A Golden Image is a pre-configured virtual machine (VM) template that can be applied to servers, disk drives, or desktops. It may also be referred to as a clone image or master image, and they are commonly used by system administrators to develop consistent system environments. Using a golden image can be useful for ensuring every VM in a company network, for example, shares exactly the same applications, functionality, and security configurations.
When first creating a golden image, system administrators often try to incorporate as many aspects as possible to ‘bake into’ the final image. These aspects generally include an operating system like Windows and all its most recent updates, but it may also include a pre-configured email client, network credentials, various applications, and more.
However, administrators aren’t locked into their decisions, and as time goes on or as updates are rolled out, adjustments and alterations can be made to the golden image and applied across the entire network. Additionally, administrators can also create multiple golden images for different user sets or for testing specific functionalities. A collection of golden images is often called a golden repository or golden image library.
Configuring and applying a golden image can provide a range of benefits. Firstly, using golden images as a template for a network of VMs can create a secure baseline that allows administrators to automate security patches and updates across entire networks. This approach eliminates the risk of individual users or technicians applying important security configuration changes incorrectly or not at all, potentially leaving their systems at risk.
Using golden images can also save IT departments time. Rather than having a technician manually set up each VM, the entire process can be automated. Taking out the human element not only ensures team members can focus on more important tasks, but it can help eliminate possible errors in configuring individual VMs manually.
Lastly, utilizing golden images can eliminate possible configuration drift (intentional or otherwise). Configuration drift occurs when there are multiple users responsible for configuration and settings, and a lack of coordination between them results in gaps where certain systems are overlooked and left out-of-date, leaving them susceptible to security threats.
While golden images are frequently used by system administrators to create and maintain consistent VM networks, security experts can also use those very same golden images to create sandbox analysis environments to detonate and monitor suspected malware. Using golden images for creating analysis environments can be an extremely helpful tool in defending against attacks that target specific companies or organizations.
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