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DDOS stands for Distributed Denial of Service, and refers to an attack involving a large quantity of computers making many simultaneous requests to a single site.



As webmention uses the exact same notification/fetch/verify flow as Pingback (but without the unnecessary XMLRPC) it is vulnerable to the known pingback DDOS attack.

Resources related to the WordPress pingback vulnerability:

Specifically, the attack involves an attacker creating a list of many (potentially hundreds of thousands) of websites which support webmention, and sending them all fake webmentions pointing towards the same source URL. All of the servers fetch the same URL simultaneously, and the victim’s servers are overloaded. The attack is unblockable because the attacks come from many different IP addresses.

How to avoid

There are several possible measures which could be taken to prevent unwitting participation in this attack.

Expiring token in endpoint

Add an expiring, random or encrypted token to webmention endpoints, preventing the accumulation of lists of endpoints and forcing attackers to look up the webmention endpoint of each of the sites they want to use to DDOS a victim.

Check client IP

Check the client IP of the incoming webmention POST request against the possible IPs of the source URL hostname — if they don’t match, ignore the webmention without ever fetching the source URL.

Example PHP webmention endpoint source code:

// Anti-webmention DDOS measures
$sourceIps = gethostbynamel(parse_url($source, PHP_URL_HOST));
if ($sourceIps === false) {
  // The source host cannot be resolved. Accept only if whitelisted IPs match.
  $sourceIps = [];

$sourceIps = array_merge($sourceIps, $whitelistedIPs);

if (!in_array($request->getClientIp(), $sourceIps)) {
  // Error!
  return new MentionException('x_request_not_from_source_ip', 'The webmention request didn’t come from an IP address which matched the source hostname.');
  • This method requires web mentions to be sent by the web server only which isn't necessarily practical all the time. Things like web mention endpoints separate from the web server don't seem possible with this method. This also breaks the use of curl from any IP. This seems overly restrictive. --Bret Comnes 10:38, 16 September 2014 (PDT)
    • As Barnaby notes, the endpoint could accept a hashcash with the request, this should in theory allow one to make requests from cURL --Jonnybarnes.uk 10:50, 16 September 2014 (PDT)


Require a hashcash “payment” parameter or header on incoming webmentions, accepting them if they’ve put enough processing power into the request to slow down a DDOS.

HEAD request source first

(Amplification mitigation) do a HEAD request to the source URL and check for text/html content type. This doesn’t prevent excess requests but it might reduce server load if the attacker is trying to DDOS a large, expensive-to-serve file e.g. video.

Queue and delay GET source

(Immediate load mitigation) queue and randomly delay actually performing the GET request for the source URL.

Forward originating IP address

When verifying a webmention (or pingback, for that matter) by checking the source site, include an X-Forwarded-For HTTP header in your request, with the value set to the IP address of the client that notified your server of the alleged webmention. If servers consistently use this header, a victim of a DDOS attack can more easily detect and filter these invalid requests when they see the same IP address (or a smaller subset of IP addresses controlled by the attacker) in the Forwarded field.

That is, when verifying the contents of a webmention, your web server is, for that single request, kind of acting as an HTTP proxy for the IP that told you about the alleged webmention. As with any proxy, the way to prevent abuse is to indicate to the destination server the originating IP. In the case of webmention verification, privacy is not a particular concern: the IP address is likely the IP address of the source webserver itself (or some other machine controlled by the author who is sending the webmention).

Indieweb Examples

  • Barnaby Walters implemented expiring webmention endpoint tokens as of 2014-09-16; previously had implemented client IP checking on waterpigs.co.uk but ran into problems
  • Aaron Parecki implemented expiring webmention endpoints on 2014-09-16. Each request to discover the webmention endpoint for a post results in a unique endpoint that is valid for 5 minutes. On 2015-04-20 Aaron disabled the expiring endpoints and wrote a summary of the experience.
  • …add yourself here!

Pingback DDOS

Examples of actual Pingback DDOS (apparently) attacks in the wild:

  • 2017-02-02 Ars Technica: How Google fought back against a crippling IoT-powered botnet and won
    The attacks were the most powerful in the first two weeks, but as they continued, they incorporated a variety of new techniques. One, dubbed a WordPress pingback attack, abused a feature in the widely used blogging platform that automates the process of two sites linking to each other. It caused a large number of servers to simultaneously fetch KrebsOnSecurity content in an attempt to overwhelm site resources. Google was able to block it, because each querying machine broadcast a user agent that contained the words "WordPress pingback," which Google engineers promptly blocked.
    Emphasis added.

See Also

Retrieved from "https://indieweb.org/DDOS"
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