MongoDB on breaches: Software is secure, but some users are idiots

When will you lazy louts learn to configure your instances?

You shouldn't expect to see any end to data breaches caused by misconfigured instances of MongoDB soon, the company's strategy veep has told The Register.

MongoDB is a fairly popular document store in the database world, used by eBay, Foursquare, and The New York Times.

It's open source, available under the GNU APL v3.0 license, though a commercial version is available – alongside the regular array of support and services work – from the database's eponymous developer, formerly known as 10gen.

Late last month, 93 million Mexican voters's personal details an AWS-hosted MongoDB instance were exposed, as uncovered by security researcher Chris Vickery.

That instance had been configured without any security settings, but so was another when information was stolen from the unsecured test server of a dating site for “beautiful people”, while yet another one, this time containing 13 million MacKeeper users' information, was again found to be unsecured back in December.

At the time, Shodan hacker John Matherly alleged that there was “a total of 595.2 TB of data exposed on the internet via publicly accessible MongoDB instances that don't have any form of authentication.”

Kelly Stirman, the veep of strategy at MongoDB Inc, told The Register that Vickery's blog post itself “claimed a user had not properly secured their instance of MongoDB and [the instance] was therefore at risk. As the article explains, the potential issue is a result of how a user might configure their deployment without security enabled. There is no security issue with MongoDB – extensive security capabilities are included with MongoDB.”

Stirman confessed the number of data breaches occurring was “a little frustrating.” There are about 30,000 downloads of the open source software from MongoDB's site daily, but those implementing it aren't approaching their role as data controllers with appropriate care, Stirman suggested: “It's not something you have to pay for to make secure.”

He continued:

It's literally as simple as creating a username and password. Frankly, if you go back to MongoDB 2.6 – over two years ago – since then our most popular installer, RPM, makes it so you cannot connect to MongoDB remotely.

So all of these servers out on the public internet, and wide open, are from versions of the software that are more than two years old, or someone deliberately removed these security mechanisms.

“Why would anyone ever not have security? I think it really is simply a matter of convenience,” Stirman stated.

Open source

MongoDB's open source version doesn't ship pre-secure, which is not unusual among database software. It also runs with the default TCP port 27012, and security researchers have been able to search this port-space to find a large number of servers running in publicly accessible space on the internet that were completely open on the internet. While other databases have also been found to be regularly left open to the 'net, Stirman said that MongoDB “is particularly popular.”

“We've done outreach to tens of thousands of users,” Stirman told us, before adding that “we have to expect there's going to be more of this in the future. People don't always follow best practices.”

Developers in particular were too afflicted by myopia, focusing on developing their applications, while “security isn't something they focus on until the end,” according to Stirman.

The veep was not concerned about the publicity given to these data breaches damaging the reputation of MongoDB: “The the media's been pretty good about pointing out the issue is not a defect in the product, or a lack of capability, but people needing to be more responsible with data in any system.”

“We have an ongoing series of campaigns to educate users and customers of best practices,” the strategy veep added. “We can't force them to make these changes, but we can educate them.” ®

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