tssci security

Virtual appliances for the security professional

Virtual Infrastructure Security Facts

Virtual Appliances (VAs) have several advantages over Live CD distributions. They are easier to enable persistence and customize (especially for real performance in a VM, instead of via a bootable ISO). It's easier to take snapshots that represent a "point-in-time" to rollback configurations -- or prevent security scanners from running into loop or crash conditions. Cloning and templating can have significant advantages in terms of agility for testing and scaling architectures, in addition to aiding changes and repair processes.

Microsoft (including the freeHyper-V Server) and VMware (including the free ESXi) are the major players for hardware-VMM server virtualization, with the FOSS project, Xen, being prominent in some other product implementations.

Both VMware and Microsoft have their own disk formats for importing VMs (aka "Guests") on to their Hosts (aka Hypervisor or Virtual Machine Monitor -- VMM). There is also a third, open format called OVF (or Open Virtualization Format).

  1. Microsoft: VHD (Virtual Hard Disk)
  2. VMware: vmdk (virtual machine disk)
  3. Open Virtualization Format: ovf

Sometimes, one-off scenarios will utilize tar, zip, or rar files to distribute VMs or encapsulated VMs, but this is becoming more and more rare.

Virtual Appliances

A Virtual Appliances is a pre-packaged VM. Normally, a VM is just like a new machine -- no OS, no nothing. Virtual Appliances come with stuff, and usually only require booting into a DHCP-enabled network, where they self-configure themselves and become available via a web interface for further interaction.

You can find VAs at the following sources:

For those of you still using the outdated OSI model (i.e. you stupid network security geeks, j/k ;> ), here is a general layout of what is available for you:

Certainly, if you haven't read or seen Chris Hoff's various recent presentations, then you're going to screw this up. However, anyone with even a few weeks of virtual infrastructure experience will understand the application of the above VAs in a virtual infrastructure environment.

VMware is very useful for fuzz testing (as seen with Sulley and other frameworks which include interfaces to VMware monitors), and full-state or kernel debugging (as seen with Syser, the replacement to the classic SoftICE), but this is more often for the VMware Server/Workstation products, not their Virtual Infrastructure products (i.e. ESX, ESXi, Virtual Center, vCenter Server, and vSphere).

Many ISOs are moving to VAs.

Many demo-ware and software evaluations are moving from standalone installs directly to VAs (i.e. demo the new app on the new OS at the same time!).

Take these examples outlined in the next sections for a test drive.

Pen-test VAs

Would it be nice if you could setup a perfect pen-test environment, save it, and then clone it a bunch of times in order to tweak one specific thing and then run all your tests in parallel (say, with different credentials). Well this is exactly what Pen-test VAs are going to allow you to do. One machine: 4 web application security scanners.

Or better -- run DRS (VMware's Distributed Resource Schedule), which will automatically move VMs around contended Host resources. Say you have four physical machines, all with a dual-core 2.2GHz proc and 3GB of memory. Now say that you're scanning some client machines in far away places (with constant ISP bandwidth churn on both ends -- and in between). Let's pretend you have this setup:

If any of you know what CloudAV is... think what CloudWASS would look like. I call it "WhiteRockSec", which is... "like WhiteHatSec, but on Crack".

Of course nobody has built these VAs yet. In the meantime, you can use these two VAs to accomplish something similar:

  1. OWASP Live CD VA
  2. InGuardians Samurai Web Testing Framework

WAF VAs or as I like to call them: VA+WAF

VA+WAF is a Virtual Appliance that includes a WAF. To those of you who don't love my humor, you're bound to definitely hate me for flipping the script on this marketing terminology.

Because network vendors (F5, Citrix, Breach, Cisco, Barracuda, Imperva, et al) really like to sell expensive appliances, it's likely that they aren't too keen on the idea of selling a software-based VA that is equivalent to their mind like an ISO (anyone remember the presentation on how to reverse-ISO a Netscreen IDP onto cheap PC hardware?). So you don't see too many of these around yet.

I did happen to find these two though:

  1. Microsoft IAG 2007 Virtual Machine Trial
  2. Security Enhanced Web Application Server with mod-security

AppDev/AppSec VAs

Again, there really isn't much here yet.

Microsoft has:

  1. Visual Studio Team System 2008 VSTS Hyper-V Image (Trial)
  2. Visual Studio Team System 2008 TFS Hyper-V Image (Trial)
  3. Microsoft Pre-release Software Visual Studio 2010 and .NET Framework 4.0 Community Technology Preview (CTP)

Note well that the last link above, for the VSTS 2010 pre-release, has the VA in "vmc" format. "vmc format" was from Microsoft's older product. Searching the Microsoft Download Center for vmc or vhd both have great results, but hopefully Microsoft will standardize on VHD or OVF. For now, you can convert in many ways -- including the latest tool from Microsoft, the VMC to Hyper-V Import Tool.

Integrating AppSec with the above VSTS and TFS tools is relatively easy. For those not familiar with FxCop, StyleCop, and CAT.NET -- you certainly should be. TFS has some great built-ins for Governance that apply equally well between quality and security. The TFS Team Blog has some decent postings on topic, not directly to security yet (but probably in the future). I'm working on additional ideas, heavily borrowed from the Microsoft Process Templates and Tools development center -- and from watching how Microsoft uses TFS with their new MPT toolkit.

Security folk such as myself might want to just load Source Insight (or the Microsoft Express Editions) along with using the command-line CAT.NET or possibly SharpDevelop until Ounce O2 is widely available.

For Java, you can search the VMware Appliance Directory, but I found nothing useful. Currently, the easiest and cheapest way to get JEE AppDev/AppSec going is to use EasyEclipse. There is a commercial equivalent called Yoxos that also sounds very promising. I think most of us would be flying blind without a few Eclipse plugins such as Classlocator, Jupiter, Flow4J, IvyDE, FindBugs, and PMD. Build server ISOs such as Buildix would be wonderful to turn into a VA.

Again, us security folk would probably stick to Source Insight and/or SciTE along with the command-line versions of FindBugs and PMD. Static analysis tools are slowly turning to be out of vogue these days... so YMMV.


Learning Virtual Infrastructure is going to take some time, but the payoff is worth it. In no time, you'll be turning your minimally-equipped Security Operations Center or appsec group into a real infrastructure to fear.

Download the hardware-VMMs to "whitebox supported" hardware (note: this doesn't always have to be on an "official list" from the vendor). Try both the evaluation versions (Microsoft Windows Server 2008 R2 Beta with Hyper-V Role enabled ; VMware ESX and vCenter Server VA) and the free ones (Microsoft Hyper-V Server 2008 R2 Beta ; VMware ESXi). Download a few VAs in various formats and learn how to import and start them. You're on your way!

Posted by Dre on Wednesday, March 18, 2009 in Defense, Hacking and Security.

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