Most large organizations continue to rely on the z/OS mainframe platform for support of their mission-critical core businesses and internal administration. So the security of the mainframe remains vital. Many z/OS installations rely on IBM’s RACF to protect their systems. RACF is a feature-rich product that can fully protect mainframe resources if implemented properly.

This article covers three areas of concern with RACF implementation—SURROGAT profiles, storage administration authority, and excessive access granted by default—and offers suggestions for addressing them.


Surrogate authority lets a user perform tasks using another user’s identity and authority. In RACF, profiles in the SURROGAT class govern the use of surrogate authority. There  are four types of SURROGAT class resources:

  1. userid.SUBMIT lets a user submit a batch job with the identity and authority of user userid simply by coding USER=userid on the JOB card and without having to code the ID’s password. This authority is typically used to let a process, such as a job scheduler, automated operations task or CICS region, submit jobs with application batch IDs.
  2. userid.DFHSTART lets a user start a CICS transaction that will run with the identity and authority of user userid. The userid is specified in the EXEC CICS START command in a program. Selection of the ID is under the control of the programmer, not the user. Generally, only certain, designated IDs created specifically for this purpose should be used for started transactions. This check is made only if the CICS Systems Initialization Table (SIT) parameter XUSER= has been set to YES; otherwise, the action is allowed without any checking. The CICS systems programmer is usually responsible for setting this option.
  3. userid.DFHINSTL lets a) a CICS region use user userid as its default ID, b) a CICS region use user userid to execute its Program Load Table Post-Initialization (PLTPI) programs, c) a CICS administrator assign user userid as the pre-set ID for a terminal, and d) a CICS region or a terminal user use user userid for Automatic Transaction Initiation (ATI) (a.k.a. trigger transactions) associated with a transient data queue. The CICS default ID and PLTPI ID are assigned in the SIT parameters. Terminal pre-set IDs are defined in the CICS Systems Definition (CSD) file. ATI IDs are assigned in either the CSD or an EXEC CICS SET TDQUEUE program command. Ideally, only certain, designated IDs should be used for these various purposes. Again, these checks occur only if the SIT parameter XUSER= is set to YES. The CICS systems programmer is usually responsible for setting this and most of the other options previously mentioned.
  4. BPX.SRV.userid lets a user perform a z/OS Unix switch user (su) to change identities to user userid without having to enter the user’s password. The initiating user temporarily becomes user userid and acquires all the user’s authorities to include both Unix and z/OS access. This is primarily intended for use by z/OS Unix processes in conjunction with various default IDs.

Common problems that occur with SURROGAT profiles are threefold:

  1. CICS XUSER= SIT parameter is set to NO (the default value). This enables anyone with control over the CICS commands and parameters to assign any ID of their choosing and acquire whatever authority it might have.
  2. CICS-related SURROGAT profiles are too generic. Due to an apparent lack of understanding of their purpose, profiles of *.DFHSTART and *.DFHINSTL are found in many installations.
  3. SURROGAT userid.SUBMIT profiles let unprivileged terminal users (as opposed to process-type users) use IDs with higher-level permissions and privileges such as OPERATIONS authority. One installation had a single ID with OPERATIONS authority and more than 150 users with permission to submit jobs via a userid.SUBMIT profile. This is especially problematic when the installation has defined a profile such as *.SUBMIT or **. The latter could conceivably cover all forms of SURROGAT resources. Preferably, terminal users should never be given SURROGAT authority to any other IDs, but instead should perform tasks under their own IDs, which would be given whatever access authority they need. Adhering to this practice also makes it easier to trace the actions of a terminal user, since all work would be attributed to the user’s own ID.

Storage and Catalog Administration Controls

Storage administration is the management of data residing on DASD and tape; it entails such tasks as moving, copying, backing up, restoring, defragmenting, and compressing datasets and formatting volumes. Catalog administration involves managing these catalogs and catalog entries. These responsibilities are often assigned to the same individual. Some RACF authorities that allow administrators to perform their duties include:

  • OPERATIONS authority: The OPERATIONS attribute grants a user ALTER access to any dataset, DASD volumes (DASDVOL), tape volumes (TAPEVOL), or any other resource whose associated class has been defined to honor this attribute unless the user has been permitted access at some level less than ALTER. The OPERATIONS attribute can be assigned either to the user’s ID, in which case it applies systemwide, or to one or more of the user’s group connects, limiting authority to just the scope of those particular groups. OPERATIONS authority was RACF’s original mechanism for empowering storage administrators. Unfortunately, OPERATIONS authority lets the user access and manipulate data, not just manage it.
  • DASDVOL class resources: Profiles in the DASDVOL class allow use of specific functions, such as backup and restore of all the datasets, on entire DASD volumes using certain storage administration utilities such as DFSMSdss’s ADRDSSU without requiring access permission to each individual dataset. DASDVOL was introduced early in RACF’s evolution. It offered a means of empowering storage administrators without having to grant them OPERATIONS authority. DASDVOL predates the introduction of System Managed Storage (SMS) and doesn’t apply to SMS-managed DASD volumes. Note that ALTER access lets you delete any dataset on a non-SMS-managed volume.
  • Catalog dataset profiles: The catalogs let users find and reference datasets without having to know the DASD volume where they reside. READ access lets users search for and interrogate catalog entries. UPDATE lets them create and delete entries in conjunction with dataset creation and deletion. ALTER access lets a catalog administrator manage the catalogs. Catalog ALTER access provides the ability to delete any SMS-managed dataset without needing ALTER access to the dataset itself.
  • FACILITY class STGADMIN resources: STGADMIN-prefixed resources determine whether a user can perform individual functions associated with the various utility programs used for storage and catalog administration. Introduced in conjunction with SMS, they grant authority over SMS and non-SMS-managed data. These resources also make it possible to delegate specific administrative functions to various user groups. For example, RACF administrators can be given READ access to STGADMIN.IGG.DEFDEL.UALIAS to define aliases for new Time Sharing Option (TSO) users without having to be given UPDATE access to the master catalog. The number of STGADMIN resources has grown over time to serve as a full replacement for OPERATIONS and DASDVOL authority. As recent as z/OS 1.5 and 1.6, new resources were added for ICKDSF and DFSMShsm, respectively. These new additions have all but eclipsed the need for DASDVOL profiles. You might still need them for controlling Innovations’ Fast Dump Restore (FDR) product. Of greatest interest are the resources whose names begin with STGADMIN.ADR. STGADMIN. They govern the use of t h e A D R D S S U u t i l i t y ADMINISTRATOR keyword. A user allowed to use this keyword with a specific function can perform the related action on every dataset in the system. This is essentially the equivalent of having OPERATIONS authority and DASDVOL access. For more information on FACILITY Class profiles, see “Security’s Multi-Purpose FACILITY Classes” in the April/May 2006 issue of z/Journal.
  • ISMF PROGRAM class resources: Interactive Storage Management Facility (ISMF) is the ISPF menu tool for managing data. It provides capabilities similar to those offered by the data management utilities. However, the programs that comprise ISMF don’t check STGADMIN resources or otherwise control who can use them. Instead, the RACF administrator must protect the individual ISMF programs with profiles in the PROGRAM Class. (See the IBM DFSMS Storage Administration Reference manual for a list of programs.)

Author’s Note: Having to control ISMF with PROGRAM class profiles is cumbersome and error-prone (e.g., failure to cite the correct programs and libraries). Please contact your IBM representative and request ISMF be re-designed to check STGADMIN resources to govern their use.

Excessive assignment of OPERATIONS authority almost always tops the list of common problems with RACF implementations . OPERATIONS authority certainly enables systems programmers, storage administrators, and even RACF administrators to do everything they presumably need to do . Unfortunately, it lets them go far beyond their needs with little or no limitation. Being one of the original RACF features, OPERATIONS was assigned to their IDs way, way back when, and once acquired, users are reluctant to relinquish it. OPERATIONS authority, however, is both inefficient and risky. If used exclusively for data management, bulk administrative actions result in a RACF access check for every individual dataset affected and, if OPERAUDIT is enabled as it should be, an SMF record is generated for each access as well. Conversely, a single check to a STGADMIN.ADR. STGADMIN profile may be sufficient to perform the entire task without another call to RACF.

Think of OPERATIONS as a double-edged sword. It will let you modify or delete almost any dataset, including ones you didn’t intend to affect. Remember what ALTER access to the catalogs allows; OPERATIONS may give you that ALTER access. It’s similar to Unix uid(0): if you don’t have it, you can’t shoot yourself in the foot. Replacement of OPERATIONS with STGADMIN profiles should be a priority in every installation. One successful approach is to:

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