How mainframes prevent data breaches

As 2017 begins, let's talk about how using mainframes to process and protect data can keep hackers from having another banner year.

How mainframes prevent data breaches
Credit: Yuri Samoilov

2016 was a strange year marked by everything from election surprises to a seemingly endless spate of celebrity deaths. But when historians look back at this mirum anno—weird year—it may end up being known as the year of the data breach.

Of course, this sort of thing isn’t restricted to 2016, but its impact on the world was hard to ignore. Among government organizations, the IRS and FBI suffered data breaches, and corporate victims included LinkedIn, Target, Verizon and Yahoo. Literally millions of people had their private information exposed to black hats, thieves and other ne’er-do-wells of the digital world. This epidemic of data theft calls upon security experts to get serious about creating new solutions.

+ Also on Network World: Mainframes: A technological best bet +

You don’t need to hack my computer (in fact, please don’t do that!) to discover I’m going to advocate for one piece of established technology in particular: mainframes. The term “Big Iron” conveys strength and security for a reason. Housing all of one’s data in a single, powerful machine lowers the overall vulnerability of that data. Protecting a single mainframe is much easier than defending data spread out to all corners of a company firewall, and it carries the added advantage of the mainframe’s processing power helping to prevent fraud and other malfeasance.

“But isn’t that putting all your eggs in one basket?” I hear you saying to your computer screen. If it were, the basket is incredibly powerful and easy to secure: it’s more a vault than basket. And it’s still a better idea than spreading data where it can’t all be strictly monitored in real time, allowing hackers to sneak in through various weak points. Don’t forget that all of those ETL scripts are exacerbating the issue by making lots of copies of sensitive data and sending it out to more places and opportunities to be hacked. 

This is why I strongly recommend keeping your data and analytics together—to reduce the potential breach points. Housing data across multiple systems is a governance nightmare because widespread data gets breached in small clusters all the time, making it hard to track the origin of the hacks.

Blockchain on mainframes

Mainframes also make it easier to implement security measures such as Blockchain to prevent hackers from tampering with the files they access. Created to protect the security of Bitcoin and dark web transactions, Blockchain essentially keeps data from being altered without authorization.

Today, Blockchain is stepping out of the shadows, having been adopted by IBM and financial institutions such as JPMorgan Chase to ensure the ironclad integrity of their data. Experts predict Blockchain will soon help protect patient information in the healthcare system, and from there perhaps facilitate a period of more secure data.

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I say “a period” because no safe is uncrackable, no firewall unbreachable, and no system foolproof. Eventually the bad guys will find a way around every new protection. That’s why security experts all say it’s not about 100 percent safety but about making every system as arduous to crack as you can.

Yes, hackers will try to exploit weaknesses in Blockchain or breach the security of a mighty mainframe, but these systems working in tandem can create enough of a roadblock to discourage their efforts, or slow those efforts long enough for security to kick in. No data is ever completely safe, but any data is a whole lot safer in the care of Big Iron.

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