22.06 200914

Slowloris and Nkiller2 vs. the Cisco CSS load balancer

Today I spent most of my time analyzing the Slowloris and Nkiller2 denial of service (DoS) tools together with my colleague Gert Kremer.

Slowloris (name after the slow moving primates is a httpd DoS tool written by RSnake of ha.ckers. It works by tying up the httpd worker processes by slowly sending more and more headers of an httpd request.

Nkiller2 is a TCP/IP DoS attack tool which was published in issue 66 of Phrack magazine. It works by tying up httpd worker processes by requesting a file then stalling, mimicking the behavior of a client with full TCP/IP receive buffers.

Cisco CSS is a load balancer produced by Cisco.

In nearly all of the infrastructures built by my employer Schuberg Philis, the web servers are located behind a load balancer. In most cases a Cisco CSS. Because some of our customers were worried, I set out together with my colleague Gert Kremer to see if having a CSS load balancer in front of the web server provides any protection.


First we just had to try and find out what Slowloris did with an unprotected Apache server. The first video shows what happens when you run slowloris against a webserver. The window on the top left shows the number of apache processes, the top right window shows the scoreboard. This shows what the http processes are actually doing. The bottom window shows the slowloris output.

Slowloris vs Apache (No load balancer)
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When slowloris is using 100 sockets, you can see 100 httpd workers in state “R”, meaning it is reading requests. The same is the case when running with 200 and 250 sockets. When running with 300 sockets the apache worker processes pool is exhausted and the web server can no longer service requests.

Slowloris vs Apache behind a Cisco CSS load balancer
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Slowloris is running against the webserver with 3000 sockets (should be more then enough). As you can see on the top two windows the load balancer does not forward any of the incomplete requests to the webserver. We have stress tested the loadbancer up to 10,000 sockets and it had no effect on the loadbancer.


Nkiller vs Apache (No load balancer)
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In the video we see for windows. Top left and right show the number of apache processes and the apache dashboard. The middle window displays the NKiller output and the bottom window TCPdump.

When NKiller starts we see the it exhausts the httpd workers processes by putting them in a state where they are hanging while writing their reply back to the client.
Nkiller vs Apache behind a CSS load balancer
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When NKiller was used against a server protected by a Cisco CSS load balancer the packets received from the load balancer do not match the expections of the Nkiller tool and the tool crashed producing a segmentation fault.