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How Bad Are Certain IBM i Security Settings? Not So Bad, Pretty Bad, or Really Bad?

IBM i (OS/400, i5/OS)
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I realize that I’ve spent a lot of time explaining best practices and what my recommendations are, but I don’t often explain why some settings aren’t the best. 

Some of my favorite magazines will describe a popular action and then explain why that practice is not so bad, pretty bad, or really bad. Using this method, I’m going to describe how bad certain security settings are.

QCRTAUT

QCRTAUT is the system value that sets the *PUBLIC authority when an object is created. IBM ships this value at *CHANGE. While it’s best practice to set this value to *EXCLUDE or *USE, I’m OK with it being left at *CHANGE as long as you set the Create authority value of all libraries containing data to *USE or *EXCLUDE. If I set QCRTAUT to *USE or *EXCLUDE, I generally set the Create authority value of vendor libraries to be *CHANGE, since they tested their code with QCRTAUT set to *CHANGE. So whether you set your data libraries’ Create authority attribute to *EXCLUDE and leave the system value at *CHANGE or set QCRTAUT to *EXCLUDE and change the vendor libraries, it accomplishes the same thing.

How bad is QCRTAUT set to *CHANGE? Not so bad.

However, it’s a different story when the QCRTAUT value has been set to *ALL. I cringe whenever we do a risk assessment and find QCRTAUT set to *ALL. That’s because it’s very difficult to predict what will fail when you change it. Even setting it back to the default of *CHANGE can cause failures. For example, processes that perform an Add Physical File Member (ADDPFM) need to have *CHANGE plus *OBJMGT to the *FILE. Same with Create Duplicate Object (CRTDUPOBJ). Clearing a physical file requires *OBJEXIST to the *FILE. So while you may think the only thing you’re preventing is the deletion of objects when you change QCRTAUT from *ALL back to *CHANGE, you may actually be preventing tasks that you may think should only require *CHANGE but actually require more.

How bad is it when QCRTAUT is set to *ALL? Really bad!

QSECURITY

QSECURITY is the system value that sets the “tone” or security level of the system. While you may think that I’ll say that security level 20 is really bad and 30 is not so bad, you may be surprised. At security level 20, all users are—by default—created with *ALLOBJ and *SAVSYS special authorities. Because the same authority-checking algorithm is run at both levels, you can remove the *ALLOBJ special authority from non-administrator profiles and have a system that runs, essentially, like it’s set to QSECURITY = 30. The problem with running at a security level less than 40 is that you don’t have operating system integrity and you can easily run as a different profile, with the possibility of elevating your privileges to a very powerful profile (as in a profile with all special authorities). This is done by using a Job description (*JOBD) that specifies a user profile. At security level 20 and 30, I only need authority to the *JOBD, not the profile specified in the job description. Many vendors ship *JOBDs with their products, often naming a powerful profile. All I have to do is run a remote command, submitting a job using one of these *JOBDs, and I’ve elevated to a powerful profile. This cannot be prevented at level 20 and 30; however, it is inherently prevented at level 40 and above. (At level 40 and above, I have to have authority to both the *JOBD and the user profile named in the *JOBD.)

How bad is running at either security level 20 or 30? Really bad!

QCRTOBJAUD

This system value sets the object auditing value when a new object is created. Setting the object auditing value to *ALL causes an audit journal entry to be generated every time the object is either read (a ZR entry) or updated (a ZC entry). This may sound like a best-practice setting, but before you set this system value to *ALL, you need to consider all of the objects being created on your system. Think of all of the data areas, user spaces, user queues, user indexes, database files, and other objects that are being read and updated on your system and how often that happens! Setting QCRTOBJAUD to *ALL tends to flood systems (as in, consume massive amounts of storage) with ZR and ZC entries because of temporary objects being deleted and recreated and read or updated multiple times in between. If you need to monitor when objects are both read and updated, a better approach is to either set the Create object audit value for the library the objects are being created into or be even more granular and run the Change Object Auditing (CHGOBJAUD) command to set the auditing value on a specific object or for all of the *FILEs in a particular library, for example. If you insist on changing the setting for the QCRTOBJAUD system value to something other than the shipped value of *NONE, choose *CHANGE. It’s typically the reads that consume the system storage. Auditing for updates only may be manageable from a system storage perspective.

How bad is setting QCRTOBJAUD to *ALL? Pretty bad!

Authorization Lists

I’m a big fan of authorization lists, especially when setting access controls for *FILEs. It allows me to grant access to many files (and other objects) all at once. I simply attach the authorization list to the objects and then grant users authority to the list. Whatever authority the users have to the authorization list, that’s the authority they have to the objects secured by the list.

The trick comes with setting *PUBLIC authority. When an object is secured with an authorization list, the object’s *PUBLIC authority can come either from the object itself or from the authorization list. My preference is to have it come from the authorization list. (To accomplish that, set *PUBLIC to *AUTL.) I especially want to do that when I’m working with a client and we’re reworking the security scheme of their application. At some point, we typically want to set all database files to be *PUBLIC *EXCLUDE. When all of the objects have been set to *PUBLIC(*AUTL), that’s easy to accomplish. Simply set the *PUBLIC authority of the authorization list to *EXCLUDE. If you don’t take that approach, you must go to each object and set the *PUBLIC authority on each object. That can be difficult, especially if the objects are *FILEs and the *FILEs are in use. I also like to set it on the authorization list to avoid confusion. If the object’s *PUBLIC authority is one value (say, *USE) and the authorization lists’ *PUBLIC authority is *CHANGE, which one does the system use? The answer is the object’s, but it’s easier if the setting just comes from the authorization list! Setting *PUBLIC authority on the authorization list also means that all authorities are coming from one place, so I don’t have to look at both the list and the object itself when trying to debug authority issues.

How bad is it when *PUBLIC authority comes from the object? Not so bad (just inconvenient and potentially confusing!).

Service Account Configuration

Most organizations have one or more profiles I refer to as “service accounts.” These are the profiles that don’t represent people. Rather, they run processes, often connecting to the system from other servers via FTP or ODBC. Most of you know to configure these service accounts to not allow signon—that is, set the Initial program (INLPGM) to *NONE and Initial menu (INLMNU) to *SIGNOFF. But it’s rare that I see the final step taken: setting the Attention program (ATNPGM) to *NONE. I can hear you saying, “But you can’t sign on to a 5250 emulation session with these settings.” True...except if you enter the user ID and password for the service account and press the Attention key when you get the message that the profile can’t sign on. If you press the Attention key quickly enough, you are taken to the Attention menu! Depending on the options on the Attention menu, and if you haven’t set the service account profile to LMTCPB(*YES), the profile may be used to enter commands and access data. When my team performs penetration testing for IBM i, we look for this scenario. When a service account has a default password (which is often the case), we are usually able to access data in this very unexpected way.

How bad is it to not set service accounts to best-practice settings? Pretty bad.

Password Level

QPWDLVL is the system value that sets the password level for the system. Leaving the system at the default of QPWDLVL = 0 exposes your enterprise to allowing a very weakly hashed version of the password that’s stored at level 0 or 2 to be exploited. This version of the password is only used by old clients. By “old,” I mean Windows 95, 98, and ME and Windows 2000 server. Hopefully, none of you are still using this technology. Or, if you are, you aren’t using these operating systems to map a drive to access the IBM i NetServer. Assuming this is the case, you can safely move up to either password level 1 (if running at 0) or password level 3 (if the system is currently running at 2.) For more information on moving to a higher password level, read this article.

How bad is running at password levels 0 or 2? Pretty bad.

QMAXSIGN

QMAXSIGN is the system value that controls how many times people can guess their password before some action is taken. Setting this system value to *NOMAX means that users are allowed to try forever to try to get the right combination. While this might be OK when users are trying to log on with their own password, it’s not OK when someone is trying to sign on with a profile other than their own, or a hacker has entered your network, or an insider is trying to exploit someone else’s profile. Best-practice range for this value is 3–5, and the recommended action to take when the limit is reached is to disable the profile or disable the profile and the device being used.

How bad is it when QMAXSIGN is set to *NOMAX? Really bad!

Summary

I hope this discussion has been a fun way to provide perspective on why some settings are better than others.

Carol woodbury

Carol Woodbury is an Independent Security Expert. Previously, she was President of SkyView Partners, a firm that specialized in security services and security administration and compliance software. Carol’s foundation of security experience comes from her 16 years with IBM in Rochester, Minnesota, where she served for 10 years as the iSeries 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 large iSeries 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.


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
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    • 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.

     

     

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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.