Group-IB identifies exposed public-facing databases in 2021


Group-IB carried out a deep dive into exposed digital assets discovered in 2021. During the research, Group-IB’s Attack Surface Management team analyzed instances hosting internet-facing databases.

The findings showed that in the second half of 2021, the number of public-facing databases increased by 16% to 165,600 with most of them stored on the servers in the US. The number of databases exposed to the open web has been growing every quarter to reach its peak of 91,200 in Q1 2022. Group-IB Attack Surface Management continuously scans the entire IPv4 and identifies external-facing assets, hosting for example, exposed databases, malware or phishing panels, and JS-sniffers. Corporate digital assets that are not properly managed undermine security investment and increase the attack surface, Group-IB experts warn.

“A public-facing database doesn’t necessarily mean it has been compromised or leaked with malicious intent. In most cases, internet-facing databases are an overlooked digital asset that has been misconfigured and thus unintentionally exposed to the open web. We want to underline that unsecured Internet-facing databases pose great risks if the attackers access them before the company finds its forgotten or poorly protected asset,” — Group-IB said.

In the UAE, 111 databases were exposed to the open web between Q1’21 – Q2-’22, while 372 databases were exposed in KSA. The consequences of an exposed database range from a data breach to a subsequent follow-up attack on the employees or customers whose information was left unsecured.

As the pandemic progressed with more people having to work from home, corporate networks kept getting more complex and extended. This inevitably led to the increase in the number of public facing assets that were not inventoried properly. According to IBM, the average cost of a data breach increased from USD 3.86 million to USD 4.24 million last year. In many cases, a data breach starts with a preventable security risk, such a database exposed to the open web.

As such, in 2021 alone, Group-IB Attack Surface Management team identified 308,000 incidents of databases exposed to the open web.

When it comes to management of high-risk digital assets, timely discovery plays a key role as threat actors are quick in spotting a chance to steal sensitive information or advance further in the network. According to the Attack Surface Management team’s findings, in the first quarter of 2021, it took an average of 170.2 days for an exposed database owner to fix the issue. The average time was decreasing gradually over 2021, but it climbed back to the initial value of 170 in the first quarter of 2022.

Country wise, last year, most of the databases exposed to the open web were discovered on the servers located in the US.

“A lot of the security incidents can be prevented with very little effort and a good toolset,” comments Tim Bobak, Attack Surface Management Product Lead at Group-IB. “Last year, over 50% of our incident response engagements stemmed from a preventable, perimeter-based security error. A public facing database, an open port, or a cloud instance running vulnerable software are all critical but ultimately avoidable risks. As the complexity of corporate networks keeps growing, all the companies need to have complete visibility over their attack surface.”

Group-IB’s new product AssetZero is an intelligence-driven attack surface management (EASM) solution. It leverages the full breadth and depth of Group-IB’s threat hunting and intelligence gathering ecosystem by continuously discovering all external-facing IT assets, identifying potential vulnerabilities and prioritizing issues for remediation via an all-in-one easy to use interface.

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