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Exploding your system: The deadly Fork Bomb in Linux

📆 · ⏳ 3 min read · · 👀

Introduction

A fork bomb is a type of denial-of-service attack that can crash or freeze a Linux system by overwhelming its resources with a large number of processes.

Essentially, a fork bomb involves repeatedly executing a command that creates new processes until the system becomes unresponsive or crashes.

The fork bomb attack is often executed by malicious users or hackers, but it can also happen accidentally if an inexperienced user runs a poorly written script or command.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the fork bomb attack and provide some tips for protecting your Linux system from this type of attack.

What is a fork bomb in Linux?

A fork bomb is a type of denial-of-service attack that exploits the Linux operating system’s process management system. In Linux, each process creates a child process using the fork() system call. The child process inherits the parent process’s resources, including CPU time, memory, and open files.

A fork bomb works by repeatedly calling the fork() system call to create new child processes. As the number of child processes increases, the system’s available resources are quickly exhausted, leading to slow performance or system crash.

How to create a fork bomb in Linux?

Creating a fork bomb is simple. You just need to execute a command that repeatedly calls the fork() system call to create new child processes.

Here’s an example of a common fork bomb command:

Terminal window
:(){ :|:& };:
💡

Warning!

Do not run this command directly on your terminal!

This command defines a shell function called : (colon) that calls itself twice, creating two child processes.

The | character pipes the output of the first call to the second call, creating an infinite loop of child processes.

The & character sends each child process to the background, allowing the parent process to continue creating new child processes.

The ; character terminates the command.

How to protect your Linux system from fork bombs?

There are several ways to protect your Linux system from fork bomb attacks. One method is to limit the number of processes a user can create by setting resource limits using the ulimit command.

For example, you can limit the number of processes a user can create by running the following command:

Terminal window
ulimit -u 100

This sets the maximum number of user processes to 100. You can adjust this value depending on your system’s resources and requirements.

Another way to protect your system is to use a process monitoring tool like htop or top to identify and terminate any fork bomb processes.

These tools show a list of all running processes and their resource usage, allowing you to quickly identify any processes that are consuming too many resources.

Conclusion

A fork bomb is a potentially dangerous command that can crash or freeze a Linux system by overwhelming its resources with a large number of processes. It is important to understand what a fork bomb is and how it works to protect your Linux system from this type of attack.

By following the tips mentioned in this article, you can limit the number of processes a user can create and use process monitoring tools to identify and terminate any fork bomb processes that may be running on your system.

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