Getting Started with IBM i Security

IBM i (OS/400, i5/OS)
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It's a growing concern.

 

Data security, while always a business concern, rose to critical prominence after 2012. The year was a record-breaker in both size and scope of breaches; there were massive distributed-denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks against financial institutions, not to mention the shocking incident at the South Carolina Internal Revenue Service, a breach that spanned several months and resulted in 44 systems being compromised.

The tools hackers use to orchestrate their efforts have also evolved considerably—cybercriminals are leveraging cloud technology to make their botnets more powerful, and the proliferation of exploit kits has made it much easier to spread malware.

While the IBM i platform excels at preventing threats like DDoS attacks, it is important to consider all types of risk and how to best mitigate them.

IBM i comes with a built-in security facility, tempting operators to forgo other solutions. But concerns exist over whether these controls are correctly implemented. Are they enough to prevent today's sophisticated attacks? And what can IT do to prevent other issues, such as threats coming from inside the organization?

What IBM i Does Well

The good news for organizations with IBM Power Systems servers running IBM i (AS/400, System i, iSeries) is that the platform has numerous built-in features for safeguarding against a myriad of common threats, including:

• Object-level authorization controls

• Intrusion detection and prevention system (IDS)

• Security audit journal

• System history log

• Virus-resistant architecture

IBM i's IDS is a powerful tool that guards against external attacks, such as hacking, malware, and DDoS attacks. Administrators can set up traffic thresholds and have the IDS automatically send notifications when traffic exceeds the predefined amount. In fact, the IDS works so well that some believe it's the only thing they need to prevent costly data leaks.

However, few if any systems are ever completely bulletproof. One of the factors that made the South Carolina data breach unique is that the attackers did not have to hack the organization's systems to gain access to information. They had legitimate user account credentials, which is also what allowed them to stay under the radar for so long.

 

As a result of these more sophisticated attacks, IT professionals must build layers of security into their IBM i systems to protect against threats that come from both inside and outside of their organizations.

 

Insider Threat: Filling in the Security Gaps

The "insider security threat" made international head-lines when former National Security Agency contractor, Edward Snowden, leaked data about the organization's PRISM program. Such incidents are not isolated to government agencies, and there should be concerns for the majority of companies.

The Ponemon Institute's 2013 Cost of a Data Breach survey revealed that incidents caused by external criminals or insider malicious activity resulted in the most expenses—an average per capita cost of $157, compared with those caused by system glitches ($122) and human error ($117).

 

Because these breaches are orchestrated for the specific purpose of gaining access to sensitive information, they can incur costs ranging from compliance fines and legal settlements, to profit decline from damaged reputations.

 

Not all users are going to sell valuable intellectual property, but it highlights the need to implement user access and system monitoring tools. Additionally, it's not only about safeguarding mission-critical assets against data thieves—the IT department must also protect users from themselves. Not everyone inside of an organization is equally aware of how to handle sensitive data, and this can lead to information making its way onto unapproved platforms.

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