This year we undertook a survey of organizations to determine how well they are doing in deploying encryption to protect sensitive digital assets. We were curious to see the level of progress organizations were making on this core part of a defense in depth strategy. Because we have information about both IBM i and non-IBM i users, we also wanted to see if there were differences based on the platform they used for their critical applications.
The results were shocking.
Approximately 80 percent of our Windows and Linux respondents had taken some concrete steps to implement encryption to protect sensitive data. In most cases they still had a ways to go to fully protect sensitive data, but that was a lot more progress than I would have imagined. We did not try to distinguish between the particular database in use to store data, but we know that it spanned commercial databases (SQL Server, Oracle, etc.) and open source databases such as MySQL, MongoDB and others.
More Windows and Linux users had made progress with encryption than I would have guessed (sorry).
The real shocker was how few IBM i organizations had made steps to deploy encryption. Only about 6 percent of IBM i users had made any progress in deploying encryption as a part of their security defense in depth. And many of these IBM i users said that they had no plans at all to use encryption for security.
My surprise arises from the fact that I think of IBM i users as generally being more diligent and deliberate around sound system management and security practices. But clearly this is not the case. So what could explain this lapse on the part of IBM i users?
We have some comment data from the survey that points to a general view that IBM i users think their systems are more secure than other platforms. This view is probably a result of IBM’s early investment in security on the platform, and historical messaging about this. Of course we know now that the IBM i platform is subject to data breaches in the same ways that Windows and Linux are, but I believe that this outdated view of the security of the platform now works against IBM i users and leads directly to avoidable data breaches.
Unfortunately, I think there is another source for this lag in security by IBM i customers. There are still too many IBM employees and IBM consultants carrying the message to customers that their systems are more secure than they actually are. I even read a recent comment by a senior IBM engineer that IBM customers should not give much attention to encryption of data on their systems. They should, instead, put more attention on access controls and system security.
This unfortunate message and the myth that the IBM i platform is so secure that you don’t need to worry about encryption is still an unfortunate reality in this community. We know that IBM i users have lost data in breaches. We know that the IBM i server can be breached through weaknesses and vulnerabilities in adjoining networked PCs and servers using classic hacking techniques. A poor implementation of a defense in depth strategy leaves IBM i customers exposed. Because the IBM i server often hosts many back-office applications with rich sources of sensitive data, it is an especially egregious lapse of security.
As a community, IBM i users must do better in deploying a proper defense in depth for their sensitive data. And hopefully thought-leaders inside IBM and outside IBM will recognize the danger of overstating the platform’s native security.