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763M Email Addresses Exposed in Latest Database Misconfiguration Episode

MongoDB once again used by database admin who opens unencrypted database to the whole world.

In February, a security researcher named Bob Diachenko found a MongoDB data instance containing four collections of data and a total of 150GB of data including approximately 763 million unique email addresses. The data instance was openly available and the data inside was stored in plain text. The personally identifiable information (PII)-rich instance is the latest MongoDB database to be hit in a breach totaling millions of records.

In the blog post announcing the discovery, Diachenko detailed the kind of data found in the records as well as the database's owner — Verifications.io. When informed of the data set's availability, the company took the site down very quickly; as of this writing, it is not yet back online.

While the data exposed in this incident is remarkable for its size, it is merely the latest in a significant series of data breaches and exposures involving MongoDB. In a January blog post at Krebs on Security, Brian Krebs noted that tens of thousands of MongoDB databases had been hit with ransomware. Those databases that used no authentication were particularly susceptible to the ransomware attacks.

Also in January, Diachenko discovered another open MongoDB database filled with personal information from job seekers. It is, it seems, quite easy to configure a MongoDB database in ways that open the door to thieves and attackers.

And that is really the issue. MongoDB can be configured in ways that are quite secure, but a novice developer who simply takes the default settings at every step in building a database will create a data set with no protection at all. The number of MongoDB instances makes the likelihood of that insecurity fairly high; a quick Shodan search shows 67,864 MongoDB installs around the world, with most — a bit over two-thirds — in the US. China is next when it comes to MongoDB use, with just less than half the number of instances found in the US.

MongoDB is popular in the cloud, as well. That same Shodan search shows that Amazon.com has 9,016 MongoDB instances, Digital Ocean hosts 4,966, Tencent cloud computing hosts 3,918, Microsoft Azure 2,849, and Google Cloud 1,931.

What is to be done about securing MongoDB databases? The most direct answer would be for the default settings to change, but MongoDB's status as an open source project makes that a process that is, at best, slow. The answer, instead, is in education for the admins and developers most likely to deploy MongoDB in their own instance. As Chris DeRamus, DivvyCloud's CTO, wrote to Dark Reading in a statement, "We live in a world where data is king — collecting, storing, and leveraging data is essential to running just about any type of business you can think of. All the more reason organizations must be diligent in ensuring data is protected with proper security controls."

MongoDB lists companies such as KPMG, Telefonica, and Eharmony as customers: It's obviously possible to configure and administer a MongoDB database in a way that is secure and in compliance with multiple regulations. Unfortunately, it is quick, easy, and cheap to launch a MongoDB instance that is a gift to criminals and a nightmare for its owners and their customers.

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Curtis Franklin Jr. is Senior Editor at Dark Reading. In this role he focuses on product and technology coverage for the publication. In addition he works on audio and video programming for Dark Reading and contributes to activities at Interop ITX, Black Hat, INsecurity, and ... View Full Bio

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Cypher1
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Cypher1,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/12/2019 | 1:49:22 PM
Encrypt by default
Unless you have been living under a rock for the last decade, it should come as no suprise that PII has incredible street value.  So why would any organization/company/agency even think about standing up a database with PII and not do the basics of encrypting the data?  And I'm not talking about Full Disk Encryption or using SEDs.  That protection scheme has sailed a long time ago as a viable data protection mechansim.  OS side attacks reign supreme at accessing this informaiton.  There are solutions available that will encrypt at the file / folder level, including mongoDB and wrap that encryption with strong access policies.   

Is cost the reason this is not done? Then I must ask "the cost of what?"  The solution and FTE's the implement such a security measure?  Or the cost to your business post breach?  Basic data protection mechansims at the data level must be implemented.   Having physical security access to your data room just isn't an answer.
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