VMware Puts Security at the Heart of its Software

On Monday, VMware will launch a new product to protect its core software from cyber threats. Bullet-proofing corporate data from cybersecurity threats has become top priority for Fortune 500 companies in the wake of Wannacry ransomware and other attacks of the past year.

The goal of the new AppDefense software, which will debut at the annual VMworld tech conference, is to arm VMware’s core virtualization software against dangerous malware and other threats.

VMware (VMW) has already built security features into its NSX networking and VSAN storage products, but AppDefense aims to secure the core virtual machines (VMs) at the heart of its bread-and-butter vSphere server virtualization product, VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger told Fortune in an exclusive interview in advance of the event. VMworld 2017 is is expected to draw 23,000 of the company’s customers and partners to Las Vegas.

There are some third-party products from Bromium and other companies that offer similar defenses but AppDefense resides right in the VMware VMs, while others work along side them.

Jon Oltsik, senior principal analyst with market research firm ESG. said AppDefense fills an important check box for the company.

“VMware has said for years that if you use its products right you can improve security, but never really told people how,” he said. With AppDefense and the security features already embedded in VMware’s NSX networking and VSAN data storage products, it now has a better story, he said.

Many—probably most—Fortune 500 companies already rely on VMware vSphere to pack multiple software applications onto a single server. AppDefense will run in virtual machines (VMs are the core units of virtualization) and watch out for bad or malignant code to keep it from running,

VMware talked—a bit—about AppDefense earlier this year but this will be its official coming out party in front of several thousand IT professionals.

“AppDefense lets the virtual machine learn good behavior and any time it sees behavior that deviates from that it can take action,” Pat Gelsinger said.

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Based on the software profiles learned by AppDefense, legitimate packages get a green light to run in the VM; but software that deviates from what the VM expects will get a yellow light and may be routed to a VM where it can be monitored closely. And really funky-looking software would get a red light to prevent it from running at all.

Tech companies are all racing to put more security into their own products in hopes of stopping—or at least reducing—ever changing threats to their customers.

Gelsinger himself painted a pretty bleak picture of the status quo. “The tech industry has failed our customers in security. They are buying more security stuff than ever and breaches are occurring faster and are more serious than ever. That means businesses are falling further behind despite spending more,” he said.

Pity the poor chief information officer of a Fortune 500 company who has to wade through hundreds of products, pick the right ones, integrate them and then make all of that secure. Towards that end, VMware is working with other security vendors including IBM, CarbonBlack, SecureWorks, Puppet, and RSA to make sure AppDefense works well with their products. RSA, like VMware itself, is now part of Dell Technologies. the tech giant formed r when Dell completed its $67 billion buyout of storage giant EMC and its related companies.

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But neither business customers nor tech vendors can throw up their hands in despair. They must bolster the security of all of their technology. In one example of this, Google (GOOG) last week disclosed more about its Titan chip, which puts more security features directly into the chip’s silicon to thwart attackers.

ESG analyst Oltsik agreed that business customers are obsessed with security after so many serious breaches.

Christopher Frenz, director of infrastructure and head of security at the Interfaith Medical Center, a 287-bed hospital in New York City, is pleased with what he saw in testing AppDefense.

“I set up a web server intentionally with known vulnerabilities and watched this software stop them,” Frenz told Fortune. Customers should first run AppDefense in monitoring mode for a few weeks so it can “learn” normal software patterns before putting it into production, he said.

AppDefense will run with VMware’s current Vsphere 6.5 server virtualization software. And that means it should also run on Amazon Web Services as part of the promised VMware Cloud for AWS product announced last year.

Bottom line? Every consultant counsels businesses to run multiple layers of security—including but not limited to anti-virus software, secure sign on, and firewalls. In VMware shops, and there are many of them—AppDefense will be another brick in that wall.

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