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I was billed for 14k USD on Amazon Web Services 😱

juanmanuelramallo profile image Juan Manuel Ramallo ・3 min read

We may agree that we lie to ourselves once in a while. I remember thinking of:

I'll never put my code on a public repository since it's a freelance project maintained only by myself.

The truth is, anything can happen in life.


Month to month I use S3 from AWS to store photos and documents from several apps I got on production and also use Route 53 to route the domain with the app itself. My monthly bill is about 1 USD. Yep, that's almost nothing, but this month (april last year) I had to pay 14,267.86 USD (well at least that's what my bill says)

On april 13th (a sleepy Monday), it was like 10:00 in the morning when I got a happy email from Amazon Web Services giving me the welcome to EC2 services. By the time I received that email I neither know the existence of that service. That made me wonder if I had received that email by mistake or if my account … had been hacked.

Billing dashboard

Minutes later I wrote a message to AWS support asking about that email and they answered me very quickly and called me like five times in less than 48 hours. They told me that my account may had been compromised, and gave me some list of things to do in order to strengthen my account security and to avoid further EC2 service usage. I deleted all access keys I was using, added multi-factor authentication and changed my password. (I'm not endorsing or promoting AWS but I have to say that the guys from AWS support were extremely kind and useful in this case)

It all started in a boring weekend (at least this is what I believe). I was on the chat with a friend telling him about a side-project I had been working on. And suddenly I decided to put my code on github to show him off all the stuff. It was up, in the web, for like 10 minutes max, after I switched it to be hosted on gitlab to make it private. Two days later I received that email from AWS I told you before.


What happened?
A file containing my AWS credentials hadn't have been ignored in git, so when I pushed my local repository it all, even my credentials, went online in github (for couple of minutes, but they were there).

Suggestion
Please, store your credentials secretly ALWAYS. You can use environment variables for storing access keys and credentials that may compromise your accounts or bills. And never think of a local repository only, when everyone knows that nowadays the internet is all over around.

How this happened?
Since you can list all public repositories on github, I imagine of a job/task/process/program running constantly and cloning each project and looking for .yml files and keywords like "KEY" or "ACCESS_KEY" or something like that. This is only my thought of how could this happen. If it happen like so, it makes me sad of how people can be malicious and with no concerns of consequences of their acts.


TL;DR
Never leave your api keys on public repositories (always check before uploading)
Take a look at your email frequently and don't take a single email as a mistake
Be a hacker so you can track and catch the guys who stole your keys (well that's only a dream)

Hope you have a good day!
(If you're still wondering, no, I didn't have to pay for what I didn't use)

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Discussion

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Did AWS Support cancel the charge or refund you, or something? I've heard they're pretty understanding and often do stuff like that if you weren't responsible or it was accidental and there was no gain?

 

Yeah they were so reasonable.. they issued a refund request for me so I didn't had to pay anything I didn't use. They called it "unauthorized usage". And the communication with the support team was very gently and agile

 

Sounds like they really understand what happened - how awesome. The only other CS that I could think of that is that lit 🔥 would rather be Spotify (@SpotifyCares) or Slack (@SlackHQ).

Netflix is pretty chill on payments issue as well. At least for me, they allowed me to watch and pay later when my credit card got compromised! Not related to the subject, but I felt that they should have their name mentionned here :)

for them 10(20,30?) bucks of delayed payment is less than nothing - recommendation from happy customer - priceless )

Nice story :)
AWS knows before the hacker that your keys are compromised. They are running a similar script/program to check whether your keys are publicly exposed.

So you know that for a fact? Or are you guessing?

I've found Slack (@SlackHQ) support to be awesome too.

I have seen instances like this before where some guys would have exposed their repo publicly with the keys and immediately started receiving emails from AWS that their keys are compromised. I am guessing the fact they would have done it the same way the hackers are doing it.

 

Wow! Scary story!

To GitHub's credit, I know that if they detect that one of their own keys were uploaded to GitHub they'll notify you immediately and disable that key.

I know that because... err a friend... made that mistake once 😳

 

Wow........... A true horror story........

 
 

Ahah, I just got billed an insane amount because I forgot to remove one table after a DynamoDB tutorial I followed. Just contacted the support. I hope I won't have to pay this.

I thought I was on a On-Demand pricing but I had reserved WCU. Still don't really understand how they came up to that amount.

 

For safety measure, create a Budget under Billing in your AWS web console with 2 factor authentication! This will set the maximum how much they can charge you monthly (or quarterly, yearly). More info about Budgets and it's types (be advised that some budget types only trigger notifications, not service halt): docs.aws.amazon.com/awsaccountbill...

This should be your first thing when you register on AWS.

 

budgets don't put a hardcap on your spend/usage.. it just sends out alerts based on thresholds you set.

you mention 'some budgets only trigger notification, not service halt' I'm not aware of any budget that halts service, please enlighten me

 

That's why I also tend to ignore files in .gitignore_global so if I forget to do it from the .gitignore of the project I can avoid things like this.

 

I just don't understand why it's such a big deal to actually look at what is being committed before doing it

Too many people do some sort of git add . && git commit -m "progress" && git push blind commits and it baffles me how they feel comfortable doing it.

 

few more ideas:

Never put your api keys in repos. period. (public or private).

Put them in environment variables but keep them completely separate from the source code repo. like development.env, production.env.

Always follow the practice of least privilege. Even most engineers at a company should only need
development.env variables if they are just writing code and not doing production support.

production.env should be guarded with only very few people that must have access to production system.

 

I had the impression KMS is the way to go here.

Put the encrypted keys in the repo and decrypt them before usage.

 

I do not think that this is a good idea. You would put encrypted keys and the decryption algorithm in the repo. It is still possible to get to the keys.

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First of all: The named function hash_hmac does not encrypt. It creates a hash, which cannot be used to restore the original value. It is one way.

If you would use a proper encryption the logic is still faulty.

You have a secret, that cannot be added plainly to the repository. You add some decryption logic, encrypt the original secret and add it to the repository. The original secret is now safe. But now you have another secret (the private key needed for decryption) that cannot be added plainly to the repository.

You still have the same situation plus some extra decryption code, which has to be maintained. Also your build process has to handle the encryption.

 

The worst nightmare of a cloud user coming true.

But my keys are in the .ssh home folder, protected, why would you put them in configs? What kind of awful deployment tools requires that?

Also, the first thing I do (and AWS recommends) is to setup billing alerts, at least you know that something bad is going on.

 

Seconding the advice to set up billing alerts, and I would make sure it goes to a variety of email addresses in case one of them is compromised.

 
 

Your account was not hacked. You sent out the password (yes, access keys are passwords) to the world. You should consider yourself lucky AWS refunded you the money, as technically you are responsible for those charges.

 

lucky me I didn't had to pay for my mistake 😅 lesson learned anyways 😇

 
 

Just in case no one else mentioned it, if you mistakenly commit a secret to a git repo, you need to make sure to get it out of the git history as well. help.github.com/articles/removing-... If you are curious if a git repo has had secrets accidentally committed to it in the past you can use tools like TruffleHog to search for them github.com/dxa4481/truffleHog

 

You need to consider the secret compromised, and you hate to revoke that key. Cleaning up the history is then a lesser concern...

 

I experienced a similar story while I was doing a group assignment in college. They charged me 800€ for absolutely nothing. Hopefully I contacted the support centre and hopefully they retired all those charges

 

Same. I was only owing 300€ but it was scary
they were pretty fast in resolving the issue, hats off to AWS customer support

 

If your account was hacked, even the spending limit (which AWS does not have) system would not work.

But in Azure you can set a spending limit:

"When your usage results in charges that exhaust the monthly amounts included with your subscription, the services that you deployed are disabled for the rest of that billing period."

And I think all other cloud services should have it, if you are running hobby servers and one of them is hacked. You are screwed with these non-limited services. At least with Azure you can set a spending limit.

 

What about budgets on AWS, you can set it there to limit your actual spending.

 

budgets is nothing more than an alert

 

Did the same mistake, pushed just before dinner, while eating I realized I pushed my secret key to a public repo and when I was finished my account was already compromised. I had to manually remove all the garbage, but in those 15-20 minutes I already got a $ 150 bill.
Lesson learned: security as the first thing, even for toy projects. Always.

 

I remember story few years back when someone's blog or app went viral unexpectedly, so it auto-scaled up infrastructure to $5,000 worth of AWS bills. Downside of zero downtime :)

 
 

There is a very nice tool, because "git rm filename" is not an option, the key remain in the git changelog/history, you can use BFG:

brew info bfg
bfg: stable 1.13.0
Remove large files or passwords from Git history like git-filter-branch

 

Once I was owing AWS 300$... For something I didn't use and had accidentally forgotten.
It was a forgotten Certificate Manager cert authority. Fortunately my account wasn't compromised!

And there I was, literally crying over 300$, when someone came to me and said, hey, call AWS support

And so I did, the story went smoothly, they were quick and really understanding and finally pardoned my debt... Lol!
I was really grateful that day, a guy from AWS support literally saved my ass. I'm glad you didn't have to pay the 14k and that all went well. I wouldn't know what do do in that case!

I wonder what the hackers were doing with EC2 to owe 14k right away... It must've been a gold pot for them hahahah

 

What a great story. Glad it worked out OK. I made the same mistake once, and I guess AWS had the same script running because they found my key on GitHub and notified me to de-authorize it before it could be abused. I was very grateful that they were that much more professional than I was :)

 

Yikes! I've heard that there are bots that scour GitHub for new public repos, seeing if there are any public keys for them to steal. Guess it's true. 😱

 

I had a similar situation 4 years ago and i know how it feels when you have a bill that reaches the sky. In my case the hacked my account and they spawned EC2 instances to mine bitcon. Thankfully AWS automatically noticed the hack and they fixed my bill.

 

I had a similar situation with AWS free tier plan. I've received a bill because i made some mistakes doing configurations with some instances. They helped me resetting the bill amount and they also recharged some credit too in order to extend the trial period. It has been a very pleasure talk with the service support by phone.

 

I cancelled AWS after 1 month. To hell with their cloud. Even though there was no activity they still kept on charging me.
Biggest problem is your credit card. Open season. Well no longer. I use a virtual card now, and I freeze it after each transaction.

 

Yikes, that sounds awful!

I haven't used this, but I stumbled upon a piece of software a while back that looks for high entropy strings - I wonder if it would have picked up your committed credentials?

It was because of a fear for this exact situation that I switched all of my private credentials for my applications to being encrypted at rest; I wrote this tool to load credentials from a KeePass database into my shell environment, which my scripts and applications can pick up. It's not perfectly secure, but it's a step in the right direction!

 

:) Lesson learned, glad AWS did not actually charge you the 14k. Checkout this resource for some best practices when it comes to app development (language agnostic): 12factor.net/. Super helpful and has saved me many times.

 

Oh my goodness, that's crazy 😱! That's one of my biggest fears 😩. Can't imagine what waking up to that felt like! I'm glad that it got sorted out 👍

 

How it felt like? Like the world falling down on you 😱😱

 

Thanks for sharing ... great response from Amazon! Never would have expected a big corporation to be so customer friendly (the stories from people trying to get any sort of customer service from Google, Facebook and so on are pretty negative).

 

Waaoouh, same thing has happened to me in the past. accidentally left my sendgrid keys in a project i pushed. However, sendgrid in some way was able to detect them and automatically block my account. How? i dont know.
But i couldn't access my own project until i changed my password, key and enabled 2FA.

 

Thumbs up for AWS guys.

Most of their services are quite expensive compared to other providers, but I've been nothing but happy with them. What I like the most are straight-forward answeres to anything I had to ask. Your question goes directly to a person that can really help you, no 2-3 day delays till you get a reply from a department in charge.

 

Uh menos mal que zafaste, con el dolar a 40 para 14,267.86 te queres matar xD

 

I'm honestly truly surprised by the light conclusion after the whole story. Are you serious?

Juan, for the g** sake, please put this link in the end of the article: aws.amazon.com/premiumsupport/know... (at least)

If the story is true and you see so many people paying a visit to your article, make some efforts to go a bit deeper than "Never leave your api keys on public repositories".

I mean, really - use the leverage of your story and influence. Add value instead of closing it as lightly as something so obvious when there are other and better ways, which btw are mentioned in comments which are not effective ...