VMware virtual switches provide safeguards against certain threats to VLAN security. Because of the way that virtual switches are designed, they protect VLANs against a variety of attacks, many of which involve VLAN hopping.

Having this protection does not guarantee that your virtual machine configuration is invulnerable to other types of attacks. For example, virtual switches do not protect the physical network against these attacks; they protect only the virtual network.

Virtual switches and VLANs can protect against the following types of attacks.

MAC flooding

Floods a switch with packets that contain MAC addresses tagged as having come from different sources. Many switches use a content-addressable memory (CAM) table to learn and store the source address for each packet. When the table is full, the switch can enter a fully open state in which every incoming packet is broadcast on all ports, letting the attacker see all of the switch’s traffic. This state might result in packet leakage across VLANs.

Although VMware virtual switches store a MAC address table, they do not get the MAC addresses from observable traffic and are not vulnerable to this type of attack.

802.1q and ISL tagging attacks

Force a switch to redirect frames from one VLAN to another by tricking the switch into acting as a trunk and broadcasting the traffic to other VLANs.

VMware virtual switches do not perform the dynamic trunking required for this type of attack and, therefore, are not vulnerable.

Double-encapsulation attacks

Occur when an attacker creates a double-encapsulated packet in which the VLAN identifier in the inner tag is different from the VLAN identifier in the outer tag. For backward compatibility, native VLANs strip the outer tag from transmitted packets unless configured to do otherwise. When a native VLAN switch strips the outer tag, only the inner tag is left, and that inner tag routes the packet to a different VLAN than the one identified in the now-missing outer tag.

VMware virtual switches drop any double-encapsulated frames that a virtual machine attempts to send on a port configured for a specific VLAN. Therefore, they are not vulnerable to this type of attack.

Multicast brute-force attacks

Involve sending large numbers of multicast frames to a known VLAN almost simultaneously to overload the switch so that it mistakenly allows some of the frames to broadcast to other VLANs.

VMware virtual switches do not allow frames to leave their correct broadcast domain (VLAN) and are not vulnerable to this type of attack.

Spanning-tree attacks

Target Spanning-Tree Protocol (STP), which is used to control bridging between parts of the LAN. The attacker sends Bridge Protocol Data Unit (BPDU) packets that attempt to change the network topology, establishing themselves as the root bridge. As the root bridge, the attacker can sniff the contents of transmitted frames.

VMware virtual switches do not support STP and are not vulnerable to this type of attack.

Random frame attacks

Involve sending large numbers of packets in which the source and destination addresses stay the same, but in which fields are randomly changed in length, type, or content. The goal of this attack is to force packets to be mistakenly rerouted to a different VLAN.

VMware virtual switches are not vulnerable to this type of attack.

Because new security threats develop over time, do not consider this an exhaustive list of attacks. Regularly check VMware security resources on the Web to learn about security, recent security alerts, and VMware security tactics.