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A VDI security best practice guide

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Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) is a great virtual desktop solution for higher education organizations that are looking to make the leap from physical desktops and in-person classes to virtual learning. It can be an excellent way to create a hybrid learning experience without sacrificing student experience.

VDI offers a number of benefits in relation to security but, there are still some challenges associated with using VDI so best practice should always be implemented when it comes to VDI security.

Why is VDI security important for higher education organizations?

A guide to VDI security best practices

While it may be tempting to think that Virtual Desktop Infrastructure provides a completely secure alternative to a traditional desktop, this is not always the case. VDI is still susceptible to breaches in security, in the same way as a physical desktop, although it is in different ways.

Implementing best practice VDI security policies is vitally important in a higher education setting where students are using their own devices to access university resources, making university data more vulnerable to hacking.

Common threats to Virtual Desktop Infrastructure security include:

Man in the middle attacks

This happens when an unauthorized user accesses a legitimate user’s device and intercepts communication between two parties, while the communication is altered and/or relayed by the hacker. This can be used by outside parties to gather information about your organization.

Remote Access Trojans

These are computer viruses that may appear to the user as a legitimate and safe piece of software. However, once the application is downloaded, the activity can be recorded and the hacker will have access to data found on the machine, including data that is stored using cloud-based VDI technology, which can be used to control the device, alter data and harm an organization.

Taking these threats into consideration, it’s easy to see how important it is to implement VDI security best practices. If an organization falls victim to these types of attacks, it can often be because staff and students are not fully aware of what best practices are and how to implement them when using VDI technology.

Best practice VDI security for higher education organizations

There is a range of best practices to follow when implementing a desktop virtualization solution to ensure any security risk is reduced. This begins from the initial decision to change from physical desktops to VDI cloud-based technology, through deployment to use.

Consider a range of platforms

You should begin by considering a range of platforms, such as Citrix, rather than choosing a solution without first exploring other available options.

Some solutions may work better for certain organizations than others. When deciding to implement a VDI solution, it’s important to match the platform with the needs of staff and students and take into account security threats that your organization may have already encountered and the threats that it is most vulnerable to. ‘

Deciding between persistent and non-persistent VDI solutions will also affect the security best practices that are required as each VDI environment is slightly different and can affect security in a different way.

Endpoint devices

It’s also important to consider which endpoint devices staff and students will be using. If a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy is already in place, it is likely that there will be a wide range of devices using VDI technology. Each device and desktop will need to be as secure as possible and, ideally have antivirus software.

Not all students and staff will have antivirus software on their devices and may be unable to access it so this should be considered when implementing a VDI solution to offer as much security as possible.


Limitation of resources

When providing a VDI solution, limiting the VDI environment to the resources and information staff and students need and what students need access for and to, can help to increase security. If there are elements of a VDI environment that are unnecessary, they could be vulnerable to an outside threat. By limiting the resources, it’s possible to reduce the danger, narrowing down the virtual space that needs to be monitored.

Manage user privileges

On a similar note, it is important to keep track of and manage user privileges regularly, so those who have left the organization no longer have access to the private data found in the VDI.

Encrypt data

Though information will never be stored on user devices, due to the threat of attacks, it’s important to encrypt data. This converts plaintext into ciphertext, which hides the true meaning of the information and will only be useable with a key.

Another way to protect data is through two-factor authentication. This means that students and staff will need to log in and verify their identity with a code that will be sent to another device. Adding this extra layer of protection reduces the threat of outside forces being able to access data.

Thin clients

If your organization provides devices to students or staff, a thin client can be implemented. This is a computer that cannot function without being attached to the main server. This means that endpoint users cannot make changes to applications, so malware cannot be downloaded.


Best practice VDI security for higher education organizations

There is a range of best practices to follow when implementing a desktop virtualization solution to ensure any security risk is reduced. This begins from the initial decision to change from physical desktops to VDI cloud-based technology, through deployment to use.

Consider a range of platforms

You should begin by considering a range of platforms, such as Citrix, rather than choosing a solution without first exploring other available options.

Some solutions may work better for certain organizations than others. When deciding to implement a VDI solution, it’s important to match the platform with the needs of staff and students and take into account security threats that your organization may have already encountered and the threats that it is most vulnerable to. ‘

Deciding between persistent and non-persistent VDI solutions will also affect the security best practices that are required as each VDI environment is slightly different and can affect security in a different way.

Endpoint devices

It’s also important to consider which endpoint devices staff and students will be using. If a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy is already in place, it is likely that there will be a wide range of devices using VDI technology. Each device and desktop will need to be as secure as possible and, ideally have antivirus software.

Not all students and staff will have antivirus software on their devices and may be unable to access it so this should be considered when implementing a VDI solution to offer as much security as possible.

Limitation of resources

When providing a VDI solution, limiting the VDI environment to the resources and information staff and students need and what students need access for and to, can help to increase security. If there are elements of a VDI environment that are unnecessary, they could be vulnerable to an outside threat. By limiting the resources, it’s possible to reduce the danger, narrowing down the virtual space that needs to be monitored.

Manage user privileges

On a similar note, it is important to keep track of and manage user privileges regularly, so those who have left the organization no longer have access to the private data found in the VDI.

Encrypt data

Though information will never be stored on user devices, due to the threat of attacks, it’s important to encrypt data. This converts plaintext into ciphertext, which hides the true meaning of the information and will only be useable with a key.

Another way to protect data is through two-factor authentication. This means that students and staff will need to log in and verify their identity with a code that will be sent to another device. Adding this extra layer of protection reduces the threat of outside forces being able to access data.

Thin clients

If your organization provides devices to students or staff, a thin client can be implemented. This is a computer that cannot function without being attached to the main server. This means that endpoint users cannot make changes to applications, so malware cannot be downloaded.


The benefits of following VDI security best practice

If these best practices are followed, the benefits of using VDI technology far outweigh the security dangers attached to it. VDI provides an incredibly secure, cloud-based environment for students and staff to work and communicate in and allows for higher education organizations to provide seamless continuity of education whether students are on or off-campus.

With a secure, encrypted connection, no data being stored on individual devices, and the increased free time for IT departments who are not continuously maintaining physical desktop computers, VDI offers the perfect solution for a modern learning environment.
To find out more about VDI deployment, solutions and security, please contact our expert team today.

 

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