How to detect and mitigate DoS (Denial of Service) Attacks

Greetings,

Occasionally with a very busy site, being behind a hefty web stack does not always have enough capacity to mitigate a significant surge in artificial (DoS) requests. Detecting and mitigating denial of service attacks is an important and time sensitive exercise that will determine the next mitigating steps that you may need to take to reduce or null route the offending traffic.

These steps are very basic and use the everyday system utilities and tools that are found in vanilla linux implementations. The idea is to utilize these tools to identify connection and request patterns.

I’m going to assume that your potential or assumed attack is going straight to port 80 (HTTP), which would be a common assumption. A typical DoS attack would just be a generation of thousands of requests to a particular page, or perhaps just to the homepage.

Check your Process and Connection Counts

It is a good idea to get a picture of how overworked your system is currently, other than the initial reports of slow site performance or perhaps mysql errors such as “The MySQL server has gone away”, or anything of the sort.

Count how many apache/httpd processes you currently have to get an idea :

Check what the CPU load is currently on the server :

So you can see the load is quite high and there are 96 apache processes that have spawned. Looks to be quite a busy server! You should take it a step further and perhaps identify how many open port 80 (HTTP) connections you have :

So thats quite a significant number of HTTP connections on this server. It could be a substantial DoS attack, especially when you consider that this may be one server in a 3 server load balanced pool. That means the numbers here are likely multiplied by three.

Still, it could be legitimate traffic! The spike could be attributed to a link on reddit, or perhaps the site was mentioned on a popular news site. We need to look further at what requests are coming in to be able to determine if perhaps the traffic is organic or artificial. Artificial traffic would typically have thousands and thousands of identical requests, possibly coming from a series of IP addresses.

How distributed a DoS attack probably depends on the skill and resources of the offending party (potentially). If its a DoS, hopefully it will be easily identifiable.

Lets take a closer look at the open connections. Maybe we can see how many connections from singular IP addresses are currently open on the server. That may help identify if the majority of the traffic is from a single or single set of sources. This information can be kept aside after our analysis is complete so that we can use that information to report and block the traffic to ultimately mitigate the attack.

What the above line essentially does is scan the open connections specifically to port 80 and filters only the IP addresses that have 45 or more open connections. This number can obviously be adjusted to whatever you like. Take a look at the different results and see what it produces.

For potentially offending IP addresses, whois them and see where they are originating from. Are they from a Country that typically isn’t interested in your site? If the site is an English language site about local school programs in a small North American city, chances are someone from China or Russia has little legitimate interest in the site.

Analyze the Requests

In this scenario, we would be analyzing the apache access logs in order to get a clearer picture of what exactly is happening that is generating the DoS. Access logs in apache are a great resource to get the source IP, request URI and other useful information that may help identify an automated tool such as LOIC or an automated botnet perhaps that is sending thousands of identical requests to your server.

Lets filter our the actual GET requests from the apache logs, sort them and count each request in order to show the highest number of requests for the same URI. If we can take this information and then cross reference it with the connection stats we gathered earlier, we should have a clear picture of who is conducting the attack and how they are doing it.

This code filters GET requests from the logs, cleans them up, sorts the results, counts all the duplicate requests , sorts it by highest number of requests, and prints the results.

Again the 45 in the last portion of the command can be changed to whatever you feel is necessary. It all depends on whats a normal request, what is legitimate traffic and how busy your server is normally.

All the data you have gathered thus far should be enough to complete a preliminary investigation into your DoS attack. As for mitigating , there are many options. I wont go too much into it because that could be considered a completely separate topic. I’ll give some suggestions for you, either way :

Block offending IPs with IPTABLES :

Use software layer mitigation such as mod_evasive or mod_security to reduce the ability of attackers to generate significant numbers of requests. Most importantly of all, use your best judgement!