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Alternatively, perhaps you'd rather keep your private data private.


The life of the security administrator used to be simple. Application menus insulated the user from the back-end database, and restrictions in a user's profile easily limited access to only a few basic commands. Then things started to get complicated as "dumb terminals" gave way to the more functional personal computer (PC). Spreadsheet applications arrived, and simple file transfers quickly became commonplace. But it was like opening Pandora's Box!


IBM responded to demands for open access to the database by building TCP connectivity into the server, thereby allowing data to be accessed by numerous powerful interfaces, including File Transfer Protocol (FTP), Open Database Connectivity (ODBC), and Distributed Data Management (DDM).


As these services all connect to the database directly, the underlying fabric of our menu "defense" is gone. While resource (object) security is applicable to every interface that the server supports, PowerTech's annual "State of System i Security" study has reported year after year that it is rarely implemented and is easily circumvented by overly powerful user profiles.


A simple FTP program, such as the example represented in Figure 1, can provide graphical access to any unsecured data. Costing a mere $40, mine even came with a free 30-day trial!



Figure 1: Users often have drag-and-drop access to sensitive data. (Click image to enlarge.)


While resource security is recommended for the core layer of object protection, it is a one-size-fits-all mechanism as the operating system does not distinguish between interfaces.  


If that were not enough to raise an auditor's eyebrows, network activities are not audited, regardless of any auditing controls that you turn on. The best you can hope for is to know when a file is opened, but not what type of request was made of the data. Several of these interfaces also permit commands to be executed, sometimes regardless of the "limit capabilities" setting in the profile.


Fortunately, the operating system comes with a number of exit points related to network interfaces. To access the exit point registration facility, use the Work with Registration Information (WRKREGINF) command, and define the name and location of a desired exit program for each exit point. The exit program will be invoked when a request is received by the server. The exit program is passed details about the request and can perform any programmatic task, commonly to assess the legitimacy of the request or to log the activity.


While writing your own exit programs is possible, many organizations are reluctant to commit to the ongoing research and development of a security-sensitive application. Other considerations when developing your own solution should include performance implications, dynamic rule functionality, and separation of duties when programmers have access to a system that their code is protecting.


If you decide not to trust this functionality to your own exit programs, we recommend a professional solution called PowerTech Network Security. This solution enables visibility of network requests and permits rules to be established for access control and reporting. Requests can also issue message alerts to ensure immediate notification and reaction from the appropriate parties.


Imagine being able to report on users accessing your IFS, including the directories they navigated through and the files they viewed or deleted. How reassuring that an administrator is alerted when an FTP request targets a production file rather than a test file, all while the system blocks the unauthorized access attempt!


One of the advanced features of Network Security is the ability to override a request to run under an alternate profile. This permits the recommended "deny by default" methodology to be implemented, while still granting access to preapproved requests. For example, you can set a library to *EXCLUDE but still allow an FTP download of a specific file to be permitted (and logged) by your accounting group. Likewise, take a normally unrestricted user profile with *ALLOBJ special authority, and downgrade that profile to have read-only capabilities over production data! Both are on-the-fly security changes that are transparent to the user and are only in effect for specific requests. And of course, the logging is against the signed-on user.


For more information on PowerTech Network Security or to receive a free security assessment of your system (including a review of your network vulnerability), please visit www.powertech.com/mcp.



Robin Tatam

Robin Tatam is the Director of Security Technologies for PowerTech, a leading provider of security solutions for the System i. As a frequent speaker on security topics, he was also co-author of the Redbook IBM System i Security: Protecting i5/OS Data with Encryption. Robin can be reached at 952.563.2768 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..



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