New Shodan Tool Warns Organizations of Their Internet-Exposed Devices

Shodan Monitor is free to members of the popular Internet search engine.

Famed Internet search engine Shodan this week rolled out a service that helps solve the underlying problem its tool exposes: The new Shodan Monitor alerts organizations about their devices left exposed on the public Internet.

Security researchers long have employed the Shodan search tool to identify computers, databases, industrial control systems and devices, and consumer Internet of Things (IoT) products sitting wide open to attackers via open Internet ports or other misconfigurations. Most recently, a researcher discovered a MongoDB data instance with 150 gigabytes of data, including some 763 million email addresses, sitting on the public Net and in plain text. 

"Every other week there's an exposed database leaking information or a consumer device that was misconfigured and is now exposing private data. The number of industrial control systems directly connected to the Internet without any authentication has been increasing at a rate of about 10% every year," says John Matherly, creator and founder of Shodan. The wave of consumer IoT devices also is increasing, he says.

"Knowing what you have exposed to the Internet is required before any further security work can be done," he explains. "It shouldn't be rocket science to know what you have exposed to the Internet."

Shodan Monitor represents a new brand of tool for Shodan, an online continuous monitoring service. Renowned security expert HD Moore – a pioneer in rooting out exposed and vulnerable devices and systems on the Internet, such as embedded devices, home routers, servers, corporate videoconferencing systems, and Web servers – says many "outside-in" scanning firms such as Shodan are expanding into continuous monitoring. They include Assetnote, BinaryEdge, Bit Discovery,, Hardenize, RiskRecon, and SecurityScorecard.

"I think monitoring is the way to make this technology most effective; bulk data and searching is nice, but it is much more useful when someone else does the difficult attribution work for you and tells you what changed," says Moore, vice president of research and development for consultancy Atredis Partners. "It has been a fun few years watching the 'scan the Internet' firms turn their platforms into actual businesses."

Shodan's Matherly says Monitor was built to be simple and inexpensive, and a tool for organizations with less technical know-how and resources. "From a strategic perspective, this is our first foray into creating services that don't require advanced technical knowledge. In the past, much of our focus was on the Shodan platform, which has been capable of doing this for a long time, but it required usage of our API, which means there was a technical barrier to entry," he says. "After a decade of building out the platform, it's time to make it more accessible to nontechnical users."

Matherly says setting up Shodan Monitor – which is free to all paying Shodan members – takes less than a minute, and Shodan sends an email when it finds an exposed device. It monitors up to 16 IPs for Shodan members (who pay $49 to join) and 300,000 IPs for Shodan Corporate API members. He says many of the existing services and products that offer this type of monitoring are pricey and overly complex, with an overload of dashboard data and confusing alerts.

"We're hoping that this will put a dent in the number of exposed devices and prevent recurring issues like we see with MongoDB and industrial control systems," he says.

Stephen Cobb, senior security researcher at ESET, notes that it's become more difficult for organizations to get a handle on their networks. "Today's rapidly expanding universe of sensors, cloud storage, remote access, and IoT devices has created levels of complexity that are impossible to secure without constant monitoring, both within and without," he says. He sees Shodan Monitor as a tool for organizations that don't have the technical expertise or resources.

"Since its inception, Shodan has played a valuable role in monitoring efforts while at the same time revealing the need for such monitoring," Cobb says.

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About the Author(s)

Kelly Jackson Higgins, Editor-in-Chief, Dark Reading

Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Editor-in-Chief of Dark Reading. 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 Magazine, Virginia Business magazine, and other major media properties. Jackson Higgins was recently selected as one of the Top 10 Cybersecurity Journalists in the US, and named as one of Folio's 2019 Top Women in Media. She began her career as a sports writer in the Washington, DC metropolitan area, and earned her BA at William & Mary. Follow her on Twitter @kjhiggins.

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