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Former Citrix CTO says virtualization will solve security problems

Jon Brodkin | July 1, 2011
The idea is that a hypervisor can isolate and protect applications, turning the virtualization platform into the security tool.

While IT shops and vendors struggle to apply security practices to virtualized systems, a startup called Bromium claims it will turn the question on its head, using virtualization to secure all types of devices.

The idea is that a hypervisor can isolate and protect applications, turning the virtualization platform into the security tool.

Bromium has some big names, particularly from Citrix and the community around the Xen hypervisor. We caught up this week with Bromium co-founder and CTO Simon Crosby, who says the question of how to secure virtualized systems - as opposed to using virtualization to secure everything else - is "a yawn in my view."

Crosby previously held the CTO position at Citrix and virtualization vendor XenSource, which was purchased by Citrix in 2007. Crosby's resume includes time at Intel leading research in "distributed autonomic computing, platform security and trust," and he is an active participant in the and OpenStack open source projects.

Moving from an established company with a diversified portfolio to a startup betting it all on one technology carries risk and could end up a spectacular failure, Crosby acknowledges. But the payoff if it's successful will be huge, he believes.

"If we can manage to pull this stunt off it's going to be big in the sense that virtualization's primary benefit will turn out to be security," he says. "It will be bigger than all the other benefits."

Crosby's fellow co-founders at Bromium are CEO Gaurav Banga, previously CTO and senior vice president at Phoenix Technologies; and senior vice president of products Ian Pratt, previously chairman of and co-founder of XenSource.

Bromium will be up to 15 employees soon. "At the moment we're a highly technical team," and is hiring more software engineers, Crosby says. Crosby left Citrix on good terms and has $9.2 million in first-round funding for Bromium from Andreessen Horowitz, Ignition Partner and Lightspeed Venture Partners.

Bromium products aren't expected to hit the market until next year, and for now, Crosby will only describe the company's technology in generalities. So far, virtualization has been used primarily to reduce hardware costs and make data centers run more efficiently, but Crosby and his team say the ability of a hypervisor to isolate workloads should be applied to security. Crosby says the approach will go far beyond traditional sandboxing methods, making the hypervisor the only software able to control execution of code.

The Bromium technology causes all I/O operations, all system resources to be redirected through a "narrow API," so that "any interaction between that code and the outside world will cross this very narrow [system], which is highly secure by design," Crosby says.

Bromium's hypervisor-based security product will consist of about 10,000 lines of code, rather than the millions of lines of code in systems like Windows, Crosby says. Instead of black-listing suspicious programs, Bromium won't allow anything through without explicit permission.


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