Book review – Building Virtual Machine Labs: A Hands-On Guide

AKA: How to break into IT/infosec

I’ve worked in IT for over a decade, and went through that struggle to break into an IT job, and later an infosec job. Everyone that is trying to break into IT or infosec knows the struggle of not being able to get the job because you don’t have experience and can’t get experience because you don’t have the job. There’s ONE reliable way to break through, and that’s to build a home lab and learn the skills on your own time. This allows you to be able to enthusiastically and truthfully answer interview questions, or show competence on the job.

Every interview I’ve done on either side of the table has included the question “tell me about your home lab”. If you’re lacking experience but you can enthusiastically tell me about how you’ve setup a virtual lab on your laptop or spare hardware, configured Active Directory, virtual pfsense firewall, SIEM, Apache/IIS, and hacked it and secured it, then you’ll win points during the interview.

Once you’ve broken into IT or infosec you can’t rest for long. It’s a lifelong learning process and if you don’t continue to learn and do in your personal lab then you’ll likely get left behind and become irrelevant. Yes, a home lab is a must even for seasoned professionals.

This is the book I wish I’d had many years ago when I was googling all of this info and learning it the hard way. The author does an outstanding job of explaining the underlying hardware and software needed for a virtual lab, and walking the reader through setting it all up step by step. There are multiple free hypervisor options to run your lab, and step by step instructions are included for each one.

The books starts out talking about prerequisite knowledge before moving into hardware considerations. Although you can build a lab on your laptop using free hypervisors, this sections gets into hardware choices for professional labs as well as covering how to make the most of the hardware you have.

Next it moves into virtual networks which can be confusing for newcomers trying to understand the difference between NAT, Bridged, and Host-Only adapters and when each choice makes sense to use in your lab. Virtual labs frequently run insecure software that you wouldn’t want to expose to the internet or untrusted network, so you’ll need to understand how to use virtual switches and vNIC’s to segment your network.

The next section is a Hypervisor guide and covers how to setup each, including VMware Fusion/ESXi/Workstation Pro, VirtualBox, and Hyper-V. Then the book gets into step by step instructions on configuring your virtual machines, including a pfSense firewall, Kali Linux, SIEM, IPS, and Metasploitable2. Once you have your lab configured, you’ll need to know how to manage the hosts. This is one of the areas where the book really goes above and beyond by explaining things like persistent static routes, generating ssh keys, helpful commands, and remote access with guides for each OS. Every infosec interview I’ve been in has asked questions about SIEMs. The book covers how to install, configure, and manage the Splunk SIEM which is one of the more popular SIEMs in use. The book ends on a more advanced note, covering malware analysis, pentesting, and IT/OPs lab configurations.

Every time someone has asked me how to break into IT or infosec I’ve always said that you need to get busy in your home lab to build your experience, knowing that building that lab is a pretty big challenge for newcomers. Now you have an excellent book that will hold your hand step by step through the process.

I don’t often buy books because I have a Safari Books Online membership and can read an unlimited number of books online on any device, but this book was well worth the cost and I learned a few things from it even after so many years in the game.

Building Virtual Machine Labs: A Hands-On Guide

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