In the Wheelhouse: Your IBM i Data Is Insecure

  • Smaller Small Medium Big Bigger
  • Default Helvetica Segoe Georgia Times

Chances are, you're looking at that title and thinking it's just click bait. Of course, I'm not talking about your data. Right? Wrong.


I was at the COMMON User Group Fall Conference in Orlando earlier this month. I had debuted a session called Rapid Fire Admin, which was just a ridiculous 150 IBM i administration tips in 75 minutes. I actually did it with 15 seconds to spare!


In my session, I had a couple of tips in there about security, and based on some feedback I received, I decided to put together an article to pinpoint a few areas of concern that we all need to understand.


My apologies for interrupting the current "CAMSS in Conversation" series. However, with security being the overriding theme on each of Cloud, Analytics, Mobile, and Social aspects, it seems fitting to provide a real-life example of just how much we have a false sense of security about our systems.


First, I had a couple of slides highlighting a few items mentioned in the PowerTech 2015 State of IBM i Security study. The thing that struck me as most alarming was the percentage of user profiles with specific special authorities. This should scare the living hell out of you.


Given that the average system size in that study was about 1090 users, it should be quite a shock that special authorities are at a cavalier level. For instance, approximately 15 percent of user profiles have Spool Control (*SPLCTL) and approximately 20 percent have Job Control (*JOBCTL).


So what's wrong with *SPLCTL? Nothing of course, because no IBM i shop runs any form of payroll software or generates financial statements or employee checks, right? Users with *SPLCTL own your output. Make no mistake about it. If you've spooled the secret proprietary recipe full of secret ingredients to an output queue, then it's vulnerable. In fact, in my humble opinion, it's a breach given the fact that it could've been very easily compromised by 15 percent of your users and you'd never be the wiser.


*JOBCTL has pretty much the same capabilities but with a few added goodies. You can control jobs plus printers and spooled files. If an output queue is operator controlled *OPRCTL(YES), then someone with *JOBCTL has access to that queue, no matter how sensitive the data is. The great rub about *JOBCTL is the ability to start and stop subsystems and even the ability to power down a partition.


Think about that. Nearly 20 percent of users have the authority to power down a partition.


Now, I'm fully supportive of ensuring user profiles are secured. I'm also 110 percent behind most, if not all, the recommendations in the PowerTech study. I'm a big fan of password phrases instead of short passwords. We need to be using complex password rules and forcing changes. Every IBM i admin should download that study and have a good, hard look at their IBM i security.


Chances are, you've got user profiles with far more authority than they should have. What's the biggest reason we don't want to change those profiles? It usually goes like this: "I know Donald has essentially the same authority as QSECOFR. He's got all special authorities, but he's been here for 25 years. He'll be retiring soon, and if he wanted to cause any damage, he would have already. Changing his authority will just be a make-work project. Plus he runs all the payroll jobs and keeps an eye on the QSYSOPR queue for us. If we change his authority, we could break payroll!"


It's the don't rock the boat answer. It's also the bury our heads in the sand answer. First, the fear of breaking something should not be in our vocabularies as technology professionals. Second, would you rather Donald accidentally break payroll or even something worse when you're not looking and then tell you about it later when the crime scene is cold? No. The best thing we can do is to do a controlled experiment on profile authority reduction. This is a perfect guest partition test actually. We need to be breaking things (potentially, or course) and precisely when we're going to be watching the systems.


And about Donald? Donald will continue to work for another 10 years. He hasn't caused any damage yet…or at least none that you know about. His password is "judy," which happens to be his wife's name, and she works right next to him. How common is this? I'd argue it's far more common than we'd like to admit. Now just think about how easy it is for a layman to gain access to payroll.


You're only as secure as your weakest link.


No matter what you do to secure your system from the inside and no matter how complex you make your passwords, it won't make much difference if you're sending all your Telnet traffic unencrypted.


One of the big eye-openers for me was when I asked my session attendees to raise their hands if they encrypted their Telnet traffic. Out of a room of approximately 30 people, I saw two hands come up. And one of those doesn't count because he's Larry Bolhuis. You know Larry does admin right. So I'm only counting one out of 30. That means 97 percent of that room is sending data, including their user IDs and passwords, via plain text.


This is a major red flag.


Why are we not encrypting Telnet traffic? Maybe it's because you couldn't really sniff a twinaxial line 20 years ago. When we all converted to TCP/IP, we just didn't secure it from the start.


How bad is it? All we need is one curious person on our network with a copy of Wireshark, and anything on the network sent to and from an IBM i partition is fair game to sniff.


How easy is it to sniff data in plain text? Have a trusted security-minded person on your team download a copy of Wireshark and find out. You may be very surprised at what you pick up.


How easy is it to remedy? Incredibly. So much so that there isn't any reason not to do it.


This type of solution doesn't break things. It's very similar to securing any other service with SSL that's running on IBM i or any operating system. Would you create an online payment system over HTTP rather than use HTTPS? Or transmit B2B data in plain text via FTP instead of SSH? Of course not. If the data is confidential, then it's irresponsible to send it in a clear-text manner over the public Internet. We live in an age of data security and data integrity. Breaches cost money and a loss of trust. Considering most breaches come from within the organizational walls, then that's where we need to be starting.


IBM i is designed with security in mind. It's got the capabilities to be one of the most secure operating systems in existence. The problem is that many of us haven't changed and assume we're protected based on the way our technology used to behave. Our auditors come to the doors and ask generic security questions because many of them have no idea how IBM i security works. Then the auditor gets sent info about how secure the AS/400 was designed and is satisfied...based on 1988 information. I've seen that happen a few times in a few shops by reputable auditors. Again, they're not IBM i auditors. I've hired groups like SkyView Partners and PowerTech in the past, and the difference between them and financial auditing companies is that they understand IBM i from a modern perspective. I'd argue IBM i audits should happen in addition to standard financial and IT audits, or at least every few years to ensure things haven't run off the rails.


IBM i has changed with the times to ensure our risk is reduced, but it doesn't matter if we don't take advantage of those changes.


SSL-enable your Telnet. Please.

Steve Pitcher
Steve Pitcher works with iTech Solutions, an IBM Premier Business Partner. He is a specialist in IBM i and IBM Power Systems solutions since 2001. Feel free to contact him directly


Support MC Press Online





  • White Paper: Node.js for Enterprise IBM i Modernization

    SB Profound WP 5539

    If your business is thinking about modernizing your legacy IBM i (also known as AS/400 or iSeries) applications, you will want to read this white paper first!

    Download this paper and learn how Node.js can ensure that you:
    - Modernize on-time and budget - no more lengthy, costly, disruptive app rewrites!
    - Retain your IBM i systems of record
    - Find and hire new development talent
    - Integrate new Node.js applications with your existing RPG, Java, .Net, and PHP apps
    - Extend your IBM i capabilties to include Watson API, Cloud, and Internet of Things

    Read Node.js for Enterprise IBM i Modernization Now!


  • Profound Logic Solution Guide

    SB Profound WP 5539More than ever, there is a demand for IT to deliver innovation.
    Your IBM i has been an essential part of your business operations for years. However, your organization may struggle to maintain the current system and implement new projects.
    The thousands of customers we've worked with and surveyed state that expectations regarding the digital footprint and vision of the companyare not aligned with the current IT environment.

    Get your copy of this important guide today!


  • 2022 IBM i Marketplace Survey Results

    Fortra2022 marks the eighth edition of the IBM i Marketplace Survey Results. Each year, Fortra captures data on how businesses use the IBM i platform and the IT and cybersecurity initiatives it supports.

    Over the years, this survey has become a true industry benchmark, revealing to readers the trends that are shaping and driving the market and providing insight into what the future may bring for this technology.

  • Brunswick bowls a perfect 300 with LANSA!

    FortraBrunswick is the leader in bowling products, services, and industry expertise for the development and renovation of new and existing bowling centers and mixed-use recreation facilities across the entertainment industry. However, the lifeblood of Brunswick’s capital equipment business was running on a 15-year-old software application written in Visual Basic 6 (VB6) with a SQL Server back-end. The application was at the end of its life and needed to be replaced.
    With the help of Visual LANSA, they found an easy-to-use, long-term platform that enabled their team to collaborate, innovate, and integrate with existing systems and databases within a single platform.
    Read the case study to learn how they achieved success and increased the speed of development by 30% with Visual LANSA.


  • Progressive Web Apps: Create a Universal Experience Across All Devices

    LANSAProgressive Web Apps allow you to reach anyone, anywhere, and on any device with a single unified codebase. This means that your applications—regardless of browser, device, or platform—instantly become more reliable and consistent. They are the present and future of application development, and more and more businesses are catching on.
    Download this whitepaper and learn:

    • How PWAs support fast application development and streamline DevOps
    • How to give your business a competitive edge using PWAs
    • What makes progressive web apps so versatile, both online and offline



  • The Power of Coding in a Low-Code Solution

    LANSAWhen it comes to creating your business applications, there are hundreds of coding platforms and programming languages to choose from. These options range from very complex traditional programming languages to Low-Code platforms where sometimes no traditional coding experience is needed.
    Download our whitepaper, The Power of Writing Code in a Low-Code Solution, and:

    • Discover the benefits of Low-code's quick application creation
    • Understand the differences in model-based and language-based Low-Code platforms
    • Explore the strengths of LANSA's Low-Code Solution to Low-Code’s biggest drawbacks



  • Why Migrate When You Can Modernize?

    LANSABusiness users want new applications now. Market and regulatory pressures require faster application updates and delivery into production. Your IBM i developers may be approaching retirement, and you see no sure way to fill their positions with experienced developers. In addition, you may be caught between maintaining your existing applications and the uncertainty of moving to something new.
    In this white paper, you’ll learn how to think of these issues as opportunities rather than problems. We’ll explore motivations to migrate or modernize, their risks and considerations you should be aware of before embarking on a (migration or modernization) project.
    Lastly, we’ll discuss how modernizing IBM i applications with optimized business workflows, integration with other technologies and new mobile and web user interfaces will enable IT – and the business – to experience time-added value and much more.


  • UPDATED: Developer Kit: Making a Business Case for Modernization and Beyond

    Profound Logic Software, Inc.Having trouble getting management approval for modernization projects? The problem may be you're not speaking enough "business" to them.

    This Developer Kit provides you study-backed data and a ready-to-use business case template to help get your very next development project approved!

  • What to Do When Your AS/400 Talent Retires

    FortraIT managers hoping to find new IBM i talent are discovering that the pool of experienced RPG programmers and operators or administrators is small.

    This guide offers strategies and software suggestions to help you plan IT staffing and resources and smooth the transition after your AS/400 talent retires. Read on to learn:

    • Why IBM i skills depletion is a top concern
    • How leading organizations are coping
    • Where automation will make the biggest impact


  • Node.js on IBM i Webinar Series Pt. 2: Setting Up Your Development Tools

    Profound Logic Software, Inc.Have you been wondering about Node.js? Our free Node.js Webinar Series takes you from total beginner to creating a fully-functional IBM i Node.js business application. In Part 2, Brian May teaches you the different tooling options available for writing code, debugging, and using Git for version control. Attend this webinar to learn:

    • Different tools to develop Node.js applications on IBM i
    • Debugging Node.js
    • The basics of Git and tools to help those new to it
    • Using as a pre-built development environment



  • Expert Tips for IBM i Security: Beyond the Basics

    SB PowerTech WC GenericIn this session, IBM i security expert Robin Tatam provides a quick recap of IBM i security basics and guides you through some advanced cybersecurity techniques that can help you take data protection to the next level. Robin will cover:

    • Reducing the risk posed by special authorities
    • Establishing object-level security
    • Overseeing user actions and data access

    Don't miss this chance to take your knowledge of IBM i security beyond the basics.



  • 5 IBM i Security Quick Wins

    SB PowerTech WC GenericIn today’s threat landscape, upper management is laser-focused on cybersecurity. You need to make progress in securing your systems—and make it fast.
    There’s no shortage of actions you could take, but what tactics will actually deliver the results you need? And how can you find a security strategy that fits your budget and time constraints?
    Join top IBM i security expert Robin Tatam as he outlines the five fastest and most impactful changes you can make to strengthen IBM i security this year.
    Your system didn’t become unsecure overnight and you won’t be able to turn it around overnight either. But quick wins are possible with IBM i security, and Robin Tatam will show you how to achieve them.

  • Security Bulletin: Malware Infection Discovered on IBM i Server!

    SB PowerTech WC GenericMalicious programs can bring entire businesses to their knees—and IBM i shops are not immune. It’s critical to grasp the true impact malware can have on IBM i and the network that connects to it. Attend this webinar to gain a thorough understanding of the relationships between:

    • Viruses, native objects, and the integrated file system (IFS)
    • Power Systems and Windows-based viruses and malware
    • PC-based anti-virus scanning versus native IBM i scanning

    There are a number of ways you can minimize your exposure to viruses. IBM i security expert Sandi Moore explains the facts, including how to ensure you're fully protected and compliant with regulations such as PCI.



  • Encryption on IBM i Simplified

    SB PowerTech WC GenericDB2 Field Procedures (FieldProcs) were introduced in IBM i 7.1 and have greatly simplified encryption, often without requiring any application changes. Now you can quickly encrypt sensitive data on the IBM i including PII, PCI, PHI data in your physical files and tables.
    Watch this webinar to learn how you can quickly implement encryption on the IBM i. During the webinar, security expert Robin Tatam will show you how to:

    • Use Field Procedures to automate encryption and decryption
    • Restrict and mask field level access by user or group
    • Meet compliance requirements with effective key management and audit trails


  • Lessons Learned from IBM i Cyber Attacks

    SB PowerTech WC GenericDespite the many options IBM has provided to protect your systems and data, many organizations still struggle to apply appropriate security controls.
    In this webinar, you'll get insight into how the criminals accessed these systems, the fallout from these attacks, and how the incidents could have been avoided by following security best practices.

    • Learn which security gaps cyber criminals love most
    • Find out how other IBM i organizations have fallen victim
    • Get the details on policies and processes you can implement to protect your organization, even when staff works from home

    You will learn the steps you can take to avoid the mistakes made in these examples, as well as other inadequate and misconfigured settings that put businesses at risk.



  • The Power of Coding in a Low-Code Solution

    SB PowerTech WC GenericWhen it comes to creating your business applications, there are hundreds of coding platforms and programming languages to choose from. These options range from very complex traditional programming languages to Low-Code platforms where sometimes no traditional coding experience is needed.
    Download our whitepaper, The Power of Writing Code in a Low-Code Solution, and:

    • Discover the benefits of Low-code's quick application creation
    • Understand the differences in model-based and language-based Low-Code platforms
    • Explore the strengths of LANSA's Low-Code Solution to Low-Code’s biggest drawbacks



  • Node Webinar Series Pt. 1: The World of Node.js on IBM i

    SB Profound WC GenericHave you been wondering about Node.js? Our free Node.js Webinar Series takes you from total beginner to creating a fully-functional IBM i Node.js business application.
    Part 1 will teach you what Node.js is, why it's a great option for IBM i shops, and how to take advantage of the ecosystem surrounding Node.
    In addition to background information, our Director of Product Development Scott Klement will demonstrate applications that take advantage of the Node Package Manager (npm).
    Watch Now.

  • The Biggest Mistakes in IBM i Security

    SB Profound WC Generic The Biggest Mistakes in IBM i Security
    Here’s the harsh reality: cybersecurity pros have to get their jobs right every single day, while an attacker only has to succeed once to do incredible damage.
    Whether that’s thousands of exposed records, millions of dollars in fines and legal fees, or diminished share value, it’s easy to judge organizations that fall victim. IBM i enjoys an enviable reputation for security, but no system is impervious to mistakes.
    Join this webinar to learn about the biggest errors made when securing a Power Systems server.
    This knowledge is critical for ensuring integrity of your application data and preventing you from becoming the next Equifax. It’s also essential for complying with all formal regulations, including SOX, PCI, GDPR, and HIPAA
    Watch Now.

  • Comply in 5! Well, actually UNDER 5 minutes!!

    SB CYBRA PPL 5382

    TRY the one package that solves all your document design and printing challenges on all your platforms.

    Produce bar code labels, electronic forms, ad hoc reports, and RFID tags – without programming! MarkMagic is the only document design and print solution that combines report writing, WYSIWYG label and forms design, and conditional printing in one integrated product.

    Request your trial now!

  • Backup and Recovery on IBM i: Your Strategy for the Unexpected

    FortraRobot automates the routine tasks of iSeries backup and recovery, saving you time and money and making the process safer and more reliable. Automate your backups with the Robot Backup and Recovery Solution. Key features include:
    - Simplified backup procedures
    - Easy data encryption
    - Save media management
    - Guided restoration
    - Seamless product integration
    Make sure your data survives when catastrophe hits. Try the Robot Backup and Recovery Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Manage IBM i Messages by Exception with Robot

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Managing messages on your IBM i can be more than a full-time job if you have to do it manually. How can you be sure you won’t miss important system events?
    Automate your message center with the Robot Message Management Solution. Key features include:
    - Automated message management
    - Tailored notifications and automatic escalation
    - System-wide control of your IBM i partitions
    - Two-way system notifications from your mobile device
    - Seamless product integration
    Try the Robot Message Management Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Easiest Way to Save Money? Stop Printing IBM i Reports

    FortraRobot automates report bursting, distribution, bundling, and archiving, and offers secure, selective online report viewing.
    Manage your reports with the Robot Report Management Solution. Key features include:

    - Automated report distribution
    - View online without delay
    - Browser interface to make notes
    - Custom retention capabilities
    - Seamless product integration
    Rerun another report? Never again. Try the Robot Report Management Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Hassle-Free IBM i Operations around the Clock

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413For over 30 years, Robot has been a leader in systems management for IBM i.
    Manage your job schedule with the Robot Job Scheduling Solution. Key features include:
    - Automated batch, interactive, and cross-platform scheduling
    - Event-driven dependency processing
    - Centralized monitoring and reporting
    - Audit log and ready-to-use reports
    - Seamless product integration
    Scale your software, not your staff. Try the Robot Job Scheduling Solution FREE for 30 days.