Non-standard Users

Learn about problem users, badly configured proxy servers, and millions of sessions on application servers.

Problem users

We would all sleep more easily if the only users to worry about were the ones that used our system as normal. While most users are like this, some will try to hack or may accidentally or deliberately break our system. It’s important to be ready for these problem users as well!

Badly configured proxy servers

For example, I’ve seen badly configured proxy servers start requesting a user’s last URL over and over again. I was able to identify the user’s session by its cookie and then trace the session back to the registered customer. Logs showed that the user was legitimate. For some reason, fifteen minutes after the user’s last request, the request started reappearing in the logs. At first, these requests were coming in every thirty seconds. They kept accelerating, though. Ten minutes later, we were getting four or five requests every second. These requests had the user’s identifying cookie but not his session cookie. So each request was creating a new session. It strongly resembled a DDoS attack, except that it came from one particular proxy server in one location.

Once again, we see that sessions are the Achilles’ heel of web applications. Want to bring down nearly any dynamic web application? Pick a deep link from the site and start requesting it without sending cookies. Don’t even wait for the response. Just drop the socket connection as soon as we’ve sent the request. Web servers never tell the application servers that the end user stopped listening for an answer. The application server just keeps on processing the request. It sends the response back to the web server, which funnels it into the bit bucket. In the meantime, the 100 bytes of the HTTP request cause the application server to create a session (which may consume several kilobytes of memory in the application server).

Consider: Even a desktop machine on a broadband connection can generate hundreds of thousands of sessions on the application servers.

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