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Security and Integrity – Definitions and Why You Should Care

April 28, 2013

The IBM i 25th anniversary celebration continues today with a focus on system integrity. Our guest blogger on the topic is Jeff Uehling, security architect for IBM i and a member of the IBM i development group in Rochester, Minn. Read Jeff’s post and then join the conversation on Facebook (link not active).

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All operating systems and add-on security products that exist today provide the basic security capabilities one would expect, including user and password management, the capability to authorize a user to specific resources, some level of audit capabilities, network security interfaces like SSL and encryption interfaces to help protect your sensitive data. However, the level of security functionality provided tends to vary greatly from platform to platform. This is especially true in areas like security management (management, monitoring and reporting interfaces) and the richness of audit features. On IBM i, you have all the interfaces needed to set up and manage all areas of security and audit as well a secure run-time environment. These integrated operating system capabilities provide for the capability to set up a very secure environment on which to run your business.  

Before getting into a discussion on system integrity, I need to briefly discuss the Technology Independent Machine Interface (TIMI), often referred to as the MI layer of the IBM i server. TIMI provides a flexible interface upon which the operating system is built. The MI provides a significant architectural advantage that other servers available in the marketplace cannot match. This layer allows the underlying hardware and microcode to change without impacting the operating system and applications that sit on top of it. (See “TIMI – Protecting Investments and Integrity in IBM i”) I bring this up as this is very important, not only because the MI layer provides a way for underlying hardware and microcode to change, but also from a security and integrity perspective. The MI layer has allowed us to make numerous changes over the many releases of this platform in a manner that constantly improves its security and integrity capabilities without disrupting your production applications. 

So what’s the difference between security and integrity? I’ve already discussed security and the features involved, like user and authorization management, audit, encryption and network security. All of these features are important and necessary to provide for a secure run-time production environment. However, without system integrity these features are somewhat meaningless. How can that be? And why should you care? System integrity mechanisms built into a server ensure that all of the security controls and interfaces implemented in the operating system and microcode cannot be bypassed or compromised. In other words, system integrity mechanisms ensure that the security mechanisms being used to protect your data are actually in place, being run, enforcing the controls that are intended to be in place, and cannot be compromised. If one can find a way to bypass these security checks, the integrity of the system can certainly be questioned. System integrity mechanisms should ensure that all the security checks that an operating system needs to perform are performed and enforced, as well as all audit data that the operating system and microcode need to generate is generated and accurately logged. Certainly one can see the importance of the system integrity mechanisms, because without strong integrity, the security capabilities and thus your data accuracy can be questioned.

IBM i has a history of system integrity enhancements. For example, with innovations implemented in release 6.1, each and every object on IBM i was changed to be protected with the latest integrity features available in the POWER hardware. Hardware Storage Protection, which has been available in the POWER processors and used on IBM i for many releases to protect objects and control blocks, was enhanced to further protect these objects. The new level of Hardware Storage Protection prevents direct access to data objects on IBM i, even protecting these objects from an altered or patched operating system program. What this really means is that the integrity characteristics of IBM i objects, including programs and data files, have been enhanced to industry leading strength. These leading edge integrity changes will provide critical security and integrity protection for customers running IBM i in their businesses going forward.

In summary, I hope I have made a case for having both security and integrity in IT platforms. Along the way, we have looked at the many security features integrated with IBM i on Power Systems and discussed its leading edge system integrity characteristics. I’ll leave you with one open question you can discuss in your organization: Do all of the OTHER production servers you use to run your business have the necessary security AND system integrity characteristics required to protect your applications and data against the constant threats inherent in today’s network accessible world?  

Thank you very much for your time!




Posted April 28, 2013| Permalink