According to Bleeping Computer, the latest ransomware attack now affects more than 28,000 databases on MongoDB servers. The root cause is a combination of malicious attacks designed to steal and ransom data, made possible by virtually nonexistent security on the part of MongoDB users.

Although it is called ransomware, this attack doesn’t quite fit the classic definition. Here’s a look at how the database service met disaster head on.

Up, Up and Away?

As noted by TechRepublic, MongoDB has been gaining popularity for its work with NoSQL databases and is on track for an IPO in the next few years. But just like any database service that holds information for customers worldwide, MongoDB is a huge target. If cybercriminals can grab and encrypt user data, they can often force victims to pay almost any price for its return.

Security experts Niall Merrigan and Victor Gevers discovered evidence of MongoDB attacks on Jan. 6. This activity seemed to be the work of a single actor and targeted just 13 victims. Within days, however, the number of attacks skyrocketed up to 10,000. By Jan. 9, almost 30,000 databases were compromised. Now users are frustrated, and MongoDB faces an uncertain future.

Going, Going, Gone

While it’s tempting to chalk up the MongoDB servers attack as just another case of ransomware, there’s a common thread missing: Instead of encrypting data on-site, cybercriminals are wiping databases and leaving ransom notes behind, demanding up to 1 bitcoin in exchange for the return of stolen information.

As The Next Web pointed out, however, there’s little evidence that any of the supposedly stolen data has been properly exfiltrated. This means that if users pay the ransom, their digital property may still be gone for good. Some malicious groups have begun rehacking previously compromised databases and replacing existing ransom notes with their own, making it impossible for victims to know if they’re even paying the right criminal, let alone whether their data can be recovered.

Too Easy

According to IT Pro, users running regular database backups shouldn’t have an issue, since they can simply restore existing data and skip paying the ransom. But there’s a bigger problem here: Attackers were only able to gain access because database admins were running servers without a password. All the attackers had to do was identify these open servers — an easy task for any fraudster with automated tools — then grab what they wanted, leave a note and slam the door.

It’s no surprise, then, that the number of attacks quickly ramped up. Once attackers discovered one set of open servers they decided it was worth searching for more. So far, they’ve managed to compromise 25 percent of the entire MongoDB ecosystem.

Andreas Nilsson, director of product security at MongoDB, published a blog post in response. Nilsson asked users to enable basic security protections and warned against having a database open to the internet at large. MongoDB also pushed out a security update with a focus on mitigating these type of attacks going forward.

An Avoidable Disaster

The bottom line is that bad user security combined with typical cybercriminal tactics turned what could have been an isolated attack into a massive debacle. And there was little MongoDB could have done to prevent it. If admins choose to run their servers without a password and employing default user names, it’s only a matter of time before fraudsters help themselves to sensitive data and, in this case, destroy it before demanding a ransom with no guarantee of safe release.

It’s a harsh lesson, but one that hopefully makes the equation crystal clear: Malicious actors plus missing security equals complete data disaster.

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