Severalnines Blog
The automation and management blog for open source databases

How MongoDB Database Automation Improves Security

Vinay Joosery
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The growing number of cyberattacks on open source database deployments highlights the industry’s poor administrative and operational practices.

If 2016 taught us anything, it was the importance of sound operational practices and security measures in open source database deployments. For several years, researchers had warned about publicly exposed databases - with estimates ranging in the tens of thousands of servers. If the scale of the problem had not been apparent or frightening, well it surely is now.

Recently, ransomware groups deleted over 10,000 MongoDB databases within just a few days. Other open source databases (ElasticSearch, Hadoop, CouchDB) were also hit. Meanwhile, the number of exposed databases has gone up to about 100,000 instances.

What has led to this? Open source databases, and open source software in general, power a significant portion of today’s online services. Thanks to the increased use of agile development lifecycles, the cloud has become home to a variety of applications that are quickly deployed. Many businesses have also moved beyond using the cloud for non-critical functions, and now rely on the cloud for storing valuable data. This means more databases are being deployed in public clouds, in environments that are directly exposed to the Internet.

MongoDB in particular is very popular amongst developers, because of its convenience and expediency. But here’s the problem - quickly spinning up an environment for development is not the same thing as setting up for live production. They both demand very different levels of expertise. Thousands of database instances were not secured, and anyone could get read and write access to the databases (including any sensitive data) without any special tools or without having to circumvent any security measures. This is not a lapse of concentration from a few individuals that got us here, we’re facing a problem which is more widespread than anyone could imagine. We need to recognise that finding the middle ground between ease of use, speed of deployment and operational/security readiness is hard to find. So this begs the question - how can we collectively get beyond this type of problem?

If we could train every single individual who deploys MongoDB into a deployment engineer, it might help. At least, there will be some level of protection so not just anyone can walk in through an open door.

Operations is not rocket science, but it might not be reasonable to expect all developers, who are the primary users of MongoDB, to turn into full-fledged systems/deployment engineers. The IT industry is moving towards faster, leaner implementations and deployment of services. The middle ground between ease of use, deployment speed and sound operational practices might seem even further away. Automation might just be the thing that helps us find that middle ground.

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Database configurations suitable for production tend to be a bit more complex, but once designed, they can be duplicated many times with minimal variation.

Automation can be applied to initial provisioning and configuration, as well as ongoing patching, backups, anomaly detection and other maintenance activities. This is the basis for our own automation platform for MongoDB, ClusterControl. A well deployed and managed system can mitigate operational risk, and would certainly have prevented these thousands of databases from getting hacked.