Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Forced Tour of Duty


Mainframe developers are well aware of the security, scalability, and reliability of mainframe computer systems and applications. Unfortunately, though, the bulk of new programmers and IT personnel are not mainframe literate. This should change. But maybe not for the reasons you are thinking.

Yes, I am a mainframe bigot. I readily admit that. In my humble opinion there is no finer platform for mission critical software development than the good ol’ mainframe. And that is why every new programmer should have to work a tour of duty on mainframe systems and applications after graduating from college.

Why would I recommend such a thing? Well, it is because of the robust system management processes and procedures which are in place and working extremely well within every mainframe shop in the world. This is simply not the case for Windows, Unix, and other platforms. By working on mainframe systems newbies will learn the correct IT discipline for managing mission critical software.

What do I mean by that? How about a couple of examples: It should not be an acceptable practice to just insert a CD and indiscriminately install software onto a production machine. Mainframe systems have well-documented and enforced change management procedures that need to be followed before any software is installed into a production environment.

Nor should it be acceptable to just flip the switch and reboot the server. Mainframe systems have safeguards against such practices. And mainframes rarely, if ever, need to be restarted because the system is hung or because of a software glitch. Or put in words PC dudes can understand: there is no mainframe “blue screen of death.” Indeed, months, sometimes years, can go by without having to power down and re-IPL the mainframe.

And don’t even think about trying to get around security protocols. In mainframe shops there is an entire group of people in the operations department responsible for protecting and securing mainframe systems, applications, and data. Security should not be the afterthought that it is in the Windows world.

Ever wonder why there are no mainframe viruses? A properly secured operating system and environment make such a beast extremely unlikely. And with much of the world’s most important and sensitive data residing on mainframes, don’t you think the hackers out there would just love to crack into those mainframes more frequently?

Project planning, configuration management, capacity planning, job scheduling and automation, storage management, database administration, operations management, and so on – all are managed and required in every mainframe site I’ve ever been involved with. When no mainframe is involved many of these things are afterthoughts, if they’re even thought of at all.

Growing up in a PC world is a big part of the problem. Although there may be many things to snark about with regard to personal computers, one of the biggest is that they were never designed to be used the way that mainframes are used. Yet we call a sufficiently “pumped-up” PC a server – and then try to treat it like we treat mainframes. Oh, we may turn it on its side and tape a piece of paper on it bearing a phrase like “Do Not Shut Off – This is the Production Server”… but that is a far cry from the glass house that we’ve built to nourish and feed the mainframe environment.

Now to be fair, strides are being made to improve the infrastructure and best practices for managing distributed systems. Some organizations have built an infrastructure around their distributed applications that rivals the mainframe glass house. But this is more the exception than the rule. With time, of course, the policies, practices, and procedures for managing distributed systems will improve to mainframe levels.

But the bottom line is that today’s distributed systems – that is, Linux, Unix, and Windows-based systems – typically do not deliver the stability, availability, security, or performance of mainframe systems. As such, a forced tour of duty supporting or developing applications for a mainframe would do every IT professional a whole world of good.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Row and Column Access Control in DB2 Version 10


Row and column access control enables you to manage access to a table at the level of a row, a column, or both. It enables you to build policies for the particulars of which data can be accessed by specific users, groups, or roles. Row access can be controlled using row permissions and column access control can be accomplished using column masks.

Row and column access control differs from multilevel security in that it is integrated into the database system. All applications and tools that use SQL to access the database are automatically subject to the same control. Sensitive data need not be filtered at the application level when row and column access control is in place.

Prior to row permissions and column masks, row and column level security was implemented in DB2 using views or stored procedures. Using views and stored procedures is a viable approach for simple requirements, but it breaks down as a solution for more complex requirements. When a large number of views are built to support your security needs, it can be difficult to administer as the views need to be updated and maintained.

Let’s see how row permissions and column masks can be used to improve upon row- and column-level security.

Row Permissions: Row Access Control

A row permission must be created and activated to be enforced. The structure of a permission will be familiar to anyone who is used to coding SQL statements. The CREATE PERMISSION statement is used to create a row permission.

Let’s consider an example using a banking system. Assume that bank tellers should only be able to access customers from their local branch. But customer service representatives (CSRs) should be allowed to access all customer data. Assume further, that secondary authids are setup such that tellers have a secondary authid of TELLER, and CSRs have a secondary authid of CSR. Given this scenario, the following row permissions can be created to institute these policies:

CREATE PERMISSION TELLER_ROW_ACCESS
ON     CUST
FOR ROWS WHERE VERIFY_GROUP_FOR_USER(SESSION_USER, ′TELLER′) = 1
AND
BRANCH = (SELECT HOME_BRANCH
          FROM   INTERNAL_INFO
          WHERE  EMP_ID = SESSION_USER)
ENFORCED FOR ALL ACCESS
ENABLE;

COMMIT;

CREATE PERMISSION CSR_ROW_ACCESS
ON     CUST
FOR ROWS WHERE VERIFY_GROUP_FOR_USER(SESSION_USER, ′CSR′) = 1
ENFORCED FOR ALL ACCESS
ENABLE;

COMMIT;



These row permissions will not be enforced, however, until they are activated by alteringthe table, for example:
ALTER TABLE CUST
 ACTIVATE ROW ACCESS CONTROL;

COMMIT;




With the row permissions in force, when tellers SELECT from the CUST table they will only be able to “see” customer data for their branch, whereas customer service representatives can see all customer data.

These row permission definitions use the VERIFY_GROUP_FOR_USER built-in function. This function returns a value indicating whether the primary authid and the secondary authids that are associated with the first argument are in the authorization names specified in the list of the second argument.


Data Masking: Column Access Control

Column access control allows you to manage access to a table with filtering and data masking. As with a row permission, a column mask must be created and activated before it can be enforced. The column mask defines the rules to be used for masking values returned for a specified column.

You use the CREATE MASK statement to create a column mask. Multiple column masks can be created for a table, but each column can have only one mask. The table and column must exist before the mask can be created.

For example, you can create a mask for employee social security numbers (assuming the table name is EMP and the column name is SSN) as follows:


CREATE MASK SSNMASK
ON     EMP
FOR COLUMN SSN RETURN
  CASE
    WHEN (VERIFY_GROUP_FOR_USER(SESSION_USER, ′PAYROLL′) = 1)
    THEN SSN
    WHEN (VERIFY_GROUP_FOR_USER(SESSION_USER, ′HR′) = 1)
    THEN ′XXX-XX-′ || SUBSTR(SSN,8,4)
    ELSE NULL
  END
ENABLE;

COMMIT;

This mask will return the actual data when accessed by a user in accounting, a version with the first 5 digits masked when access by human resources, and null for anyone else. Of course, column access control must be activated for the table before any mask will be enforced:


ALTER TABLE EMP
 ACTIVATE COLUMN ACCESS CONTROL;
 
COMMIT;


Summary

Using row and column access control a security administrator can enforce detailed security policies for the databases under their control.