“Black Hole” Explorer

March 8, 2017


A TV crime drama called “A Person of Interest” told of an advanced computer that can predict crimes by monitoring the actions and conversations of New Yorkers for signs that they are planning something nefarious. Although “Big Brother” monitoring in public places elicits heated debate regarding personal privacy, most of us acknowledge that monitoring user activities in the modern workplace has become a necessity.

Fortunately, IBM i contains comprehensive auditing capabilities, including the ability to record the actions of a command line user. These events are stored in the security audit journal (QAUDDJRN), a tamper-proof repository designed specifically for audit information. Activating the operating system’s audit functions is straight forward; for more information, refer to the article Auditing in the Real World

Unfortunately, while the command auditing process is easy to activate, the forensics of reporting on those actions is not.  There can be hundreds of related entries in the audit journal and these have to be identified and parsed—a task that often requires custom code to be written and maintained. In addition, there are numerous “black hole” commands, which is a term I coined for commands that place the user into an environment that itself is not easily audited.  Examples of these environments include Interactive SQL, System Service Tools (SST), QShell, DFU, and even user applications. Traditionally, when even an audited user issues the command to invoke one of these environments, visibility is lost until they exit the environment and resume entering commands.

Transparency of user actions in powerful environments such as those mentioned above, represents a serious vulnerability. Data could be extracted, modified, or even deleted; password traces could be started, and disk units or other critical hardware could be manipulated—all without a clear record!  It’s no surprise that organizations are now demanding the deployment of an audit strategy that includes the ability to report on all user actions and Powertech has the solution.

Authority Broker represents the latest generation of an award-winning user privilege and auditing solution. In a nod to auditor demands for access to be granted on an as-needed basis only, users can be tightly restricted until authorities are elevated on-the-fly.  Notifications can be sent to interested parties when an approved elevation occurs and all subsequent actions by that user are securely logged. Unlike the command auditing configurable in the operating system, Authority Broker contains a powerful reporting facility that collates and isolates tasks performed by each individual user and, more importantly, there are no “black hole” commands!

How have we addressed this serious operating system audit deficiency? When the user is operating in audited mode—which can be done with or without their knowledge—you now have the choice to record a “screen cam” of their session in addition to the normal command log. Upon conclusion of the audited action, the screen images are indexed into .pdf and emailed to the interested parties.  Screen images are time stamped and indicate which command or function key transitioned the user to their next screen.

Figure 1: View user activities as they occur using an amazing LIVE VIEW mode.

Figure 2: Proof of user activity; even within “black hole” environments such as STRSST and STRSQL.

Imagine the unethical programmer who accesses a production partition. You’re now able to receive a bookmarked document showing every damaging UPDATE statement run through SQL, the data records that were illegally viewed in DFU, and the program modification and recompilation that was performed outside of the lifecycle management solution. You will even see movement within the application that they are supposed to be fixing. Of course, this documentation can also be used as irrefutable proof that a task was completed on time and in compliance with policy and procedures.

Authority Broker with screen capture ushers in a new generation of user auditing. No longer will IT have to confess that they don’t know what the consultant or vendor really did on the production system. Like a referee with the luxury of instant replay, audit staff can now review every move and prove it—even viewing the audited user’s screen in a game-changing LIVE VIEW mode!



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