Rampart: Protecting Web Applications from CPU-Exhaustion Denial-of-Service Attacks


Wei Meng, Chenxiong Qian, Shuang Hao, Kevin Borgolte, Giovanni Vigna, Christopher Kruegel, Wenke Lee


Proceedings of the 27th USENIX Security Symposium (USENIX Security), August 2018


Denial-of-Service (DoS) attacks pose a severe threat to the availability of web applications. Traditionally, attackers have employed botnets or amplification techniques to send a significant amount of requests to exhaust a target web server’s resources, and, consequently, prevent it from responding to legitimate requests. However, more recently, highly sophisticated DoS attacks have emerged, in which a single, carefully crafted request results in significant resource consumption and ties up a web application’s back-end components for a non-negligible amount of time. Unfortunately, these attacks require only few requests to overwhelm an application, which makes them difficult to detect by state-of-the-art detection systems.

In this paper, we present Rampart, which is a defense that protects web applications from sophisticated CPU-exhaustion DoS attacks. Rampart detects and stops sophisticated CPU-exhaustion DoS attacks using statistical methods and function-level program profiling. Furthermore, it synthesizes and deploys filters to block subsequent attacks, and it adaptively updates them to minimize any potentially negative impact on legitimate users.

We implemented Rampart as an extension to the PHP Zend engine. Rampart has negligible performance overhead and it can be deployed for any PHP application without having to modify the application’s source code. To evaluate Rampart’s effectiveness and efficiency, we demonstrate that it protects two of the most popular web applications, WordPress and Drupal, from real-world and synthetic CPU-exhaustion DoS attacks, and we also show that Rampart preserves web server performance with low false positive rate and low false negative rate.

  title     = {{Rampart: Protecting Web Applications from CPU-Exhaustion Denial-of-Service Attacks}},
  author    = {Meng, Wei and Qian, Chenxiong and Hao, Shuang and Borgolte, Kevin and Vigna, Giovanni and Kruegel, Christopher and Lee, Wenke},
  booktitle = {Proceedings of the 27th USENIX Security Symposium},
  series    = {USENIX Security},
  month     = {August},
  year      = {2018}