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5 Actions for IBM i Administrators in the New Year

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Carol provides her suggestions for doing things differently in 2021.

With the new year upon us, resolutions are being made. I’m not really a resolution person, but every year I do try to look forward and see if there’s something that I could to do differently. You know that old adage: to do something the same way over and over and expect different results is the definition of insanity. I think we’ve had enough insanity for one year, so let’s take a look at five actions I’d like to see IBM i administrators adopt this year and why.

#1: Stop thinking that your organization is somehow immune from ransomware, and take steps to reduce the risk. Obviously, you may not be the one to create your organization’s approach to defending against malware, but you can at least take steps to reduce the risk to IBM i. Two areas of the system need to be addressed: file shares and the permissions (object security) on directories. Think of it as controlling who can enter the building and then once in the building, what parts of the building can they access. A couple of things about malware. It’s not just ransomware that can affect IBM i. Many types of malware can affect IBM i via mapped drives. For example, I’ve seen a malware variant that first renamed all of the directories on the infected PC; then, because the user was mapped to a read/write share to root and they had not taken steps to secure their IFS, the malware renamed all of the directories that were *PUBLIC *ALL (that is, data authority *RWX and object authority *ALL), which was most of them.

The first step you can take to reduce risk of malware infecting the system is to analyze the use of file shares defined for IBM i. Here are some tips on analyzing shares:

  • Just because someone is mapped to a share doesn’t mean they currently need access to the contents associated with that share. When the original map to the share occurred, it may have been configured to reconnect to that share at sign-on. Also, I’ve seen (actually been issued) laptops that came with drives pre-mapped. Regardless of the fact that I had no business reason to access the information on those shared drives, they were configured to map every time I rebooted.
  • I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: DO NOT CREATE A READ/WRITE SHARE TO ROOT (/)! Mapping to this share exposes your entire system to malware.
  • Create shares as read-only whenever possible and at the lowest point in the directory structure. You do not have to share root to share subdirectories.
  • Remove shares that are not (or should not) be used.
  • Reduce shares to read-only whenever possible.
  • Take control over who can create shares by securing the Add File Server Share (QZLSADFS) and Change File Server Share (QZLSCHFS) APIs.

This is the perfect time to use the QSYS2.Server_Share_Info service I referred to in last month’s article to determine which shares are in use. The problem with viewing the active sessions using the Navigator for i interface is that it’s a point in time, meaning that the sessions are active at the point you’re viewing the page, but it doesn’t help if the user connecting is working a different shift or connects and disconnects between the times you’ve gone into Navigator for i to view the active sessions. Using the STRSQL command, you can use the service in a CL program, sending the information to a file as shown below. You can schedule your CL program to run every five minutes (or however often you wish) and know with much more confidence which shares are in use.

           RUNSQL     SQL('CREATE TABLE your_schema.SHARES   AS   +  

                (SELECT SERVER_SHARE_NAME,             +                          

                   CURRENT_CONNECTIONS,                     +        

                   TEXT_DESCRIPTION                         +        

                   FROM QSYS2.SERVER_SHARE_INFO           +        

                   WHERE SHARE_TYPE = ''FILE''             +          

                    AND CURRENT_CONNECTIONS <> 0 )          +                

                         WITH DATA') COMMIT(*NONE) NAMING(*SQL)  

The second step to take to reduce the risk of damage from malware is to secure your directories. Ransomware isn’t just encrypting data; many ransomware variants are now downloading the data prior to encrypting it. This is known as “exfiltrating” the data. Therefore, it’s important that any data you wouldn’t want published on the Internet be secured. (The thieves will threaten to publish your information on the Internet if you don’t pay the ransom.) If you have been ignoring the IFS, it’s likely that any directory you’ve created is set to the equivalent of *PUBLIC *ALL. In other words, you have some work to do.

Even if the share is a read/write share, the users’ authority to the directory can prevent malware from doing harm. For example, a user maps to a read-write share defined on the /Bank_Images directory. But that directory is defined as DTAAUT(*EXCLUDE) OBJAUT(*NONE) and neither she nor her group has a private authority to the directory. In this case, the malware would not be able to either exfiltrate the data in the directory or encrypt the contents of the directory because the user doesn’t have sufficient authority to perform either task. For more guidance on securing the IFS, see my article “Tips for Securing the IFS.”

#2: Consider switching to use IBM i Services rather than running CL commands from a command line. Many of the services are easier to use and perform better than their CL command or API counterpart. The one that may save you the most time as an IBM i Security Administrator is the QSYS2.USER_INFO service. This view is the same as running Display User Profile (DSPUSRPRF) to an outfile. The benefit of using the view is that this view is immediately updated when a profile is created, deleted, or modified. So you can be assured you’re getting the most current information without having to re-run DSPUSRPRF. You can find the list of IBM i Services available for your OS level here. You can find SQL tutorials and examples from Scott Forstie and Tim Rowe here.

#3: Stay current. There are many aspects to staying current. One aspect is to stay current with the industry your organization’s in: understanding the marketplace’s challenges, market leaders, etc. Understanding your marketplace can help you position your proposed IT changes in terms of how it will benefit your organization according to your marketplace. Proposing changes and additions using relevant business terms will always be more well-received than a technical dissertation. Staying current also means staying current with the technologies being released by IBM twice a year via Technology Refreshes (TRs). Staying current shows your organization that IBM i is an up-to-date technology and is a good investment choice. But I’d like to suggest two areas that are extremely important in which to stay current: PTFs and Access Client Solutions (ACS) refreshes. I know that, for some organizations, applying PTFs is difficult because they must run 24x7. But not all PTFs require an IPL, and many PTFs are critical to security even if they aren’t categorized as such. This is especially true for Java and open source PTFs. Leaving your systems unpatched may be leaving your systems vulnerable. Use the Group PTF service to know if your system is down-level from the current group PTFs. Simply launch ACS > Run SQL Scripts and run the following SQL:

select * from systools.group_ptf_currency;

It will do a “phone home” to an IBM website with the current group PTF levels and compare that information with the Group PTFs you have installed. The results will let you know exactly which Group PTFs need to be applied. Regardless of how you accomplish it, I encourage you to find a way to stay current with PTFs.

I also encourage you to stay current with ACS. I do understand that it may be difficult to upgrade your entire organization because other client-based software may have to be retested to make sure it’s compatible with a new version of ACS. But even if you only upgrade ACS on your workstation and that of your colleagues and upgrade the rest of your organization once a year, you and your technology team will be able to take advantage of the new examples IBM provides in ACS for using the IBM i Services. This, alone, is worth the upgrade, in my opinion. You can keep track of ACS enhancements added each version here. And you can download the new version here. (Note that you’ll need an IBM ID to use this link.)

#4: Implement encryption. If you haven’t already, encrypt your internal communications. More importantly, encrypt critical data in database files. Encrypted communications stops individuals or malware from reading your internal traffic to gain valuable information (such as user IDs and passwords). Encrypting data means that, even if it’s exfiltrated or otherwise stolen, it’s going to be difficult if not impossible for the thief to be able to use the data since they would need to be able to decrypt it first. For more thoughts on encryption, see my article “Why Encryption?”

#5: Once and for all, get rid of and prevent default passwords. I continue to see systems that have profiles with a default password. Some profiles are service accounts that were created on a development system and tested with a default password, and developers are afraid to change them. This is why I encourage you to switch all of your password composition rules to be listed in the QPWDRULES system value and include the values *LMTPRFNAME (the password cannot contain the profile name) and *ALLCRTCHG (rules apply even when the profile is created or changed) so that this cannot happen. Others are profiles that were created, but the person never showed up for work, yet the profile sits with a default password. Even though the password is set to expired, this is not protection! All I’d have to do is sign on with the default password and change it to something I know and I’m on your system. Still other profiles are service accounts that are being used but you’re not sure how. I’m sorry, but that’s not an excuse. The JS (Actions against job entries) audit journal entries provide information about the jobs a user profile is running regardless of whether they’re batch or interactive or are coming in from a remote server. Information provided in the JS entry include the job name, timestamp, whether the job was started, stopped, released, or held along with the IP address from which the request originated. Using this information, you can determine if the password only needs to be changed on IBM i or if a script on a remote server also needs to be updated with the new password. If you don’t already have or don’t want to add *JOBDTA or *JOBBAS to the QAUDLVL system value because it is going to generate too many audit journal entries, well that’s not an excuse either because you can turn on the auditing for the profile you’re trying to investigate by using this command

CHGUSRAUD USRPRF(YOUR_PROF) AUDLVL(*JOBBAS)

Finally, admins, some of the profiles with a default password I’ve seen are YOURS! Just because you have the power to set your password to something simple, you should not abuse that power!

Summary

You may have already changed your behavior in past years and these suggestions are meaningless for you. If that’s the case, bravo to you! But for those who are stuck and continue to do the same thing over and over, I hope that these suggestions will help get you moving in a new direction this year.

Carol Woodbury

Carol Woodbury is President and CTO at DXR Security, a company dedicated to helping organizations improve the security of their IBM i Systems - one step at a time. Previously, she was Vice President of Global Security Services for HelpSystems and President of SkyView Partners, a firm that specialized in security services and security administration and compliance software before it was acquired by HelpSystems. Carol's foundation of security experience comes from her 16 years with IBM in Rochester, Minnesota, where she served for 10 years as the AS/400 Security Architect and Chief Engineering Manager of Security Technology for IBM's Enterprise Server Group. During that time, Carol provided security architecture and design consultations with IBM Business Partners and larger AS/400 customers.

Carol is known worldwide as an author and award-winning speaker on security technology, specializing in IBM i security issues. She has authored six books on IBM i security. Carol holds the CISSP, CRISC, and PCIP security certifications and has been named an IBM Champion since 2018.


MC Press books written by Carol Woodbury available now on the MC Press Bookstore.

IBM i Security Administration and Compliance: Third Edition IBM i Security Administration and Compliance: Third Edition
Don't miss the newest edition by the industry’s #1 IBM i security expert.
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    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.

  • How to Meet the Newest Encryption Requirements on IBM i

    SB PowerTech WC GenericA growing number of compliance mandates require sensitive data to be encrypted. But what kind of encryption solution will satisfy an auditor and how can you implement encryption on IBM i? Watch this on-demand webinar to find out how to meet today’s most common encryption requirements on IBM i. You’ll also learn:

    • Why disk encryption isn’t enough
    • What sets strong encryption apart from other solutions
    • Important considerations before implementing encryption

     

     

  • 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.

     

     

  • Fight Cyber Threats with IBM i Encryption

    SB PowerTech WC GenericCyber attacks often target mission-critical servers, and those attack strategies are constantly changing. To stay on top of these threats, your cybersecurity strategies must evolve, too. In 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

     

     

     

  • 10 Practical IBM i Security Tips for Surviving Covid-19 and Working From Home

    SB PowerTech WC GenericNow that many organizations have moved to a work from home model, security concerns have risen.

    During this session Carol Woodbury will discuss the issues that the world is currently seeing such as increased malware attacks and then provide practical actions you can take to both monitor and protect your IBM i during this challenging time.

     

  • How to Transfer IBM i Data to Microsoft Excel

    SB_HelpSystems_WC_Generic3 easy ways to get IBM i data into Excel every time
    There’s an easy, more reliable way to import your IBM i data to Excel? It’s called Sequel. During this webinar, our data access experts demonstrate how you can simplify the process of getting data from multiple sources—including Db2 for i—into Excel. Watch to learn how to:

    • Download your IBM i data to Excel in a single step
    • Deliver data to business users in Excel via email or a scheduled job
    • Access IBM i data directly using the Excel add-in in Sequel

    Make 2020 the year you finally see your data clearly, quickly, and securely. Start by giving business users the ability to access crucial business data from IBM i the way they want it—in Microsoft Excel.

     

     

  • HA Alternatives: MIMIX Is Not Your Only Option on IBM i

    SB_HelpSystems_WC_GenericIn this recorded webinar, our experts introduce you to the new HA transition technology available with our Robot HA software. You’ll learn how to:

    • Transition your rules from MIMIX (if you’re happy with them)
    • Simplify your day-to-day activities around high availability
    • Gain back time in your work week
    • Make your CEO happy about reducing IT costs

    Don’t stick with a legacy high availability solution that makes you uncomfortable when transitioning to something better can be simple, safe, and cost-effective.

     

     

  • 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.

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

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Robot 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

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Robot 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.

  • ACO MONITOR Manages your IBM i 24/7 and Notifies You When Your IBM i Needs Assistance!

    SB DDL Systems 5429More than a paging system - ACO MONITOR is a complete systems management solution for your Power Systems running IBM i. ACO MONITOR manages your Power System 24/7, uses advanced technology (like two-way messaging) to notify on-duty support personnel, and responds to complex problems before they reach critical status.

    ACO MONITOR is proven technology and is capable of processing thousands of mission-critical events daily. The software is pre-configured, easy to install, scalable, and greatly improves data center efficiency.