Join Mike Chapple for an in-depth discussion in this video Virtualization, part of CompTIA Security+ (SY0-501) Cert Prep: 3 Architecture and Design.
- [Narrator] The world of enterprise computing has changed dramatically over the years, and the advent of virtualization is one of those transformative changes. It was only a few decades ago that enterprise computing was confined to the world of the data center and its mainframe. Dozens of computing professionals carefully tended to this very valuable resource that served as the organization's electronic nerve center. Then, in the 1980s and 1990s, the enterprise IT landscape shifted dramatically.
We moved away from the world of monolithic mainframes to a new environment of client server computing. This shift brought tremendous benefits. First, it put computing power right on the desktop, allowing users to perform many actions directly on their own machines without requiring mainframe access. Centralized computing improved also by allowing the use of dedicated servers for specific functions. It became much easier to maintain data centers with discreet servers than tending to a cranky mainframe.
Over the past decade, we've seen another shift in the computing landscape. The client server model has served us well, but it's also resulted in wasted resources. Data center managers realized that most of the time, many of their servers were sitting idle, waiting for a future burst in activity. That's not very efficient. Around that same time virtualization technology became available that allows many different virtual servers to make use of the same underlying hardware.
This shared hardware platform makes it easy to shift memory, storage and processing power to wherever it's needed at the time. Virtualization platforms like VMware and Microsoft HyperV make this possible. At a high level, virtualization platforms involve the use of a host machine that actually has physical hardware. That hardware then hosts several or many virtual guest machines that run operating systems of their own. The host machine runs special software known as a hypervisor to manage the guest virtual machines.
The hypervisor basically tricks each guest into thinking that it's running on its own hardware when in reality the guest is running on the shared hardware of the host machine. The operating system on each guest machine has no idea that it's virtualized, so software on that guest machine can function in the same way as it would on a physical server. There are two different types of hypervisors. In a type one hypervisor, also known as a bare metal hypervisor, the hypervisor runs directly on top of the hardware and then hosts guest operating systems on top of that.
This is the most common form of virtualization found in data centers. In a type two hypervisor, the physical machine actually runs an operating system of its own, and the hypervisor runs as a program on top of that operating system. This type of virtualization is commonly used on personal computers. Common hypervisors used in this scenario are Virtual Box and Parallels. From a security perspective, virtualization introduces new concerns around virtual machine isolation.
In a physical server environment, security teams know that each server runs on its own dedicated process and memory resources, and that if an attacker manages to compromise the machine they will not have access to the processor and memory used by other systems. In a virtualized environment this may not be the case if the attacker is able to break out of the virtualized guest operating system. This type of attack is known as a VM escape attack.
Virtualization also adds another layer of complexity to the enterprise by introducing another component that may have security flaws. Security professionals working in a virtualized environment should keep close watch on vendor security bulletins and ensure that any patches for the virtualization platform are promptly applied. There's one other security issue associated with virtualization that you should be aware of when preparing for the exam. Virtualization makes it incredibly easy to create new servers in a data center.
Administrators can usually create a new server with just a few clicks. While this is a tremendous convenience, it also leads to a situation known as VM sprawl, where there are large numbers of unused and abandoned servers on the network. This is not only wasteful, it's also a security risk because those servers are not being properly maintained and they accumulate serious security vulnerabilities over time if they are not patched.
Looking for study partners?Join the CompTIA Security+ SY0-501 Exam study group
CompTIA Security+ certification is an excellent entry point for a career in information security. This course prepares candidates for the third domain of the qualifying exam: Architecture and Design. The emphasis of this domain is building security into every aspect of your organization—using security standards, user training, secure systems design, smart development practices, cloud computing and virtualization, automation, and physical security controls.
Instructor Mike Chapple has designed the training around the most recent version of CompTIA Security+, SY0-501, which expands coverage of mobile and cloud technologies. By learning about the topics in this course, you'll be prepared to answer questions from the latest exam—and strengthen your own organization's systems and defenses. To join one of Mike's free study groups, visit certmike.com.
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- Developing security baselines
- Leveraging standards
- Delivering and measuring user training
- Designing a secure network
- Designing secure systems, from the OS to peripherals
- Secure staging and deployment
- Securing smart devices and embedded systems
- Developing secure software
- Cloud computing and virtualization
- Securing hardware, facilities, data centers, and other physical risks