What Do You Do When Priorities Change? Why Should You Continue to Pay Attention to IBM i Security?

IBM i (OS/400, i5/OS)
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Carol describes why securing your IBM i is still a wise investment.

The other day, I was challenged by a client to whom I had proposed a consulting contract that would continue to help the organization harden its IBM i security. An executive in the organization questioned the continued investment in IBM i security because the company’s priorities have changed and they wanted to stop investing in IBM i security. Since some of you may be facing the same situation, I thought I’d provide my reasons for continuing to invest in IBM i security.

Unfortunately, IT resources are in short supply today. Organizations must prioritize projects that will move their business forward. Sometimes that causes organizations to reallocate technical resources to new projects and move them away from their current duties. Security seems to be one of those areas that are negatively affected when resources (both financial and human) are moved to more “popular” or higher priority projects.

So now let’s get to the point of this article. If the organization’s priorities have changed and they’re focusing on other projects, why is it important to continue to invest in IBM i security? To answer that question, one must ask, “What is at risk when security is no longer a priority or, worse, totally ignored?”

Business Decisions

One of the main reasons for continuing to invest in IBM i security is the fact that business decisions are being made based on the data residing on IBM i. Maybe the data is downloaded directly to a spreadsheet for analysis, or reports are being generated, or the data is being sent to a data warehouse, but in some way, shape, or form, the organization is using the data as a basis for its business decisions. Until the day when that data is no longer used to formulate business decisions, the integrity of that data is vital to the organization. In other words, the data must be accurate! Perhaps you currently have access control settings in place or exit point software, such as Powertech Exit Point Manager for IBM i, configured to control access so users can’t randomly or maliciously update the data. But what happens when you stop paying attention? It’s my experience that the access control settings and/or the software configuration will start to go sideways and the risk to the integrity of the data will increase significantly.

One can’t assume that the executives making the decision to focus on other projects understand where all of the data that make up the reports they use is coming from. So one of the tasks you may have to undertake is one of education. Help the executives—especially those making the decision to stop investing in security—understand that the information they need to run the business remains on IBM i. If you have examples of specific reports that are generated based on this data, I encourage you to point it out to these individuals so that they can make an informed business decision as to whether they really want to stop investing in security.

Business Processes

As I’ve worked with clients over the years, it’s obvious to me that most organizations don’t realize all of the business processes that are performed by IBM i. Sometimes, even the administrators I work with aren’t familiar with all of them because they were established by a previous administrator and have run without issue since. In fact, the seamless handling of complex business processes is usually what makes organizations reconsider when they have thoughts of moving off the platform. While some processes may be moved off, if there’s one business process running on the system, organizations need to consider the security of the system, especially if that business process is mission-critical (which are most of the processes running on IBM i!)

Once again, education may be necessary to help those individuals making the decision to stop investing in security to understand what’s at risk. In this case, it would be risk to the business processes that run on IBM i.

Confidential or Sensitive Data

I realize everyone is really tired of hearing the word “compliance.” Yes, I can hear you groaning now! Unfortunately, compliance requirements are here to stay. If you have data residing on your IBM i that falls under some law or regulation, you don’t get a pass on compliance requirements just because your intent is to move off the platform. What if your organization is breached and the data on your IBM i is stolen and it contains personally identifiable information (PII) data? Do you think that the Data Protection Officer in an EU country is going to wave off GDPR fines just because your organization’s priorities changed and resources were allocated to another project? Or suppose healthcare information was breached; do you think you’ll get a pass in Singapore, Australia, the Philippines, the United States, Canada, or the other plethora of countries that have enacted laws protecting this type of information? I don’t think so!

The Insider Threat

One can debate whether it’s the insider threat or the external threat that is greater, but no one can argue that the insider threat doesn’t exist. Nor can one argue that when it occurs, it doesn’t cause the greatest damage or the most expense to the organization. Imagine a disgruntled employee or someone who has been hired to perform corporate espionage and knows what data resides on IBM i because they use it as part of their job. Also imagine that the same user knows of the plan to reallocate resources to other projects and the dis-investment from IBM i security. PII data could be stolen, but in my opinion, the larger risk is to the organization’s intellectual data residing on IBM i: your sales, pricing, inventory levels, vendor lists, accounts receivable, accounts payable, etc. In other words, the information that makes your organization uniquely you. Many organizations fail to consider—and, therefore, fail to adequately secure—their proprietary data. Put that data on a system with declining security investment and you’ve handed the insider a gold mine. All they have to do is download the data and sell it; there will be little chance that anyone will notice until well after the fact, when it’s much too late to do anything about it.

What Does Investing in IBM i Security Mean?

So what do I mean by “investing” in IBM i security? By investing, I mean paying attention to or looking for changes to the security attributes of user profiles, access control settings, and system configurations that either put your data at risk or out of compliance with laws and regulations. Investing means continuing to pay maintenance and keeping up to date with PTFs for vendor software that add another layer of security on top of what is provided by IBM i itself. Investing means continuing to look for ways to reduce risk to the data by performing annual risk assessments to determine what the current risks are, making full use of the security features of IBM i itself, and considering additional layers of protection provided by vendor software, such HelpSystems’ cybersecurity products.


Whether you’re questioning your investment of time and resources to IBM i security or it’s being questioned by your management, I hope this discussion has proved why investing in IBM i security continues to be a wise business decision. And if you’re wondering about the client that I referred to in my opening paragraph who was questioning whether they should continue to invest in IBM i security, they renewed their contract because they realize that they have vital corporate data that continues to reside on IBM i, acknowledge that the data is used throughout their organization, and understand that it needs to be protected.