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Townsend Security Data Privacy Blog

IBM i Customers and Compliance Audit Surprises!

Posted by Patrick Townsend on Sep 24, 2012 3:55:00 PM


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I had the pleasure of meeting Alison Burkill at the Help/System user conference recently and spending a few minutes talking with her about Power Systems security. Alison is the IBM Product Manager for software on Power Systems, and delivered a keynote speech at the user conference. The keynote was about all of the great new features of the Power Systems platform and it highlighted the security features that IBM has incorporated into the base Power Systems platform.

In our sit-down in the demo center I asked Alison one of my favorite questions - “What do you think is the biggest security pain point that IBM Power Systems customers face today?”

I was expecting a discussion about the security technologies that often trip up Enterprise customers – encryption, key management, system logging, log monitoring, and nitty-gritty stuff like that.


She said that IBM customers are always taken by surprise when they fail a security audit. IBM systems have a reputation for great security and when IBM customers fail a security audit they are dumbfounded that it can happen to them.  Education, she said, might be our biggest need.

I agree. And I think I know why IBM customers are often shocked when they fail an audit:

  • IBM Power Systems do have a great reputation for security and that can lead to a false sense of comfort. I can assure you that IBM systems are not immune from security breaches and data theft.
  • Compliance regulations are not written on a platform-by-platform basis. There is no carve-out that exempts IBM customers from meeting data security requirements. A compliance auditor expects you to meet the same requirements as every one else on every other platform.
  • It is a rare security auditor who has deep experience with the IBM Power Systems platform. They are going to be skeptical of your claims that the IBM platform is more secure than any other.
  • IT professionals often do not have a lot of background and training in regulatory compliance. This is a gap in our education, and Alison is right that we are often only vaguely aware of what regulations require.
  • Lastly, as technologists we have a tendency to program first and ask questions later. We can make simple mistakes, like storing encryption keys on the same server as protected data and not realize that we’ve violated a core precept of data protection. We might be using the latest and greatest API from IBM, but not be meeting compliance requirements. It happens a lot.

And there you have it, the perfect setup for the compliance audit surprise! In fairness, this doesn’t only happen to IBM customers, we find the same surprises happening to Windows and Linux users. But it seems that IBM customers are always a bit MORE surprised when it happens to THEM!

I think Alison Burkill is right – Education might be our biggest security need in the IBM Power Systems community. Ignorance is not bliss when the compliance auditor comes calling. 

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Topics: Compliance, security, Data Privacy, IBM i

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