Debunking the Fake News Surrounding IBM i Security

IBM i (OS/400, i5/OS)
  • Smaller Small Medium Big Bigger
  • Default Helvetica Segoe Georgia Times

With so much fake news floating around, I thought I’d take the time to debunk the fake news I hear about IBM i security.

When I visit new clients, I often find that they have been misguided somewhere along the way and/or are making assumptions about features of IBM i security that were once true but aren’t any longer. This article goes through some of the more common misconceptions I hear.

User Class Forces the System to Check Authority

I can’t tell you the number of people who misunderstand how the system uses the User class attribute of a user profile. It is used to default the special authorities when the profile is created. It is not used when the system checks whether the user has sufficient authority to perform an operation, such as updating a file. Therefore, when you have to debug a problem to determine why a user is or isn’t gaining access, for example, you shouldn’t look at the setting of the User class. The user may be in the Security Officer (*SECOFR) user class yet have no special authorities or be in the User (*USER) user class and have all special authorities. Looking at the User class settings can easily misguide your analysis.

Enabling Security Causes Performance Issues

Given all the performance enhancements in the operating system itself as well as with the authority-checking algorithm and other security features, it’s very difficult to have security be a performance issue. That said, some security features have caused performance issues in the past but have been resolved.

Let’s take a look at those:

  • Object auditing: When object auditing was first added to the operating system back in Version 2, simply enabling object auditing—that is, adding *OBJAUD to the QAUDCTL system value—caused a noticeable system overhead. However, that issue has long since been resolved. Enabling object auditing no longer has a noticeable impact. Configuring object auditing on an intensely used object has the potential to cause an impact, but in my experience, even that has not caused a performance issue. (The issue you’re more likely to see is disk space filling up with journal receivers.)
  • Authorization lists: Admittedly, when authorization lists were used back in the early releases of AS/400, they did cause a noticeable performance hit. That has been eliminated with some code modifications as well as the advent of the authority cache that’s associated with each user (added in Version 4). The cache holds up to 32 private authorities and 32 private authorities to authorization lists. If users are accessing objects secured by one of the authorization lists in the cache, it’s a very fast check.
  • Adopted authority: Once upon a time, adopted authority added overhead to authority checking as well. But, again, efficiencies have been added, and if the owner of the program that adopts owns the object that’s being accessed, the adopted authority check is one of the first things performed in the authority checking algorithm. Whoever thinks that using adopted authority adds overhead is sadly mistaken.


All of these performance gains came in at least by Version 5, so the idea that using any of these security features causes a performance issue today is believing fake news.

Default Passwords Can be OK

An auditor asked for clarification on this myth, and I was happy to clarify for her that there is absolutely no acceptable reason to have a profile with a default password (that is, a password the same as the profile name.) A default password is the first thing a hacker will attempt. The second issue I clarified is that it’s not a compensating control to create the profile with the password set to expired, meaning that it must be changed at first use. Regardless of whether it must be changed at first use, profiles should not be created with a default password!

QSECURITY 50 Enables All Password Rules

In one of my last “Coffee with Carol” webinars, I was asked whether security level (QSECURITY) 50 still enabled all of the password rules. I don’t know where this idea came from, but QSECURITY 50 has never affected the password system values. You must configure the password system values at every security level. No security level enables them automatically.

Adopted Authority Is Evil

While adopted authority can be enabled in such a way that it provides opportunity for exploitation, it is not dangerous if it’s implemented carefully, and it provides a method for temporarily allowing access or the ability to do something without having to perpetually provide access or assign special authorities. Thinking you shouldn’t use adopted authority takes away a very viable tool that will assist you in securing your IBM i system.

The System Can be Secured at QSECURITY Level 30

Some organizations have argued that they can be secure at security level 30. That is simply not the case. Why is this? First of all, operating system integrity is guaranteed only at security level 40 and above. This means that at levels 40 and 50, you can be assured that only operating system programs can call other operating system programs and access internal control blocks. User-written programs cannot directly call operating system programs to bypass authority checking and auditing, nor can operating system programs be replaced by a user-written program. Access is successful only through IBM-architected programs (Application Programming Interfaces, aka APIs) or commands. The second reason is that, at levels 20 and 30, you only have to have authority to a job description, not the user profile if one is specified in the job description. This means that, if you have authority to a job description that names a profile with all special authorities, you can use that job description to submit a job and run it as that privileged user. I used this example at a client to create a new job description that named the IDM profile (the profile that runs their identity management software) and then used the new profile to submit a job to create a new profile. The profile looked like it was created through their normal process but had all special authorities and a password that I knew and could use to access the system with elevated privileges.

Message: Get your systems to security level 40 or higher!

Use Only Parts of QSECURITY Level 40

When I was explaining the fact that the system can’t be secured at level 30 to one client, they asked if they could move parts of their system to security level 40. The answer is no. QSECURITY is a system value. That means it’s systemwide, and it’s all or nothing.

Laws, Regulations, and Best Practices Don’t Apply to IBM i

I know. You’ve read the heading and you’re saying to yourselves, Huh? I agree. But I’ve been questioned by IBM i administrators and especially programmers who claim that somehow they don’t have to comply with laws and regulations or follow best practices. I don’t understand how or why they have come to believe this fake news. Perhaps it’s a case of wishful thinking? Our community holds no exemptions from complying with any law or regulation or implementing best practices. But I often see organizations failing in this area. For example, organizations fail to scan their web applications for well-known vulnerabilities because they’re running on IBM i. It’s a web application. Just because it’s running on IBM i doesn’t exempt it from being coded poorly and leaving it open to vulnerabilities such as SQL injection errors or cross-site scripting issues. We would do our customers—those users whose data your IBM i holds—a favor by complying with laws and regulations and implementing security best practices.

IBM i Has Never Been Hacked

Fake news! IBM i has been hacked. As documented in Verizon’s Data Breach Digest, misconfiguration by the system’s administrator allowed a hacker to infiltrate the system and manipulate the application settings. I know this is not the first time that configuration mistakes have allowed either external hackers or internal users access to data they should not be able to reach. So yes, it has been hacked, but more than that, configuration mistakes and failure to patch known vulnerabilities—especially in open-source products—allows opportunity for inappropriate access to data.

Menu Security Is Sufficient

It still amazes me that I have to explain this, but here we go. Let me be direct (or perhaps I should just tweet this?): If you configure your users to use a menu when they sign on and do nothing to protect the data in your databases and believe your organization’s data is secure, you are believing the most fake of all fake news. What do I need to say to have you understand that users can figure out how to access data on your system, regardless of whether you promote the use of the data? Examples are all over the Internet of how to access data on IBM i. Whether you think you are providing access or not, you are! You must get serious about securing the data residing on your IBM i system!.


I hope that this discussion has helped you separate the truth from fiction. We have the most securable system available. And that’s not fake news!

Carol Woodbury

Carol Woodbury is President and CTO of DXR Security and has over 30 years’ experience with IBM i Security. She started her career as Security Team Leader and Chief Engineering Manager for iSeries Security at IBM in Rochester, MN. Since leaving IBM, she has co-founded two companies – SkyView Partners and DXR Security - both focused on helping organizations achieve their IBM i Security goals. Her practical experience together with her intimate knowledge of the system combine for a unique viewpoint and experience level that cannot be matched.

Carol is known world-wide as an author and award-winning speaker on security technology, specializing in IBM i Security topics. She has written seven books on IBM i Security. Carol has been named an IBM Champion since 2018 and holds her CISSP, CRISC and PCIP security certifications.

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.
List Price $71.95

Now On Sale

IBM i Security Administration and Compliance: Second Edition IBM i Security Administration and Compliance: Second Edition
Get the must-have guide by the industry’s #1 security authority.
List Price $71.95

Now On Sale

IBM i Security Administration and Compliance IBM i Security Administration and Compliance
For beginners to veterans, this is the definitive security resource.
List Price $69.95

Now On Sale

More Articles By This Author
Related Articles


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.