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Secure MongoDB and Protect Yourself from the Ransom Hack

Art van Scheppingen

In this blogpost we look at the recent concerns around MongoDB ransomware and security issues, and how to mitigate this threat to your own MongoDB instance.

Recently, various security blogs raised concern that a hacker is hijacking MongoDB instances and asking ransom for the data stored. It is not the first time unprotected MongoDB instances have been found vulnerable, and this stirred up the discussion around MongoDB security again.

What is the news about?

About two years ago, the university of Saarland in Germany alerted that they discovered around 40,000 MongoDB servers that were easily accessible on the internet. This meant anyone could open a connection to a MongoDB server via the internet. How did this happen?

Default binding

In the past, the MongoDB daemon bound itself to any interface. This means anyone who has access to any of the interfaces on the host where MongoDB is installed, will be able to connect to MongoDB. If the server is directly connected to a public ip address on one of these interfaces, it may be vulnerable.

Default ports

By default, MongoDB will bind to standard ports: 27017 for MongoDB replicaSets or Shard Routers, 27018 for shards and 27019 for Configservers. By scanning a network for these ports it becomes predictable if a host is running MongoDB.


By default, MongoDB configures itself without any form of authentication enabled. This means MongoDB will not prompt for a username and password, and anyone connecting to MongoDB will be able to read and write data. Since MongoDB 2.0 authentication has been part of the product, but never has been part of the default configuration.


Part of enabling authorization is the ability to define roles. Without authentication enabled, there will also be no authorization. This means anyone connecting to a MongoDB server without authentication enabled, will have administrative privileges too. Administrative privileges stretches from defining users to configuring MongoDB runtime.

Why is all this an issue now?

In December 2016 a hacker exploited these vulnerabilities for personal enrichment. The hacker steals and removes your data, and leaves the following message in the WARNING collection:

     "_id" : ObjectId("5859a0370b8e49f123fcc7da"),
     "mail" : "",

Demanding 0.2 bitcoins (around $200 at this moment of writing) may not sound like a lot if you really want your data back. However in the meanwhile your website/application is not able to function normally and may be defaced, and this could potentially cost way more than the 0.2 bitcoins.

A MongoDB server is vulnerable when it has a combination of the following:

  • Bound to a public interface
  • Bound to a default port
  • No (or weak) authentication enabled
  • No firewall rules or security groups in place

The default port could be debatable. Any port scanner would also be able to identify MongoDB if it was placed under an obscured port number.

The combination of all four factors means any attacker may be able to connect to the host. Without authentication (and authorization) the attacker can do anything with the MongoDB instance. And even if authentication has been enabled on the MongoDB host, it could still be vulnerable.

Using a network port scanner (e.g. nmap) would reveal the MongoDB build info to the attacker. This means he/she is able to find potential (zero-day) exploits for your specific version, and still manage to compromise your setup. Also weak passwords (e.g. admin/admin) could pose a threat, as the attacker would have an easy point of entry.

How can you protect yourself against this threat?

There are various precautions you can take:

  • Put firewall rules or security groups in place
  • Bind MongoDB only to necessary interfaces and ports
  • Enable authentication, users and roles
  • Backup often
  • Security audits

For new deployments performed from ClusterControl, we enable authentication by default, create a separate administrator user and allow to have MongoDB listen on a different port than the default. The only part ClusterControl can’t setup, is whether the MongoDB instance is available from outside your network.

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Securing MongoDB

The first step to secure your MongoDB server, would be to place firewall rules or security groups in place. These will ensure only the client hosts/applications necessary will be able to connect to MongoDB. Also make sure MongoDB only binds to the interfaces that are really necessary in the mongod.conf:

# network interfaces
      port: 27017
      bindIp : [,]

Enabling authentication and setting up users and roles would be the second step. MongoDB has an easy to follow tutorial for enabling authentication and setting up your admin user. Keep in mind that users and passwords are still the weakest link in the chain, and ensure to make those secure!

After securing, you should ensure to always have a backup of your data. Even if the hacker manages to hijack your data, with a backup and big enough oplog you would be able to perform a point-in-time restore. Scheduling (shard consistent) backups can easily be setup in our database clustering, management and automation software called ClusterControl.

Perform security audits often: scan for any open ports from outside your hosting environment. Verify that authentication has been enabled for MongoDB, and ensure the users don’t have weak passwords and/or excessive roles. For ClusterControl we have developed two advisors that will verify all this. ClusterControl advisors are open source, and the advisors can be run for free using ClusterControl community edition.

Will this be enough to protect myself against any threat?

With all these precautions in place, you will be protected against any direct threat from the internet. However keep in mind that any machine compromised in your hosting environment may still become a stepping stone to your now protected MongoDB servers. Be sure to upgrade MongoDB to the latest (patch) releases and be protected against any threat.

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