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Last Updated: February 25, 2016
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Using mod_evasive to rate-limit Apache

mod_evasive is an Apache module for preventing DoS attacks.

Essentially, you set some limits for how many times an IP address can make requests to your site over a given interval. It's useful in a variety of contexts, but not well documented.

Installation

Set up is straight forward (instructions for Apache 2). As root:

wget http://www.zdziarski.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/mod_evasive_1.10.1.tar.gz
tar xzf mod_evasive_1.10.1.tar.gz
cd mod_evasive
apxs -cia mod_evasive20.c

Great! The module's been installed. Now it's time to set up your limits.

Configuration

It turns out there's a few of different options, and the documentation isn't completely clear on how they work.

Here's the default settings for mod_evasive:

DOSHashTableSize    3097
DOSPageCount        2
DOSSiteCount        50
DOSPageInterval     1
DOSSiteInterval     1
DOSBlockingPeriod   60

What is DOSHashTableSize, and why does it have such a weird number? What's the difference between DOSPageCount and DOSSiteCount? The internet was surprisingly unforthcoming on the subject.

A quick overview:

  • DOSHashTableSize is related to how mod_evasive keeps track of who's accessing what. The larger the number, the quicker the look-up when checking what the visitor's visited in the past, but at the expense of consuming more memory. This number is expected to be a prime number, and will be tiered to the nearest prime number.
  • DOSPageCount is how many identical requests to a specific URI (think "example.org/about.html" or "example.org/cat.jpg") a visitor can make over the DOSPageInterval interval (typically a second).
  • DOSSiteCount is similar to DOSPageCount, but relates to how many requests overall a visitor can make to your site over the DOSSiteInterval interval (typically also a second).

If a visitor exceeds these limits, they are blacklisted for a set amount of time (DOSBlockingPeriod). During this time, any requests they make will return a 403 Forbidden error.

Because it's hard to predict what settings will suit your site best, you'll want to keep an eye on how your site performs while running mod_evasive. You can set up email notifications with DOSEmailNotify (sends via mail) to get alerted every time someone gets blacklisted. Watch your server logs for an excess of 403 Forbidden responses – if you're getting too many, you might be blocking legitimate visitors.

Putting it all together, here's an example configuration (add to the bottom of your httpd.conf file):

# Rate limiting
# Learn more at http://library.linode.com/web-servers/apache/mod-evasive
<IfModule mod_evasive20.c>
    # The hash table size defines the number of top-level nodes for each child's
    # hash table. Increasing this number will provide faster performance by
    # decreasing the number of iterations required to get to the record, but
    # consume more memory for table space. You should increase this if you have
    # a busy web server. The value you specify will automatically be tiered up
    # to the next prime number in the primes list (see mod_evasive.c for a list
    # of primes used).
    DOSHashTableSize 3097

    # If set, this email address will receive a notification whenever an IP
    # address becomes blacklisted. A locking mechanism prevents continous
    # emails from being sent.
    DOSEmailNotify admin@example.org

    # NOTE: The following settings apply on a per-IP address basis.

    # Allow up to 2 requests for the same URI per second:
    DOSPageInterval 1
    DOSPageCount 2

    # Allow up to 50 requests across the site per second:
    DOSSiteInterval 1
    DOSSiteCount 50

    # Once the client is blacklisted, prevent them from accessing the site
    # for 60 seconds:
    DOSBlockingPeriod 60
</IfModule>

Make sure apachectl configtest passes ("Syntax OK") and restart Apache: apachectl graceful.

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