How to stop Wordpress pingback DDoS attacks

Josh Sherman
2 min read
Servers / Serverless WordPress

Yesterday I had the privilege of dealing with a Wordpress pingback DDoS attack on one of my sites. My hosting company, whom I pay for access to a DDoS protection appliance, didn’t even notice anything. They deployed the appliance at my request and the spike in inbound bandwidth subsided. Unfortunately, that didn’t necessarily resolve my site’s responsiveness.

Upon closer inspection, my nginx access logs were filling up with pingback requests from IP addresses publishing a user agent that started with “Wordpress/” followed by a version number. Never experienced this before so I went on the defensive since my hosting company’s protection wasn’t enough.

First thing, I went ahead and blocked all traffic from systems with the offending Wordpress user agent. Now my logs are filling up with 403 errors from these systems. MySQL and Redis were both experiencing dropped connections by what I assume was because of TCP/IP port exhaustion.

I remember the last time I was faced with a DDoS attack, my hosting company said there were too many IP addresses involved for them to simply block them. I never did like that answer and I figured, what the hell, I should just go about blocking the IP addresses.

Not knowing how many systems were involved with this attack, I went ahead and wrote a small shell script to sniff my access logs for the offending user agents, extract their IP address and then feed that back into ufw as block rules. Ended up being a one-liner:

tail access.log -f | grep WordPress | cut -d ' ' -f 1 | sed -e 's/^/ufw insert 1 deny from /' | xargs -I {} sh -c '{}'`

Not the most elegant thing I’ve ever written but it sure as shit helped to mitigate the issue. The only bug that came up was that IPv6 addresses don’t like to be inserted first with ufw. This is because IPv6 address must come after all IPv4 addresses. I handled some of those manually as there weren’t that many.

Within a few minutes of running this script my site recovered and we were back in business. You check out the list of systems that were involved in the attack here. A lot of the systems are AWS instances, thinking it may be worth it to block them indefinitely at this point as it’s the second time I’ve experienced issues from Amazon’s servers.

Hoping this script helps someone out. YMMV depending on your webserver’s log format but I think it’s straight forward enough to allow for some tweaking. Written something better to combat Wordpress pingback DDoS attacks? You better post a link in the comments!

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Husband. Father. Pug dad. Musician. Founder of Holiday API, Head of Engineering and Emoji Specialist at Mailshake, and author of the best damn Lorem Ipsum Library for PHP.

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