MongoDB Ransomware Impacts Over 10,000 Databases

Open, unauthenticated MongoDB database instances are being attacked by multiple groups of attackers, that are encrypting data and demanding a ransom from victims.

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Attackers are exploiting misconfigured open-source MongoDB databases and holding them for ransom. The ransomware attacks against MongoDB were first publicly reported by GDI Foundation security researcher Victor Gevers on Dec. 27, 2016, and have been steadily growing ever since, with at least five different groups of hackers taking control of over 10,000 database instances.

Among the most recent groups to join the MongoDB ransomware attack was one reported on Jan. 6, by security researcher Nial Merrigan. The MongoDB attackers are only identified by the email address that is used to demand payment. The new group identified as, has already compromised at least 17 MongoDB instances, and is demanding 0.25 Bitcoin from victims to get the data back.

An active list of the growing number of attacker groups participating in the attack is now being maintained on Google Docs. The amounts being demanded by attackers vary from a low of 0.15 Bitcoin up to a full Bitcoin. Bitcoin has fluctuated in value so far in 2017, and as of Jan 6, is worth approximately $892 USD.

The attack against MongoDB is a fairly simple one and is taking advantage of databases that have been misconfigured and left open, without the need for a user to first have proper administrative credentials. Once the attackers log into the open database, the next step is to fully take control and then steal or encrypt the database, offering it back to the victims only on receipt of the Bitcoin ransom payment.

The fact that many MongoDB database instances have been left open, is not a new phenomena. Back in December 2015, security researcher Chris Vickery used the Shodan search tool to find MongoDB servers with open ports. At the time, Vickery was able to find a misconfigured MongoDB databases used by Kromtech, developer of the MacKeeper Mac OS X utility program.

Shodan founder John Matherly followed up on Vickery's research and also reported in December 2015 that at the time, there were at least 35,000 publicly available, unauthenticated instances of MongoDB on the internet. Just over a year later, now in January 2017, the number of open MongoDB databases hasn't declined, it's actually likely larger, with some estimates suggesting that there could be up to 99,000 databases at risk.

The solution to the MongoDB security risk involves database administrators following the security checklist that MongoDB outlines on its website. The very first item on the checklist is 'enable access control and enforce authentication.'

Security researchers contacted by eWEEK were not surprised that MongoDB is being targeted by ransomware attackers.

"Given MongoDB's popularity and usage in production environments, it is not surprising that the open-source DB was targeted," Zohar Alon, Co-Founder and CEO for Dome9, told eWEEK. "Very often, misconfigurations and oversights in the way the database is deployed create vulnerabilities that attackers can exploit."

Alon added that user errors coupled with weak security practices continue to jeopardize workloads running in cloud environments. He suggests that before using third-party software such as an open-source database, users should educate themselves about best practices and known vulnerabilities.

"It's interesting that most people think databases are secure because they are blocked behind firewalls and data centers," RiskVision CTO Jean-François Dubé told eWEEK. "The problem is that attackers can still get into the servers that house the information through consumer endpoints and third party connections."

Dubé recommends that databases in general, should be constantly assessed for risk.

"Enterprises that monitor their databases in near real-time with risk assessment tools are better able to see what is happening when unencrypted data moves out of the database," he said.

Matthew Gardiner, Cybersecurity Strategist at Mimecast commented that he wasn't surprised at all by the MongoDB attack.

"When one places open, unauthenticated, and vulnerable data stores – or any systems for that matter - on the Internet by the thousands, the bigger question is what took the attackers so long to blow them up?" Gardiner said.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWEEK and Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner is an Internet consultant, strategist, and contributor to several leading IT business web sites.