RE: Possible DOS against search engines?

From: jasonk (
Date: 02/04/03

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    From: "jasonk" <>
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    Date: Tue, 4 Feb 2003 11:28:29 +1100

    Responses inline...


    > -----Original Message-----
    > From: Rob Shein []
    > Sent: Tuesday, 4 February 2003 10:45 AM
    > To: 'Philip Stoev';
    > Subject: RE: Possible DOS against search engines?
    > I see a few problems here. Problems are listed below each concept,
    > clarity, and assume a decent webcrawler.
    > >
    > > 1. You create a generator for fake web pages, whose purpose
    > > is to spit out HTML containing a huge amount of (pseudo)
    > > random _non-existing_ words, as well as links to other pages
    > > within the generator;
    > I doubt this would make even a slight dent in things. Seeing as how
    > webcrawlers already walk the entire internet, with its various
    > enormous expanse, and endless misspellings, I think anything you could
    > create would end up being a drop in the bucket.

    Agreed; I imagine most other "words" would be already indexed as
    initials, abbreviations, etc etc

    > > 2. You place that generator somewhere and submit the URL to
    > > search engines for crawling;
    > >
    > > 3. The search engines then crawls the site, possibly reaching
    > > their pre-defined maximum of crawling depth (or, if badly
    > > broken, crawl the site indefinitely, jumping from one freshly
    > > generated page to another);
    > But they don't crawl indefinitely. What do they do if they hit two
    > that link to each other? They notice this, and move on.
    This can be addressed by a dynamic generator.

    This page would link to a randomly generated series of characters that
    are all in the directory of /dynamicwordgenerator/ and hence the server
    just replies to anything in /dynamicwordgenerator/ with another dynamic
    random load of rubbish and a few more randomly generated links.

    > > 4. Upon adding the gathered words to the search engine's
    > > index, the index becomes heavily overloaded with the newly
    > > added words, as they are outside of the real-language words
    > > already present in the index. The following should be
    > > theoretically possible:
    > But who would search on them?

    Irrelevant; if the search engines are so heavily overloaded, searches
    will take some time to trawl through huge databases. But as said above,
    it will be nothing more than a drop in the ocean.
    > > - craft fake words so that they attack a specific hash
    > > function. Make a bunch of fakes that hash to the same value
    > > as a legitimate word in the English language. This will
    > > possibly impact the performance of search engines using that
    > > particular hash function when they try to look up the
    > > legitimate words that are being targeted.
    I don't understand this one ?

    > This would be noticed by the search engine long before it became a
    > problem, and it would be addressed. This is how they deal with many
    > things,
    > including people who try to influence their ranking using various

    > > - craft fake words so that they disbalance a b-tree
    > > index, if one is used. I am not entirely sure, however it
    > > appears to me that it is possible to craft words in such a
    > > way as to alter the shape of the b-tree and thus impact the
    > > performance on the lookups where it used.
    > >
    > > - craft fake words randomly so that the index just grows.
    > > To the best of my understanding, most search engines will
    > > index and retain keywords that are only seen on one web page
    > > in the entire Internet. However, I think the capacity of the
    > > search engines to keep track of such one-time non-English
    > > letter sequences is limited and can be eventually exhausted.
    > It is my belief that, again, they will notice the impact on their
    > and quickly address the issue. What about a bit of code that states
    > if
    > more then 5% of the words in a page are unique in the database, that
    > page is dropped?
    > > If the above-mentioned things are feasible, then one can even
    > > construct a worm of some sort, that will auto-install such
    > > fake page generators on valid sites, thus increasing the
    > > traffic to the crawler even more. Writing an short Apache
    > > handler meant to be silently installed in httpd.conf at
    > > root-kit installation should not be that difficult. When is
    > > the last time your reviewed the module list of your Apache?
    > > Will you spot a malicious module if it is called
    > > mod_ip_vhost_alias, loaded inbetween two other modules that
    > > you never knew are vital or not?
    > No, but I'd notice an abrupt lack of space on my web server. And the
    > sudden
    > oddly-named URLS in my logs. And the corresponding oddly-named pages
    > my
    > site. And if I didn't notice, my hosting provider would.

    Dynamic. No lack of space, and no oddly-named pages. Ff it were a old
    vuln based worm such as the recent sql worm, I doubt that many of those
    admins would be looking at their logs...

    > > Please note that the setup described differs from the
    > > practice of generating fake pages containing a lot of real
    > > (mostly adult) keywords. After all, such real-language words
    > > already exist in the index, whereas I suggest bombing the
    > > index with a huge number of not-previously-existing
    > > freshly-generated random letter sequences. Also, please note
    > > that the purpose of the attack is to damage the index, and
    > > not to make the crawler consume bandwidth by going in an
    > > endless loop or something like that (though, the crawler has
    > > to scan the pages first so that the generated keywords are
    > > ultimately delivered to the index).
    > >
    > > I will appreciate any and all thoughts on the issue.
    As you said, you'd have to have bandwidth -- though I don't see it
    having the same effect on the internet as the sql worm did -- but as
    spiders and the like are (and if they're not, they should be)
    deliberately limited as to the rate of requests they make, there should
    be little issue.

    Another option to counter the issue of words is to use a dictionary and
    just pump random words in; this will clog the databases. Though you'd
    have to do it *mighty* quickly for them not to notice. I think google
    takes over a month before it ends up getting back to indexing the same

    Maybe, since it's a worm, you'd have the 'source' web server
    installation which sends it's worm code to the 'destination' web server.
    Each time you get a successful infection, that address is added to the
    list of servers, and you can use this address to generate bad pages as
    well? So as well as generating pages, you've got
    some increasing number of servers doing so ... maybe as a side effect
    you'd increase the "backlog" of sites needing to be indexed. Again I
    doubt it'd be long before they noticed this.

    > > Philip Stoev
    > >