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Anti-Virus Solutions for AIX

IBMer Stephen Dominguez walks through the various anti-virus solutions available to AIX clients.

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Q: Does IBM have an anti-virus solution for AIX?

Yes, IBM has the AIX* Trusted Execution tool that serves as a solution for anti-virus cyberdefense. That said, it should be paired with a traditional third-party anti-virus solution to achieve a comprehensive defense-in-depth cyberdefense for not just viruses, but all types of malware. AIX Trusted Execution and traditional anti-virus solutions use completely different but complimentary approaches to virus protection, and I recommend both solutions for all AIX organizations.  

AIX Trusted Execution is part of the AIX base OS for version 6 and above, but when adopting Trusted Execution, I also recommend using the PowerSC* GUI, which has useful centralized management functionality that supports Trusted Execution integration. 

AIX Trusted Execution provides kernel-based whitelisting, which is a very powerful countermeasure to not just viruses, but all types of malware. In addition to whitelisting, AIX Trusted Execution provides a database containing digital signatures of AIX OS files. Trusted Execution allows you to use these digital signatures to cryptographically verify that the AIX executables installed on your system are absolutely identical to the ones published by IBM and thus ensure they haven’t been altered by a hacker.  

What’s whitelisting? Whitelisting is a cybersecurity defense that consists of controlling what executables are allowed to execute by defining a list of authorized executables. If a file isn’t whitelisted, it would be considered as not authorized for execution. Whitelisting isn’t just applicable to standard binary executables, but also to libraries and scripts. 

Two approaches are available for implementing whitelisting. The easier option is to simply detect executables that aren’t whitelisted. An alternative approach is to prevent the execution of files that aren’t whitelisted. The latter reduces security risk to a greater degree but requires more effort to correctly implement.  

Why is whitelisting important? In numerous security breaches, attackers commonly use malware. In some breaches, attackers have used multiple types of malware to facilitate their successful breach. Attackers can also use hacking tools to enable them to further penetrate a victim’s environment. 

When whitelisting is properly implemented, all types of malware, including viruses and hacking tools, would be either prevented from execution or immediately detected, depending on which whitelisting approach you implement. Whitelisting also protects you from malware that hasn’t been identified nor registered to anti-malware vendor databases—this is what sets it apart from traditional anti-virus solutions.  

What priority should whitelisting be given? In the recently released Center for Internet Security 7.1 controls, which provides universal cybersecurity prioritized best practices for all types of organizations from small to large, sub-controls 2.7, 2.8 and 2.9 recommend whitelisting for Implementation Group 3 organizations, organizations with security staff trying to prevent zero-day attacks and attacks from sophisticated adversaries. Sub-controls 2.7-2.9 fall under control 2, which is priority 2 out of 20, which places it under the next-to-highest control priority. 

What priority should traditional anti-virus be given? Traditional anti-virus solutions fall under CIS control 8 (malware), which is six control priorities lower than the control whitelisting is found under. Although this control has a lower priority than whitelisting, CIS recommends all types of organizations (Implementation Groups 1, 2, and 3) implement CIS sub-control 8.2: “Ensure Anti-Malware Software and Signatures are Updated.”

Why should Trusted Execution be paired with a traditional anti-virus solution? Traditional anti-virus solutions utilize a database of signatures of known malware to detect its presence on a system. This database is constantly updated as new malware is identified and is used to scan your AIX file systems to locate malware on your filesystems. 

This type of countermeasure would be good for ensuring that a network Samba share running on AIX isn’t exposing viruses to the Microsoft* OS. Even if a virus isn’t being executed by the AIX kernel nor exported via a Samba share, it might be copied from your AIX system to other systems, and you would want to be able to detect its presence.

In conclusion, when considering anti-virus solutions, I recommend implementing whitelisting using AIX Trusted Execution and pairing it with a traditional anti-virus solution to achieve a comprehensive defense-in-depth approach to protecting your AIX environment from not just viruses, but all types of malware.

Traditional Anti-Virus Solutions for AIX

The products below are traditional anti-virus solutions that may be considered for use with AIX. It isn’t a recommended list of solutions**. Ultimately, I recommend that clients work with their CIO to vet solutions and determine which is best for their particular organization and security requirements. Options include:

Carbon Black CB Response

ClamAV

F-PROT Antivirus for AIX

McAfee VirusScan Command Line Scanner

Powertech Antivirus from Helpsystems

Sophos Anti-Virus for UNIX

**None of these tools are endorsed by IBM.

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Descriptions of the AIX and Linux security consulting services Steve provides can be viewed here.

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