Founded in 2000, Alon USA is a key energy refiner headquartered in Dallas and operating in Texas, Louisiana, and California. With operations spanning the energy and retail sectors—the company also operates more than 300 convenience stores—security is of paramount importance to Alon USA.
Like many IBM shops, Alon USA found comfort in the seeming immunity of IBM i to viruses. Of course all PCs in the company were running anti-virus software but, having operated for more than a decade without incident on the Power Systems side, Alon USA’s IT director saw no need for protective measures. When current Corporate IT Director Ron Smith arrived on the job, this was a weakness that immediately caught his eye. Raising the issue right out of the gate, his concerns were dismissed as not applying to IBM i—a very common situation in even the largest companies. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before Ron’s concerns would be justified.
A Virus Strikes
Three days later, Alon USA’s operations ground to a halt when a virus slipped through the IBM i side and took down the shared drives that office staff depended on for their work. The scenario was a common one, and one that is easy to guard against with the right software. A file was opened on the client-access side and malicious code slipped through to the IFS due to the lack of virus protection on IBM i. Once this happened, the shared drives went down and many users lost access to their data. With each passing minute, the company lost money.
Downtime and lost productivity were some of Ron’s concerns when he first found that the IFS was exposed to this risk. “Much of this is business common sense,” he points out. “If you have X amount of users down and take their average salary, multiply that by the hours of downtime and then add in the network team’s time (in dollars) for remedying this; that cost is significantly higher than if you had initially protected the IFS with Powertech Antivirus for IBM i. That is simply a no brainer. You have to lock down the IFS to secure your server. If the server is secure, then you can sleep better.”
Protecting IBM i from Viruses
The prevailing view of viruses on IBM Power Systems is based on what Ron sees as an inherent weakness in the design of IBM i. “What’s always intriguing with IBM i (and AS/400, iSeries, System i), is they never engineered anything that inherently protected the IFS. That was a huge flaw,” he says. “Since the IFS is so crucial for client access as well as merging with disparate platforms—just about everybody I know utilizes Microsoft for client access, so that is a tremendous risk right there—someone bringing something in through the PC and allowing it to infect our systems just can’t happen.”
What Ron knew that his predecessor didn’t is that Powertech had a native anti-virus solution for IBM i, developed in 2004 at the behest of IBM. Using the same McAfee scanning engine as the better-known PC solutions, Powertech Antivirus has the ability to scan and clean IBM i, taking into account some of the unique properties of the operating system and the IFS.
All Clear, Automatically
And so far Ron’s countermeasures have been a success. Since the virus infection that took out Alon USA’s shared drives, no new infections have been detected. “I think we have secured things fairly well,” he confirms. Some may see this as a sign that the outbreak was a rare, isolated incident. But Ron doesn’t see it that way.
“Maybe Alon didn’t have anything occur in the last ten years, but they had it on that particular day—which was the third day after I started. Now, whether it’s five years or ten years from now, by deploying Powertech we now have security in place for our IBM i. Powertech Antivirus is easy to deploy and the automation feature is not only beneficial but paramount.”
Looking to the Future
With virus protection in place, Ron Smith and Alon USA are resting easier—on the security front. But the company is never standing still. Like the industry they work in, Alon USA has the energy to move forward and is in the process of migrating to JD Edwards EnterpriseOne. With the evolution of their operations and software comes new challenges, but Ron knows that—thanks to his implementation of Powertech Antivirus —malware won’t be along for the ride.
"It’s an insurance policy; no less than having car insurance or health insurance. You hope that you don’t require it, but you better have it when contingencies occur."