Cloud ComputingCloud Security for Virtual Machines & Containers

Cloud Security for Virtual Machines & Containers

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Cloud computing security, or cloud security, is a set of policies and technologies to protect the services and resources of the cloud computing system. Cloud security is a subdomain of cybersecurity, and includes processes to protect services, applications, data, virtualized IP, and the related infrastructure of cloud computing systems.

Virtualized environments, including virtual machines (VMs) and containers, present unique risks to cloud security. Here, we discuss the impact of cloud migration, cloud security challenges, and tips for protecting virtual servers.

Table of Contents

Impacts of Cloud Migration on Server Security

Simply put, cloud computing is a way to deliver computing services and resources through the internet. The moving of several digital operations from the local server into the cloud server is called cloud migration. The digital operations include moving data, applications, IT processes, and other business elements.

Read more: Virtualization vs Containerization

Bigger Is Usually Better

The cloud services are maintained by larger, trusted companies. In general, these companies can provide more robust and powerful security than local servers or home computer devices.

Secure Warehouses

Cloud servers are usually located in highly secure data warehouses, where most workers do not even have access.

Data Encryption

The files stored on cloud servers are encrypted, which makes them far more difficult for cybercriminals to access.

Multiple Data Protection Techniques

The cloud providers frequently use a variety of techniques to protect data, such as:

  • Consistent security updates
  • AI tools
  • Auto-patching
  • Built-in firewalls
  • Backups
  • Third-party security testing

New Cyber Threats

Cloud migration has many benefits, but opening servers up to the cloud can also be risky. The cloud brings new types of cyberthreats that don’t affect servers unconnected to the cloud. This can include leaky buckets, cloud console takeovers, SaaS services hijacking, and more.

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Cloud Security Challenges for VMs

The cloud security issues posed by virtual machines can include performance problems, hardware expenses, semantic gaps, malicious software, and overall VM system security.


The cloud security services running on the system hurts the VM system performance. This is due to the overhead of virtualization and inter-VM communication. Device access requests and results exchange via cross-VM communication require extra context switching, and this increases the system overhead.

Hardware Cost

To ensure complete security of the virtual machines requires a good deal of physical resources. Further, using older resources or limited memory may not be feasible to run a system.

Semantic Gap

The semantic gap between the guest operating system and the underlying virtual machine monitor (VMM) is a challenge to VM security. The VMM can monitor the raw state of the guest VM, while security services usually need processing time to reason about a higher level of guest VM state.

Malicious Software

Malicious software is another challenge for VM security. That said, VMs can be used to thwart these attacks, too. For example, various techniques are available for VM fingerprinting that can act as a honeypot for malware, such as the Agobot family of worms.

System Security

Feature updates to cloud security services can inadvertently introduce backdoor vulnerabilities into the the VM, which can then be exploited to gain access to the infrastructure as a whole.

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Cloud Security Challenges for Containers

The cloud security issues posed by containers can include image dependencies, vulnerabilities associated with the privilege flag, intercommunication between containers, brief run times, and improper isolation.

Image Vulnerabilities

The containers are built using either a parent or a base image. The images or their dependencies could contain vulnerabilities, just like any other code.

Privileged Flag

Containers running with the privileged flag can gain access to the host’s devices. If an attacker breaks a container with a privileged flag, they can destroy the system.

Communication Between Containers

Containers may require communicating with each other to achieve their goals. The number of containers and microservices, the ephemeral nature of containers, and implementing networking/firewalling rules that adhere to the least privilege principle can all present a security challenge.

Run Time

Containers have incredibly short lifespans, sometimes only hours or minutes. Because of this, it’s near impossible to monitor which container processes are running at any given time.


If containers are not appropriately isolated, or are misconfigured, this could threaten the underlying host.

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5 Steps to Protect Virtualized Environments

1. Actively monitor and update the security system.

Actively monitor and analyze the hypervisor for any potential signs of compromise, and continuously audit and monitor all virtual activities. The systems must be up-to-date as security releases are issued. Be sure to use the most recent hypervisor, and promptly apply product maintenance.

2. Implement access controls.

Strong firewall controls protect confidential information from unauthorized access. Provide limited access for users to prevent modification to the hypervisor environment. Enforce strict access control and multi-factor authentication for any admin function on the hypervisor.

3. Separate and secure the management.

To reduce the risk of VM traffic contamination, the management infrastructure should be physically separate. Above all, secure the management and VM data networks.

4. Use a hypervisor and disable unnecessary services.

The hypervisor host management interface should be placed in a dedicated virtual network segment, only allowing access from designated subnets in the enterprise network. Guest service accounts or sessions that are not necessary should be deactivated. Disable unneeded services, such as clipboard or file sharing.

5. Use translation techniques and SSL Encryption.

Always use network address translation techniques and Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) encryption in communication with virtual server command systems.

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Cloud Security Tools & Software

Cloud computing services help to provide high-quality services at a lower operating cost. However, it is important to ensure proper cloud security to protect valuable information and services. As companies migrate to the cloud, securing virtualized environments is a vital part of any organization’s cybersecurity processes. In no particular order, here are the cloud security services we recommend.


Qualys logo

The Qualys Cloud Platform is an all-in-one architecture that supports modular IT, security, and compliance cloud apps. The tools check any threat and secure devices, applications, and web pages through a cloud system. Qualys also provides a cloud-only firewall to protect the cloud systems.


Silversky logo

SilverSky provides email monitoring and network protection of a cloud system. SilverSky supports compliances such as HIPAA and PCI DSS, and regulates the company policies, information, and online payments by giving strong multilayer security.


Lookout logo

Lookout provides endpoint-to-cloud security. The Lookout Cloud Access Security Broker ensures the protection of cloud data by providing visibility into the interactions between users, endpoints, cloud apps, and data. It also supports Zero Trust access controls.


Okta logo

Okta focuses on the identity management of a cloud system and helps the user to manage cloud applications. Okta can also track data privacy agreements and login dashboards.


netskope logo

Netskope is a service to discover and monitor cloud applications, and shadow IT on the cloud network. Netskope helps to monitor users, sessions, shared and downloaded content, and shared content details. It also provides detailed analytics based on this monitoring.

Read next: Server Security Best Practices

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