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Millions Of Systems Worldwide Found Exposed On The Public Internet

New Project Sonar scans uncover unnecessarily open ports in systems worldwide: Australia, China, France, US, Russia, and UK, among nations most at risk.

More then 10 million systems worldwide on the Internet leave a door open to their relational databases and millions of nodes leave telnet, printer, and other ports exposed, according to new data from Rapid7’s Project Sonar.

The massive port-scanning project also found that nations with the largest gross national product (GDP) also expose the most ports on the public Internet, with easily intercepted and unsecured plain-text communications: the US, China, France, and Russia, are at the top of that list, according to Rapid7’s new National Exposure Index report published today.

Some 11.2 million leave open ports that could allow attackers to reach their relational databases; 15 million, telnet services; and 4.5 million, printer services.

“I’m always surprised how many services there are on the Net that have no business being there,” says Tod Beardsley, Rapid7’s senior security research manager who led the Project Sonar initiative. “Today when you have 40% of humans on the Internet and you’re exposing direct access to databases, that seems like such a bad idea.”

The report is the first step of an in-depth global study for Project Sonar, he says, and it shines light on some major trends in nodes on the global Net. There were some 42 million public IP nodes plus 592 million private or reserved IP addresses that Project Sonar was not allowed to test given the IPs’ “do not scan” requests, but Rapid7 estimates that overall, it scanned 146 million unique IPv4 addresses, which accounts for anywhere from 20 to 40% of the address space. Project Sonar scanned for 30 different protocols, including HTTP, HTTPS, SSH, FTP, telnet, DNS, SMTP, IMAP, MySQL, Microsoft SQL, and the Remote Desktop Protocol, from April to May of this year.

The study only scanned for MySQL (port 3306) and SQL Server (port 1433) databases, so the findings of 7.8 million MySQL and 3.4 million SQL Server exposed systems may only be scratching the surface of databases at risk, according to Rapid7.

“What we were most excited about were all of the databases” we found, Beardsley says, even with only the two types for which they scanned.

Rapid7 in its report says exposed databases on the Internet are “worrying” and they will study this phenomenon further. Not only does exposing a database directly to the Net leave it vulnerable to denial of service conditions against the servers, but it also leaves sensitive data exposed, the report says. Databases "also tend to contain secrets such as passwords and proprietary data. While various encryption techniques exist to protect data, ranging from individual cell encryption to entire database-level encryption, encrypting database data is usually intended to protect sensitive personal information from accidental or malicious disclosure by internal users, not the internet at large.”

There was some good news in the Project Sonar report, too, however.

SSH On The Rise              

While telnet was #7 of the top 10 open ports, the good news is that SSH adoption is on the rise. More than 50% of regions are running more SSH (secure shell) servers than telnet (cleartext shell) servers. “The silver lining side: SSH versus telnet shows SSH is picking up as a secure alternative to telnet, finally. But we still have millions of telnet servers out there,” Beardsley says.

Another good sign: most sites only had one or two open ports total, he says. “Some have three ports or less. You expect to see two ports, HTTP and HTTPS,” he says.

“It was good to see HTTPS as the number two” port, he says.

Bad News

Meanwhile, some 4.7 million systems expose port 445/TCP, which is used for Microsoft SMB network communications. “It’s a target-rich environment out there. SMB is one of the most attacked points around,” Beardsley notes. “We know bad guys are actively looking for [weak] Windows machines in particular.”

Around 8 million systems have open Microsoft Desktop Protocol (RDP) ports.

Rapid7 also found the less-secure, cleartext POP and IMAP email protocols are still commonplace. Beardsley says the volume of IMAP was surprising: “There are secure alternatives to that. Gmail, for example, uses secure POP and secure IMAP. But a lot of systems out there are not, and that’s really bad,” he says.

So how real are the risks to the Internet-exposed systems Project Sonar found?

“We are in the footsteps of what bad guys are scanning for, but we do a lot and at scale. There are not a lot of criminals doing such broad scanning: they are interested in making money as easily as possible,” he says. Even so, these systems are vulnerable when they're left wide open.

Related Content:

Kelly Jackson Higgins is Executive Editor at DarkReading.com. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

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