Ransomware and the IBM z/OS Mainframe, Big Iron by Paul F. Renda

March 22, 2022

Ten years ago, I would have said that it's impossible for a mainframe to become infected with ransomware. Today, I no longer feel so confident, having read a number of articles about methodologies for how such an infection could take place. 

IBM’s modern mainframe series started with the 360 up to its current Z series. Mainframes are not dying; according to IBM, they still process over 70% of online transactions1. According to DevOps.com, “One mainframe can process 2.5 billion transactions in a single day, which is the equivalent of handling 100 Cyber Mondays”2. Mainframes remain the backbone of processing for banks and insurance companies; although some people have the misconception that mainframe technology is obsolete, IBM is continuing to develop it. The IBM z/OS version 14 mainframe now enables pervasive encryption without any application changes.

Ransomware history

Ransomware is a type of malware that encrypts computer files. The decryption key is often only released after the ransom has been paid by the victim. The first ransomware attack occurred in 1989, and the victim had to send $189 to a PO box in Panama to obtain the decryption key.3 In the decades since, the use of ransomware has increased dramatically, especially since 2015; one reason for this is the popularization of Bitcoin, a cryptocurrency that allows for perfect anonymity. So far, ransomware has affected....

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