WordPress bruteforce protection with NGINX and limit_req / request limitation

WordPress installations are very common targets of brute force attacks. With this attacks, attacker tries countless username and password variations in order to guess login informations. As you can imagine that such abusive behavior on your WordPress can cause collapse of server. Very common are attacks on wp-login.php and xmlrpc.php. There is a simple way to limit allowed number of requests on specific file with limit_req. This module can limit processing rate of requests coming from a single IP address on your web server.

In order to protect your WordPress administration you can do something like this:

# prevent brute force attacks on wp-login.php
 location = /wp-login.php {
        limit_req zone=one burst=5 nodelay;
        include fastcgi_params;
        fastcgi_pass 127.0.0.1:9000;
 }

This will allow 5 request in 5 second “window”. When there’ll be more than 5 request in 5 seconds, Nginx will return 503 error until request rate slows down:

$ curl -I https://www.yourwebsite.com/wp-login.php 
HTTP/1.1 503 Service Temporarily Unavailable
Server: nginx

Of course, you can use limit_req to protect other systems besides WordPress to.

Icinga/Nagios plugin for http brute force detection

When dealing with web servers where there are a lot of web sites, especially WordPresses, Joomlas etc., it is very common problem to dealing with flood/brute force attacks. One of most common for example, is generating massive requests on wp-login.php, or xmlrpc.php. With brute force, attackers goal is usually gaining access to administration. This is the simplest kind of method to gain access. Idea is very simple, attacker tries with a lot of different passwords and usernames, until it gets it right. Those operations of course, are automated by bots, scripts.

This can be very damaging for your server as it consumes a lot of memory. Every request means that someone just visited your website. When there is a script with bad intentions visiting your site, that means a lot of requests. Most modern web pages, every request like this, also makes database query. In most cases, server will become unresponsive, system will run out of memory, swap will fill up, mysql will stop responding.. This also means, that all websites on your server will stop working. In many cases, you’ll have to reboot your server to make it responsive again. Of course, there are systems that don’t allow this, like Cloud Linux with its LVE. One of great practices is to lock your administration to some static IP. There different ways.

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