Virtualization Security Best Practices: Protecting Your Data and Applications

Protect your virtualized environments with these best practices for virtualization security. Learn about the main threats and how to prevent them, including external and insider threats, malware and ransomware, VM sprawl, and snapshot issues. Implement the principle of least privilege, establish multi-layered security, and don't forget to have a backup and disaster recovery system in place. Find out more in this informative article.

With over 80% of workloads around the world virtualized, virtualization security is a concern for organizations regardless of size, goal and industry. Proper protection systems for a particular organization's workloads and data is necessary to support production and services availability.

In this post, we explain: 

  • Virtualization security definition
  • Main virtualization security issues
  • VM security best practices 

What Is Virtualized Security and How Can It Help? 

Virtualized security (aka security virtualization) refers to a set of software solutions and measures specifically created and applied to protect virtualized environments. Unlike usual, static hardware-based network security running on physical switches, firewalls and routers, virtualization security is all about virtual nodes.

Organizations can significantly boost their IT infrastructure security by just using virtualized servers, networks and desktops. Virtualized servers, for example, help in isolating sensitive data with the appropriate network segmentation, turning the internal network into a labyrinth for intruders. Measures such as virtualized networks simplify traffic management and virtualized desktops streamline endpoint security and turn virtualization into an effective security tool.

Virtualization Security Issues: Main Threats for Virtualized Environments

Some of the most dangerous virtualization security risks remain similar to those of physical environments. However, there are virtualization-specific issues that arise when an organization uses virtual workloads to enable or support production and services availability. The list of main issues for VM security in particular and for the entire environment’s stability in general can include:

  • External threats
  • Insider threats
  • Malware and ransomware
  • VM sprawl
  • VM snapshot storing

External Threats

An external bad actor is the standard threat that comes to mind when thinking of IT challenges. That actor can be, for instance, a lone hacker attempting to breach an organization’s protection system for fun or a paid professional group aiming for corporate espionage. These and other external attack cases are challenges that IT security specialists reasonably prioritize.  

Insider Threats

In this case, the risk is from within the organization and not from outside. And just like external cybercriminals are the obvious danger sources that every security expert aims to counter, malicious insiders are invisible and frequently ignored. Neglecting the threat results in the absence of security measures. Combine this with the fact that such insiders can remain undetected until they commit an attack and you receive a perfect storm for any IT infrastructure.

Malware and Ransomware

Viruses, adware, spyware and other malware have been around for a long time. Nowadays, malware remains among the most significant threats for individuals and organizations. However, one malware kind stands out: ransomware. 

Ransomware is a malware that sneakily infiltrates the IT environment, encrypts the data at reach and starts demanding a ransom for decryption keys. Throughout 2021 and 2022, over 1.1 billion ransomware attacks occurred worldwide, which means that any organization must have a well-prepared plan to counter ransomware and mitigate the successful consequences of an attack, if it occurs.  

VM Sprawl

This case is typical for virtual infrastructures and the easy creation of new virtual machines is the reason here. IT specialists can benefit from the flexibility of virtualized environments and create VMs, for example, to test new apps, features or tools before deploying them on production machines. Then, such test VMs are forgotten and just exist inside a virtual environment. 

The threat here is that each one of these “abandoned” virtual machines is not properly updated in terms of software and security. While remaining vulnerable, a VM has a higher chance to become an entry point for a cyberattack. 

VM Snapshot Storing

Although regular VM snapshot deletion is included in VMware security best practices, organizations tend to keep those point-in-time copies of virtual machines for much longer than experts recommend. The worst thing is when you treat a snapshot as a backup. A snapshot relies on a virtual machine’s disk meaning that you won’t be able to restore a VM’s data from a snapshot if an error occurs above the VM’s level. 

Additionally, snapshots require significant storage space. When kept without correct control and configuration, snapshots of a single VM can fill the entire disk and cause global system failure. 

Virtualization Best Practices for Improved Security

Threats are always there, and organizations have to react adequately and quickly. Efficient security systems built around virtualized workloads are a solution to keep your organization’s data and production resources under control. Below is a list of three methods for keeping a virtual machine secured and strengthening the overall infrastructure protection.

Least Privilege for Users

The principle of least privilege (aka PoLP) is a commonly known concept in the IT world. To implement the principle, administrators minimize the range of actions that users can perform and locations that they can access. The access rights are set at the minimum level required for employees to fulfill their job duties. Applying the role-based access control model can streamline implementing the principle of least privilege in your organization’s environment.

Multi-Layer Security

Another tip to boost security in virtualization is to avoid relying on a single protection measure or solution. Even the most advanced solutions working alone most probably won’t be enough to provide efficient security. You can and should have antivirus software installed on VMs, firewalls configured, networks segmented, active threat monitoring up and running, among other custom practices. 

Saving time and effort by postponing the creation of a complementary protection system can result in a global failure. Recovering from an IT disaster can cost you a lot more than investing enough resources in organizing and regularly updating your security measures. 

Backup and Disaster Recovery (DR)

Unfortunately, no virtualization security system designed to prevent and counter threats can be perfect. Combined and thoroughly organized protection can dissuade less skilled hackers or give you more time to properly react to cyberattack. However, 100% protection is not possible. Therefore, virtualization security should be part of a comprehensive protection plan. This plan should include prevention as well as response tools to help with successful recovery following an incident.

Having the right Hyper-V or VMware, Microsoft 365 backup solution at hand is the only way to keep control over your data and infrastructure when the main site is down following an attack or a disaster. Modern backup solutions can help you create and refresh VM backups automatically, schedule data protection activities and plan disaster recovery sequences for various emergency cases. 


Virtualization security is a set of tools, techniques and activities aimed to protect virtual IT environments from threats such as external and internal attacks, malware, ransomware, VM sprawl and snapshot issues. To set up a reliable protection system for your organization’s environment, you can use the principle of least privilege. Also, consider establishing multi-layered security using such measures as segmented networks, configured firewalls, virtualized routers, special antivirus and active monitoring solutions. 

Still, the most reliable choice to protect your virtual infrastructure is to implement a backup and disaster recovery system. Advanced all-in-one solutions enable you to automate backup and disaster recovery workflows, ensuring your control over VM data even when the main site is down. Advanced DR sequences can help you minimize infrastructure downtime and support production continuity, saving your organization’s reputation, assets and resources. 

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