EE: Most mainframe shops use mainframe security products such as RACF, CA-ACF2 or CA Top Secret. Don’t these provide all the security required for mainframe data?

Guski: No. What I’m saying is that these new standards and regulations such as PCI DSS are effectively raising the bar of mainframe security beyond the current reach of these products as they’re used today.

EE: Can you explain this rather strong statement?

Guski: Sure. Most mainframe ACPs are configured to use Discretionary Access Control (DAC), which is an access architecture whereby security administrators or data owners decide how the data should be protected. Users, who must access the data in order to use it as part of their job function, are granted at least READ authority to the data. Any user who can read the data, in effect, becomes a “custodian” of the data with direct control over the disposition of the data. As an example of how a custodian of data can change its security and disposition, consider the following: A user who’s authorized to READ certain data can make a copy of that data, giving the copy a different name with different access control rules. Therefore, they can give READ authority to other users without regard to the data content. Responsible managers know what they know about the location of production confidential and sensitive information, but they don’t know when the confidential and sensitive information is copied to unknown data repositories.

EE: You mean to say that “unknown” sensitive data may have proliferated inside the mainframe environment in such a way that IT organizations don’t know exactly where it is and how it’s protected? Wow! Could you explain how this might happen and provide some examples?

Guski: Yes, of course. Consider the following common scenarios:

• Your production support team is under pressure to fix a program abnormal termination (Abend) and get production back on schedule. To test a required fix, a team member copies production data to his or her own “user-ID prefixed data sets.” To expedite problem resolution, no time is spent sanitizing confidential and sensitive information, which may exist within the data. After the problem is resolved, for various valid reasons, the copied data isn’t deleted from the system.
• Another scenario is when a system user uploads confidential and sensitive information from a distributed platform to the mainframe into a repository that may be protected differently and is unknown to the manager who’s the responsible custodian of the data.
• A user is assigned to produce a report for executives and must do queries of a database containing sensitive information. He stores the query results in data sets under his userid prefix and then produces the report. He never deletes the data sets containing the query results, which contain sensitive information.

In each example, the copied data is inappropriately protected and logging attributes may be incorrectly configured. Again, the scenario continues downhill when the data isn’t promptly deleted, which is often the case. Additionally, some of the co-workers also routinely have access to this data since it’s stored in user-ID prefixed data sets, compounding the problem. These and similar scenarios are referred to as “data leakage,” which is now becoming a recognized risk by IT auditors. While the security experts are focusing on cyber security attacks, is anyone paying attention to the threat of insiders downloading improperly secured leaked data?  

EE: How about companies that have outsourced the management of their mainframes and sensitive data to third-party service providers?

Guski: This is an interesting question. Managers who are responsible for the security and disposition of sensitive data sometimes assume that since the processing of the data has been moved outside their organization, they’re no longer responsible for its security and disposition, but this isn’t so. Again, using PCI as an example, the organization is still responsible for ensuring the service provider performs certain control functions to ensure compliance with the PCI requirements regarding proper handling and security of data, and that the output of these control procedures is presented to the requesting organization to be added to their records for later perusal by their auditors.

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