IPtables DDoS Protection: How to Mitigate DDoS Attacks?

How to block DDoS attacks?

There are different ways of building your own anti-DDoS rules for iptables. We will be discussing the most effective iptables DDoS protection methods in this comprehensive tutorial.

PLEASE NOTE: These rules wont work if attack size exceeds your server’s bandwidth ! Don’t try them with a non DDoS protected hoster.

We recommend you ordering a DDoS Protected VPS from ZetServers for only 49 EUR / mo and apply the firewall rules from this tutorial to block any attack targeting your application. This will keep you fully DDoS protected !

All our plans are already optimized. We have multiple DDoS Protection custom made firewalls which block major DDoS attacks. We use multi-gigabit clusters and 3rd party bulk bandwidth upstream providers in order to filter up to 3Tbps attacks. The only mitigation approach that makes sense against huge attacks is to block them at the edge or core network or even at the carrier already. If they are able to reach your server, there isn’t much you can do against those multi-Gbit/s attacks.

Linux Kernel Settings to Mitigate DDoS attacks

People don’t use optimized kernel settings to better mitigate the effects of DDoS attacks. This guide focuses on CentOS 7. CentOS 7 includes a recent version of iptables and support of the new SYNPROXY target.

We won’t cover every single kernel setting that you need to adjust in order to better mitigate DDoS with iptables. Instead, we provide a set of CentOS 7 kernel settings that we would use. Just put the below in your /etc/sysctl.conf file and apply the settings with sysctl -p.

Anti-DDoS Kernel Settings (sysctl.conf)

kernel.printk = 4 4 1 7
kernel.panic = 10
kernel.sysrq = 0
kernel.shmmax = 4294967296
kernel.shmall = 4194304
kernel.core_uses_pid = 1
kernel.msgmnb = 65536
kernel.msgmax = 65536
vm.swappiness = 20
vm.dirty_ratio = 80
vm.dirty_background_ratio = 5
fs.file-max = 2097152
net.core.netdev_max_backlog = 262144
net.core.rmem_default = 31457280
net.core.rmem_max = 67108864
net.core.wmem_default = 31457280
net.core.wmem_max = 67108864
net.core.somaxconn = 65535
net.core.optmem_max = 25165824
net.ipv4.neigh.default.gc_thresh1 = 4096
net.ipv4.neigh.default.gc_thresh2 = 8192
net.ipv4.neigh.default.gc_thresh3 = 16384
net.ipv4.neigh.default.gc_interval = 5
net.ipv4.neigh.default.gc_stale_time = 120
net.netfilter.nf_conntrack_max = 10000000
net.netfilter.nf_conntrack_tcp_loose = 0
net.netfilter.nf_conntrack_tcp_timeout_established = 1800
net.netfilter.nf_conntrack_tcp_timeout_close = 10
net.netfilter.nf_conntrack_tcp_timeout_close_wait = 10
net.netfilter.nf_conntrack_tcp_timeout_fin_wait = 20
net.netfilter.nf_conntrack_tcp_timeout_last_ack = 20
net.netfilter.nf_conntrack_tcp_timeout_syn_recv = 20
net.netfilter.nf_conntrack_tcp_timeout_syn_sent = 20
net.netfilter.nf_conntrack_tcp_timeout_time_wait = 10
net.ipv4.tcp_slow_start_after_idle = 0
net.ipv4.ip_local_port_range = 1024 65000
net.ipv4.ip_no_pmtu_disc = 1
net.ipv4.route.flush = 1
net.ipv4.route.max_size = 8048576
net.ipv4.icmp_echo_ignore_broadcasts = 1
net.ipv4.icmp_ignore_bogus_error_responses = 1
net.ipv4.tcp_congestion_control = htcp
net.ipv4.tcp_mem = 65536 131072 262144
net.ipv4.udp_mem = 65536 131072 262144
net.ipv4.tcp_rmem = 4096 87380 33554432
net.ipv4.udp_rmem_min = 16384
net.ipv4.tcp_wmem = 4096 87380 33554432
net.ipv4.udp_wmem_min = 16384
net.ipv4.tcp_max_tw_buckets = 1440000
net.ipv4.tcp_tw_recycle = 0
net.ipv4.tcp_tw_reuse = 1
net.ipv4.tcp_max_orphans = 400000
net.ipv4.tcp_window_scaling = 1
net.ipv4.tcp_rfc1337 = 1
net.ipv4.tcp_syncookies = 1
net.ipv4.tcp_synack_retries = 1
net.ipv4.tcp_syn_retries = 2
net.ipv4.tcp_max_syn_backlog = 16384
net.ipv4.tcp_timestamps = 1
net.ipv4.tcp_sack = 1
net.ipv4.tcp_fack = 1
net.ipv4.tcp_ecn = 2
net.ipv4.tcp_fin_timeout = 10
net.ipv4.tcp_keepalive_time = 600
net.ipv4.tcp_keepalive_intvl = 60
net.ipv4.tcp_keepalive_probes = 10
net.ipv4.tcp_no_metrics_save = 1
net.ipv4.ip_forward = 0
net.ipv4.conf.all.accept_redirects = 0
net.ipv4.conf.all.send_redirects = 0
net.ipv4.conf.all.accept_source_route = 0
net.ipv4.conf.all.rp_filter = 1

These sysctl.conf settings help to maximize the performance of your server under DDoS as well as the effectiveness of the iptables rules that we’re going to provide in this guide.

The Actual IPtables Anti-DDoS Rules

Considering you now know that you need to use the mangle table and the PREROUTING chain as well as optimized kernel settings to mitigate the effects of DDoS attacks, we’ll now move on to a couple of example rules to mitigate most TCP DDoS attacks.

DDoS attacks are complex. It’s close to impossible to maintain signature-based rules against all of existing DDoS attacks, but luckily there is something called connection tracking (nf_conntrack kernel module), which can help us to mitigate almost any TCP-based DDoS attack that doesn’t use SYN packets that seem legitimate. This includes all types of ACK and SYN-ACK DDoS attacks as well as DDoS attacks that use bogus TCP flags.

Five simple iptables rules that will already drop many TCP-based DDoS attacks.

Block Invalid Packets

iptables -t mangle -A PREROUTING -m conntrack --ctstate INVALID -j DROP

This rule blocks all packets that are not a SYN packet and don’t belong to an established TCP connection.

Block New Packets That Are Not SYN

iptables -t mangle -A PREROUTING -p tcp ! --syn -m conntrack --ctstate NEW -j DROP

This blocks all packets that are new (don’t belong to an established connection) and don’t use the SYN flag. This rule is similar to the “Block Invalid Packets” one, but we found that it catches some packets that the other one doesn’t.

Block Uncommon MSS Values

iptables -t mangle -A PREROUTING -p tcp -m conntrack --ctstate NEW -m tcpmss ! --mss 536:65535 -j DROP

The above iptables rule blocks new packets (only SYN packets can be new packets as per the two previous rules) that use a TCP MSS value that is not common. This helps to block dumb SYN floods.

Block Packets With Bogus TCP Flags

iptables -t mangle -A PREROUTING -p tcp --tcp-flags FIN,SYN,RST,PSH,ACK,URG NONE -j DROP
iptables -t mangle -A PREROUTING -p tcp --tcp-flags FIN,SYN FIN,SYN -j DROP
iptables -t mangle -A PREROUTING -p tcp --tcp-flags SYN,RST SYN,RST -j DROP
iptables -t mangle -A PREROUTING -p tcp --tcp-flags SYN,FIN SYN,FIN -j DROP
iptables -t mangle -A PREROUTING -p tcp --tcp-flags FIN,RST FIN,RST -j DROP
iptables -t mangle -A PREROUTING -p tcp --tcp-flags FIN,ACK FIN -j DROP
iptables -t mangle -A PREROUTING -p tcp --tcp-flags ACK,URG URG -j DROP
iptables -t mangle -A PREROUTING -p tcp --tcp-flags ACK,FIN FIN -j DROP
iptables -t mangle -A PREROUTING -p tcp --tcp-flags ACK,PSH PSH -j DROP
iptables -t mangle -A PREROUTING -p tcp --tcp-flags ALL ALL -j DROP
iptables -t mangle -A PREROUTING -p tcp --tcp-flags ALL NONE -j DROP
iptables -t mangle -A PREROUTING -p tcp --tcp-flags ALL FIN,PSH,URG -j DROP
iptables -t mangle -A PREROUTING -p tcp --tcp-flags ALL SYN,FIN,PSH,URG -j DROP
iptables -t mangle -A PREROUTING -p tcp --tcp-flags ALL SYN,RST,ACK,FIN,URG -j DROP

The above ruleset blocks packets that use bogus TCP flags, ie. TCP flags that legitimate packets wouldn’t use.

Block Packets From Private Subnets (Spoofing)

iptables -t mangle -A PREROUTING -s 224.0.0.0/3 -j DROP
iptables -t mangle -A PREROUTING -s 169.254.0.0/16 -j DROP
iptables -t mangle -A PREROUTING -s 172.16.0.0/12 -j DROP
iptables -t mangle -A PREROUTING -s 192.0.2.0/24 -j DROP
iptables -t mangle -A PREROUTING -s 192.168.0.0/16 -j DROP
iptables -t mangle -A PREROUTING -s 10.0.0.0/8 -j DROP
iptables -t mangle -A PREROUTING -s 0.0.0.0/8 -j DROP
iptables -t mangle -A PREROUTING -s 240.0.0.0/5 -j DROP
iptables -t mangle -A PREROUTING -s 127.0.0.0/8 ! -i lo -j DROP

These rules block spoofed packets originating from private (local) subnets. On your public network interface you usually don’t want to receive packets from private source IPs. These rules assume that your loopback interface uses the 127.0.0.0/8 IP space.

These five sets of rules alone already block many TCP-based DDoS attacks at very high packet rates. With the kernel settings and rules mentioned above, you’ll be able to filter ACK and SYN-ACK attacks at line rate.

Additional Rules

iptables -t mangle -A PREROUTING -p icmp -j DROP

This drops all ICMP packets. ICMP is only used to ping a host to find out if it’s still alive. Because it’s usually not needed and only represents another vulnerability that attackers can exploit, we block all ICMP packets to mitigate Ping of Death (ping flood), ICMP flood and ICMP fragmentation flood.

iptables -A INPUT -p tcp -m connlimit --connlimit-above 80 -j REJECT --reject-with tcp-reset

This iptables rule helps against connection attacks. It rejects connections from hosts that have more than 80 established connections. If you face any issues you should raise the limit as this could cause troubles with legitimate clients that establish a large number of TCP connections.

iptables -A INPUT -p tcp -m conntrack --ctstate NEW -m limit --limit 60/s --limit-burst 20 -j ACCEPT
iptables -A INPUT -p tcp -m conntrack --ctstate NEW -j DROP

Limits the new TCP connections that a client can establish per second. This can be useful against connection attacks, but not so much against SYN floods because the usually use an endless amount of different spoofed source IPs.

iptables -t mangle -A PREROUTING -f -j DROP

This rule blocks fragmented packets. Normally you don’t need those and blocking fragments will mitigate UDP fragmentation flood. But most of the time UDP fragmentation floods use a high amount of bandwidth that is likely to exhaust the capacity of your network card, which makes this rule optional and probably not the most useful one.

iptables -A INPUT -p tcp --tcp-flags RST RST -m limit --limit 2/s --limit-burst 2 -j ACCEPT
iptables -A INPUT -p tcp --tcp-flags RST RST -j DROP

This limits incoming TCP RST packets to mitigate TCP RST floods. Effectiveness of this rule is questionable.

Mitigating SYN Floods With SYNPROXY

SYNPROXY is a new target of iptables that has been added in Linux kernel version 3.12 and iptables 1.4.21. CentOS 7 backported the feature and it’s available in its 3.10 default kernel.

The purpose of SYNPROXY is to check whether the host that sent the SYN packet actually establishes a full TCP connection or just does nothing after it sent the SYN packet. If it does nothing, it discards the packet with minimal performance impact.

While the iptables rules that we provided above already block most TCP-based attacks, the attack type that can still slip through them if sophisticated enough is a SYN flood. It’s important to note that the performance of the rules will always be better if we find a certain pattern or signature to block, such as packet length (-m length), TOS (-m tos), TTL (-m ttl) or strings and hex values (-m string and -m u32 for the more advanced users). But in some rare cases that’s not possible or at least not easy to achieve. So in these cases, you can make use of SYNPROXY.

Here are iptables SYNPROXY rules that help mitigate SYN floods that bypass our other rules:

iptables -t raw -D PREROUTING -p tcp -m tcp --syn -j CT --notrack
iptables -D INPUT -p tcp -m tcp -m conntrack --ctstate INVALID,UNTRACKED -j SYNPROXY --sack-perm --timestamp --wscale 7 --mss 1460
iptables -D INPUT -m conntrack --ctstate INVALID -j DROP

These rules apply to all ports. If you want to use SYNPROXY only on certain TCP ports that are active (recommended – also you should block all TCP ports that are not in use using the mangle table and PREROUTING chain), you can just add –dport 80 to each of the rules if you want to use SYNPROXY on port 80 only.

To verify that SYNPROXY is working, you can do watch -n1 cat /proc/net/stat/synproxy. If the values change when you establish a new TCP connection to the port you use SYNPROXY on, it works.

The Complete IPtables Anti-DDoS Rules

If you don’t want to copy & paste each single rule we discussed in this article, you can use the below ruleset for basic DDoS protection of your Linux server.

### 1: Drop invalid packets ###
/sbin/iptables -t mangle -A PREROUTING -m conntrack --ctstate INVALID -j DROP

### 2: Drop TCP packets that are new and are not SYN ###
/sbin/iptables -t mangle -A PREROUTING -p tcp ! --syn -m conntrack --ctstate NEW -j DROP

### 3: Drop SYN packets with suspicious MSS value ###
/sbin/iptables -t mangle -A PREROUTING -p tcp -m conntrack --ctstate NEW -m tcpmss ! --mss 536:65535 -j DROP

### 4: Block packets with bogus TCP flags ###
/sbin/iptables -t mangle -A PREROUTING -p tcp --tcp-flags FIN,SYN,RST,PSH,ACK,URG NONE -j DROP
/sbin/iptables -t mangle -A PREROUTING -p tcp --tcp-flags FIN,SYN FIN,SYN -j DROP
/sbin/iptables -t mangle -A PREROUTING -p tcp --tcp-flags SYN,RST SYN,RST -j DROP
/sbin/iptables -t mangle -A PREROUTING -p tcp --tcp-flags SYN,FIN SYN,FIN -j DROP
/sbin/iptables -t mangle -A PREROUTING -p tcp --tcp-flags FIN,RST FIN,RST -j DROP
/sbin/iptables -t mangle -A PREROUTING -p tcp --tcp-flags FIN,ACK FIN -j DROP
/sbin/iptables -t mangle -A PREROUTING -p tcp --tcp-flags ACK,URG URG -j DROP
/sbin/iptables -t mangle -A PREROUTING -p tcp --tcp-flags ACK,FIN FIN -j DROP
/sbin/iptables -t mangle -A PREROUTING -p tcp --tcp-flags ACK,PSH PSH -j DROP
/sbin/iptables -t mangle -A PREROUTING -p tcp --tcp-flags ALL ALL -j DROP
/sbin/iptables -t mangle -A PREROUTING -p tcp --tcp-flags ALL NONE -j DROP
/sbin/iptables -t mangle -A PREROUTING -p tcp --tcp-flags ALL FIN,PSH,URG -j DROP
/sbin/iptables -t mangle -A PREROUTING -p tcp --tcp-flags ALL SYN,FIN,PSH,URG -j DROP
/sbin/iptables -t mangle -A PREROUTING -p tcp --tcp-flags ALL SYN,RST,ACK,FIN,URG -j DROP

### 5: Block spoofed packets ###
/sbin/iptables -t mangle -A PREROUTING -s 224.0.0.0/3 -j DROP
/sbin/iptables -t mangle -A PREROUTING -s 169.254.0.0/16 -j DROP
/sbin/iptables -t mangle -A PREROUTING -s 172.16.0.0/12 -j DROP
/sbin/iptables -t mangle -A PREROUTING -s 192.0.2.0/24 -j DROP
/sbin/iptables -t mangle -A PREROUTING -s 192.168.0.0/16 -j DROP
/sbin/iptables -t mangle -A PREROUTING -s 10.0.0.0/8 -j DROP
/sbin/iptables -t mangle -A PREROUTING -s 0.0.0.0/8 -j DROP
/sbin/iptables -t mangle -A PREROUTING -s 240.0.0.0/5 -j DROP
/sbin/iptables -t mangle -A PREROUTING -s 127.0.0.0/8 ! -i lo -j DROP

### 6: Drop ICMP (you usually don't need this protocol) ###
/sbin/iptables -t mangle -A PREROUTING -p icmp -j DROP

### 7: Drop fragments in all chains ###
/sbin/iptables -t mangle -A PREROUTING -f -j DROP

### 8: Limit connections per source IP ###
/sbin/iptables -A INPUT -p tcp -m connlimit --connlimit-above 111 -j REJECT --reject-with tcp-reset

### 9: Limit RST packets ###
/sbin/iptables -A INPUT -p tcp --tcp-flags RST RST -m limit --limit 2/s --limit-burst 2 -j ACCEPT
/sbin/iptables -A INPUT -p tcp --tcp-flags RST RST -j DROP

### 10: Limit new TCP connections per second per source IP ###
/sbin/iptables -A INPUT -p tcp -m conntrack --ctstate NEW -m limit --limit 60/s --limit-burst 20 -j ACCEPT
/sbin/iptables -A INPUT -p tcp -m conntrack --ctstate NEW -j DROP

### 11: Use SYNPROXY on all ports (disables connection limiting rule) ###
#/sbin/iptables -t raw -D PREROUTING -p tcp -m tcp --syn -j CT --notrack
#/sbin/iptables -D INPUT -p tcp -m tcp -m conntrack --ctstate INVALID,UNTRACKED -j SYNPROXY --sack-perm --timestamp --wscale 7 --mss 1460
#/sbin/iptables -D INPUT -m conntrack --ctstate INVALID -j DROP

Bonus Rules

Here are some more iptables rules that are useful to increase the overall security of a Linux server:

### SSH brute-force protection ###
/sbin/iptables -A INPUT -p tcp --dport ssh -m conntrack --ctstate NEW -m recent --set
/sbin/iptables -A INPUT -p tcp --dport ssh -m conntrack --ctstate NEW -m recent --update --seconds 60 --hitcount 10 -j DROP

### Protection against port scanning ###
/sbin/iptables -N port-scanning
/sbin/iptables -A port-scanning -p tcp --tcp-flags SYN,ACK,FIN,RST RST -m limit --limit 1/s --limit-burst 2 -j RETURN
/sbin/iptables -A port-scanning -j DROP

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