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Automated and safe vulnerability assessment

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3 Author(s)
Fanglu Guo ; Dept. of Comput. Sci., Stony Brook Univ., NY ; Yang Yu ; Tzi-cker Chiueh

As the number of system vulnerabilities multiplies in recent years, vulnerability assessment has emerged as a powerful system security administration tool that can identify vulnerabilities in existing systems before they are exploited. Although there are many commercial vulnerability assessment tools in the market, none of them can formally guarantee that the assessment process never compromises the computer systems being tested. This paper proposes a featherweight virtual machine (FVM) technology to address the safety issue associated with vulnerability testing. Compared with other virtual machine technologies, FVM is designed to facilitate sharing between virtual machines but still provides strong protection between them. The FVM technology allows a vulnerability assessment tool to test an exact replica of a production-mode network service, including both hardware and system software components, while guaranteeing that the production-mode network service is fully isolated from the testing process. In addition to safety, the vulnerability assessment support system described in this paper can also automate the entire process of vulnerability testing and thus for the first time makes it feasible to run vulnerability testing autonomously and frequently. Experiments on a Windows-based prototype show that Nessus assessment results against an FVM virtual machine are identical to those against a real machine. Furthermore, modifications to the file system and registry state made by vulnerability assessment runs are completely isolated from the host machine. Finally, the performance impact of vulnerability assessment runs on production network services is as low as 3%

Published in:

Computer Security Applications Conference, 21st Annual

Date of Conference:

5-9 Dec. 2005