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Huge rise in ransomware attacks on MongoDB installations

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January 11, 2017

The huge rise in ransomware attacks on various MongoDB installations prompted the database maker to issue some advice to users and system admins last week on how to avoid being victimized.

To be sure, security researcher and Microsoft developer Niall Merrigan identified more than 27,000 MongoDB databases seized by ransomware since January 8 alone.

By yesterday, an online spreadsheet maintained by Merrigan and fellow security researcher Victor Gevers listed 32,643 victims. So there's no doubt that the security issue is rapidly escalating.

The security attacks involve potential hackers who would copy data from insecure databases, delete the original, and ask for a ransom of a few hundred dollars worth of Bitcoin to return the stolen data back.

MongoDB, like many other NoSQL databases, has suffered from security shortcomings for several years already.

Trustwave called out MongoDB in 2013. Security researcher John Matherly did so again in 2015. Where MySQL, PostgreSQL, and other relational databases tend to default to local installation and some form of authorization, MongoDB databases are highly exposed to the internet by default, and don't require any credentials.

MongoDB's post explains "how to avoid a malicious attack that ransoms your data," but it does so by directing database users to take responsibility for configuring the software securely.

Veracode CTO Chris Wysopal in a Twitter post argues that software should be secure as soon as it is installed. "Why isn't the MongoDB security checklist the default?" he asked.

"Any database software with insecure default configurations is broken. It's as simple as that," he asserted.

Infosec security person Bob Gevers said he has criticized MongoDB in the past but insisted that the database owner has to take responsibility for the software's configuration. It is, he said, "the responsibility of the owner to use it right."

Gevers added that he believed the growth in poorly configured MongoDB installations was a reflection of time-to-market pressures. "People are happy to follow a tutorial to install a new server, but have no idea what they are doing," he said.

He also laid some blame on DevOps's specific automation, which makes it trivial to spin up remote servers without necessarily securing them properly, he asserted.

The security researcher also advises following MongoDB's security recommendations, or at the very least blocking port 27017 on your firewall or configuring MongoDB to listen only to 127.0.0.1 (localhost) in /etc/mongodb.conf, and then restarting the database.

A spokesperson for MongoDB insisted that the database is no less secure than relational databases like MySQL and PostgresSQL, and pointed to the company's list of security best practices.

"MongoDB has the robust security capabilities that one would expect from a modern database," the spokesperson said.

"It's the nature of database software that system administrators can switch certain options on and off. This is not specific to MongoDB, and it is important for the way many applications may be developed," he added.

Citing the real importance of being open-source software, the MongoDB spokesperson stressed that the company is committed to the community and its contributions.

"Being open-source also means that anyone can download the product and deploy it, however they want," the spokesperson added. "Ultimately, database security comes down to two things-- well made software and responsible utilization by the end user. For example, with MongoDB Atlas, our production-ready managed database as a service access control is enabled by default. Users of MongoDB Cloud Manager or Ops Manager can enable alerts to detect if their deployment is internet exposed."

As always, we'll keep you posted, but we beg to differ: we think that MongoDB should make extra efforts to provide the same level of security to users that MySQL and PostGre have been doing for the past 15 years or more.

Source: MongoDB Development Team.

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