Virtualization for Server Hardening

With the advent of server virtualization and easy recovery, it is natural to experiment with more aggressive hardening techniques. Now that servers, through the use of virtual machines, can be overhardened and broken one minute and restored to a proper working state the next minute, there is no longer a penalty associated with experimenting with hardening techniques that have the potential of breaking applications and causing significant downtime.

Sure, the hardening experimentation should still be done solely in a virtual testing environment. But if virtual machines are utilized to test and refine hardening techniques and place the image in service after the dust settles, it improves server security tremendously. The days of aggressive hardening prohibition are over. Feel free to attempt the riskier hardening techniques that may have been off limits before.

If changes are made to a system that have detrimental effects on an image, or numerous, complex changes are ineffective or cumbersome and would take too long to reverse, you can easily restore files from a backup. In addition, you can utilize the revert or restore feature inherent in some virtual servers to quickly recover and continue experimenting.

After making configuration changes, utilize virtual testing machines as targets for penetration testing. These test machines should not be affiliated with the live production network in any way, except for mirroring the current or proposed configuration. Use any and all penetration and auditing techniques against these virtual machines without the risk of interfering with the production environment, such as crashing a server or injecting garbage data into a production database.

If virtual machine configurations pass the penetration tests without ill effects, their configurations can be pushed out to the production environment. If not, make a few more hardening tweaks and run the test or audit again.

Trusted Computing on Linux (http://www.opentc.net) is a great resource for tools and information.

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