (reload) and destroy all the residual data. Using incoming IP addresses to determine scope on Windows-based machines and using SSH configuration settings on Linux machines will help maintain a secure one-to-one connection.

Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) and Cloud Computing
LDAP is an extension to DAP (directory access protocol), as the name suggests, by use of smaller pieces of code. It helps by locating organizations, individuals, and other files or resources over the network. Automation of manual tasks in a cloud environment is done using a concept known as virtual system patterns. These virtual system patterns enable a fast and repeatable use of systems. Having dedicated LDAP servers is not typically necessary, but LDAP services have to be considered when designing an efficient virtual system pattern. Extending LDAP servers to cloud management would lead to a buffering of existing security policies and cloud infrastructure. This also allows users to remotely manage and operate within the infrastructure.

Various security aspects to be considered:

1.     Granular access control

2.     Role-based access control

The directory synchronization client is a client-residential application. Only one instance of DSC can be run at a time. Multiple instances may lead to inconsistencies in the data being updated. If any new user is added or removed, DSC updates the information on its next scheduled update. The clients then have the option to merge data from multiple DSCs and synchronize. For web security, the clients don't need to register separately if they are in the network, provided that the DSC used is set up for NTLM identification and IDs.

Host-Side Architecture for Securing Virtualization in Cloud Environment
The security model described here is purely host-side architecture that can be placed in a cloud system "as is" without changing any aspect of the cloud. The system assumes the attacker is located in any form within the guest VM. This system is also asynchronous in nature and therefore easier to hide from an attacker. Asynchronicity prevents timing analysis attacks from detecting this system. The model believes that the host system is trustworthy. When a guest system is placed in the network, it's susceptible to various kinds of attacks like viruses, code injections (in terms of web applications), and buffer overflows. Other lesser-known attacks on clouds include DoS, keystroke analysis, and estimating traffic rates. In addition, an exploitation framework like metasploit can easily attack a buffer overflow vulnerability and compromise the entire environment.

The above approach basically monitors key components. It takes into account the fact that the key attacks would be on the kernel and middleware. Thus integrity checks are in place for these modules. Overall, the system checks for any malicious modifications in the kernel components. The design of the system takes into consideration attacks from outside the cloud and also from sibling virtual machines. In the above figure the dotted lines stand for monitoring data and the red lines symbolize malicious data. This system is totally transparent to the guest VMs, as this is a totally host-integrated architecture.

The implementation of this system basically starts with attaching a few modules onto the hosts. The following are the modules along with their functions:

Interceptor: The first module that all the host traffic will encounter. The interceptor doesn't block any traffic and so the presence of a third-party security system shouldn't be detected by an attacker; thus, the attacker's activities can be logged in more detail. This feature also allows the system to be made more intelligent. This module is responsible for monitoring suspicious guest activities. This also plays a role in replacing/restoring the affected modules in case of an attack.

Warning Recorder: The result of the interceptor's analysis is directly sent to this module. Here a warning pool is created for security checks. The warnings generated are prioritized for future reference.

Evaluator and hasher: This module performs security checks based on the priorities of the warning pool created by the warning recorder. Increased warning will lead to a security alert.

Actuator: The actuator actually makes the final decision whether to issue a security alert or not. This is done after receiving confirmation from the evaluator, hasher, and warning recorder.

This system performs an analysis on the memory footprints and checks for both abnormal memory usages and connection attempts. This kind of detection of malicious activity is called an anomaly-based detection. Once any system is compromised, the devious malware tries to affect other systems in the network until the entire unit is owned by the hacker. Targets of this type of attack also include the command and control servers, as in the case of botnets. In either case, there is an increase in memory activity and connection attempts that occur from a single point in the environment.

Another key strategy used by attackers is to utilize hidden processes as listed in the process list. An attacker performs a dynamic data attack/leveraging that hides the process he is using from the display on the system. The modules of this protection system perform periodic checks of the kernel schedulers. On scanning the kernel scheduler, it would detect hidden structures there by nullifying the attack.

Current Implementation
This approach has been followed by two of the main open source cloud distributions, namely Eucalyptus and OpenECP. In all implementations, this system remains transparent to the guest VM and the modules are generally attached to the key components of the architecture.

Performance Evaluation
The system claims to be CPU-free in nature (as it's asynchronous) and has shown few complex behaviors on I/O operations. It's reasoned that this characteristic is due to constant file integrity checks and analysis done by the warning recorder.

In this article, we have seen a novel architecture design that aims to secure virtualization on cloud environments. The architecture is purely host integrated and remains transparent to the guest VMs. This system also assumes trustworthiness of the host and assumes attacks originate from the guests. As in security, the rule of thumb says: anything and everything can be penetrated with time and patience. But an intelligent security consultant can make things difficult for an attacker by integrating transparent systems so that they remain invisible and that it takes time for hackers to detect these systems under normal scenarios.


More Stories By Shathabheesha .

Shathabheesha is a security researcher for InfoSec Institute. InfoSec Institute is an IT security training company that offers popular VMware boot camp training.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.

@MicroservicesExpo Stories
The dynamic nature of the cloud means that change is a constant when it comes to modern cloud-based infrastructure. Delivering modern applications to end users, therefore, is a constantly shifting challenge. Delivery automation helps IT Ops teams ensure that apps are providing an optimal end user experience over hybrid-cloud and multi-cloud environments, no matter what the current state of the infrastructure is. To employ a delivery automation strategy that reflects your business rules, making r...
"We started a Master of Science in business analytics - that's the hot topic. We serve the business community around San Francisco so we educate the working professionals and this is where they all want to be," explained Judy Lee, Associate Professor and Department Chair at Golden Gate University, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 21st Cloud Expo, held Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
For over a decade, Application Programming Interface or APIs have been used to exchange data between multiple platforms. From social media to news and media sites, most websites depend on APIs to provide a dynamic and real-time digital experience. APIs have made its way into almost every device and service available today and it continues to spur innovations in every field of technology. There are multiple programming languages used to build and run applications in the online world. And just li...
There is a huge demand for responsive, real-time mobile and web experiences, but current architectural patterns do not easily accommodate applications that respond to events in real time. Common solutions using message queues or HTTP long-polling quickly lead to resiliency, scalability and development velocity challenges. In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Ryland Degnan, a Senior Software Engineer on the Netflix Edge Platform team, will discuss how by leveraging a reactive stream-based protocol,...
The general concepts of DevOps have played a central role advancing the modern software delivery industry. With the library of DevOps best practices, tips and guides expanding quickly, it can be difficult to track down the best and most accurate resources and information. In order to help the software development community, and to further our own learning, we reached out to leading industry analysts and asked them about an increasingly popular tenet of a DevOps transformation: collaboration.
We call it DevOps but much of the time there’s a lot more discussion about the needs and concerns of developers than there is about other groups. There’s a focus on improved and less isolated developer workflows. There are many discussions around collaboration, continuous integration and delivery, issue tracking, source code control, code review, IDEs, and xPaaS – and all the tools that enable those things. Changes in developer practices may come up – such as developers taking ownership of code ...
Cloud Governance means many things to many people. Heck, just the word cloud means different things depending on who you are talking to. While definitions can vary, controlling access to cloud resources is invariably a central piece of any governance program. Enterprise cloud computing has transformed IT. Cloud computing decreases time-to-market, improves agility by allowing businesses to adapt quickly to changing market demands, and, ultimately, drives down costs.
Modern software design has fundamentally changed how we manage applications, causing many to turn to containers as the new virtual machine for resource management. As container adoption grows beyond stateless applications to stateful workloads, the need for persistent storage is foundational - something customers routinely cite as a top pain point. In his session at @DevOpsSummit at 21st Cloud Expo, Bill Borsari, Head of Systems Engineering at Datera, explored how organizations can reap the bene...
How is DevOps going within your organization? If you need some help measuring just how well it is going, we have prepared a list of some key DevOps metrics to track. These metrics can help you understand how your team is doing over time. The word DevOps means different things to different people. Some say it a culture and every vendor in the industry claims that their tools help with DevOps. Depending on how you define DevOps, some of these metrics may matter more or less to you and your team.
"CA has been doing a lot of things in the area of DevOps. Now we have a complete set of tool sets in order to enable customers to go all the way from planning to development to testing down to release into the operations," explained Aruna Ravichandran, Vice President of Global Marketing and Strategy at CA Technologies, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at DevOps Summit at 21st Cloud Expo, held Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
"We are an integrator of carrier ethernet and bandwidth to get people to connect to the cloud, to the SaaS providers, and the IaaS providers all on ethernet," explained Paul Mako, CEO & CTO of Massive Networks, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 21st Cloud Expo, held Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
"Grape Up leverages Cloud Native technologies and helps companies build software using microservices, and work the DevOps agile way. We've been doing digital innovation for the last 12 years," explained Daniel Heckman, of Grape Up in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 21st Cloud Expo, held Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
"NetApp's vision is how we help organizations manage data - delivering the right data in the right place, in the right time, to the people who need it, and doing it agnostic to what the platform is," explained Josh Atwell, Developer Advocate for NetApp, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 20th Cloud Expo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
"Outscale was founded in 2010, is based in France, is a strategic partner to Dassault Systémes and has done quite a bit of work with divisions of Dassault," explained Jackie Funk, Digital Marketing exec at Outscale, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 20th Cloud Expo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
"I focus on what we are calling CAST Highlight, which is our SaaS application portfolio analysis tool. It is an extremely lightweight tool that can integrate with pretty much any build process right now," explained Andrew Siegmund, Application Migration Specialist for CAST, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 21st Cloud Expo, held Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Let's do a visualization exercise. Imagine it's December 31, 2018, and you're ringing in the New Year with your friends and family. You think back on everything that you accomplished in the last year: your company's revenue is through the roof thanks to the success of your product, and you were promoted to Lead Developer. 2019 is poised to be an even bigger year for your company because you have the tools and insight to scale as quickly as demand requires. You're a happy human, and it's not just...
The enterprise data storage marketplace is poised to become a battlefield. No longer the quiet backwater of cloud computing services, the focus of this global transition is now going from compute to storage. An overview of recent storage market history is needed to understand why this transition is important. Before 2007 and the birth of the cloud computing market we are witnessing today, the on-premise model hosted in large local data centers dominated enterprise storage. Key marketplace play...
Cavirin Systems has just announced C2, a SaaS offering designed to bring continuous security assessment and remediation to hybrid environments, containers, and data centers. Cavirin C2 is deployed within Amazon Web Services (AWS) and features a flexible licensing model for easy scalability and clear pay-as-you-go pricing. Although native to AWS, it also supports assessment and remediation of virtual or container instances within Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform (GCP), or on-premise. By dr...
With continuous delivery (CD) almost always in the spotlight, continuous integration (CI) is often left out in the cold. Indeed, it's been in use for so long and so widely, we often take the model for granted. So what is CI and how can you make the most of it? This blog is intended to answer those questions. Before we step into examining CI, we need to look back. Software developers often work in small teams and modularity, and need to integrate their changes with the rest of the project code b...
Kubernetes is an open source system for automating deployment, scaling, and management of containerized applications. Kubernetes was originally built by Google, leveraging years of experience with managing container workloads, and is now a Cloud Native Compute Foundation (CNCF) project. Kubernetes has been widely adopted by the community, supported on all major public and private cloud providers, and is gaining rapid adoption in enterprises. However, Kubernetes may seem intimidating and complex ...