RSA : IBM project Phantom to lock down virtual machines

IBM researchers are developing new attack prevention technology for the company's virtualisation products.


IBM researchers are developing new attack prevention technology for the company's virtualisation products.

The company is set to detail the new project, codenamed Phantom, at the RSA Conference in San Francisco today (8 April).

Phantom is a joint effort between IBM's X-Force threat analysis team and the company's research division. It aims to lock down the hypervisor software that IBM systems use to manage virtual machines. "What we're doing through Phantom is we're implementing an IPS (intrusion prevention system) - an IPS that sits at the hypervisor layer," said Kris Lovejoy, director of strategy for IBM corporate security.

IPS systems are designed to stop computer attacks as they occur, by inspecting network traffic and figuring out whether or not it is malicious.

IBM invented the concept of a hypervisor and has been selling it as part of its mainframe computers, where it could run more than one copy of the operating system at the same time. In recent years, this type of virtualisation software has been promoted on Unix and PC systems as a way for corporate users to squeeze more performance out of their servers.

The problem of securing these virtualised systems promises to be one of the hot topics at this week's conference, which is the largest annual event in the security industry.

IBM researchers have already worked on ways to secure the hypervisor, but with Phantom they will be using technology acquired in IBM's 2006 purchase of Internet Security Systems, a maker of IPS devices.

The researchers are also building tools that can lock down the hypervisor itself, Lovejoy added. "The hypervisor layer was built for optimum performance, not necessarily effective security," she said. "Our customers are just looking for assurance that their virtualised infrastructure is not going to be the single point of failure."

How long those customers will have to wait before they can take advantage of this new technology is unclear. Phantom is a research project and no timeline has been set for supporting it on IBM's servers, Lovejoy said.

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