tails in a spin

When I first tested running a tails mirror on one of my VMs, the traffic level reported by vnstat ran at around 20-30 GiB per day. I figured I could live with that because it meant that my total monthly traffic would be unlikely to exceed my monthly 1TB allowance. However, when I checked the stats on that server last week (around the 9th of Jan) I found that I was shipping out around 150 GiB per day and vnstat was predicting a monthly total of close to 3 TB. As the tails admins said when I told them that I would have to shut off the mirror on that VM while I sorted something, “Ooops”. Ooops indeed. I couldn’t chance a massive bill for exceeding my bandwidth allowance by quite that much. The actual stats for 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 January before I pulled the plug were: 34.23 GiB, 69.14 GiB, 178.31 GiB, 131.68 GiB, 99.05 GiB and 133.27 Gib. It turns out that tails 0.10 was released on 4 January and I hadn’t been prepared. A lesson learned.

Having shut down and had the DNS round robin amended, I attended to finding some way of throttling my traffic so that I could live within my allowance whilst still providing a useful mirror. I scratched my head for a while before stumbling on the obvious, I should be throttling at application level. (Sometimes I find that I miss simple answers because I am looking for complicated ones).

I started out by assuming that I should be using tc and iptables mangling, or something like the userspace tool trickle, all of which looked horribly more complicated than the approach taken by tor (which allows you to simply set the acceptable bandwidth rate to some limit, plus set an accounting period maximum of some total transfer limit per day/week whatever). And of course it turns out that my webserver (lighttpd) allows something similar. Just set the server limit to some chosen max transfer rate and, if necessary, also impose a per IP max rate. The magic configuration file options are:

# limit server throughput to 3000 kbytes/sec (~30000 kbits/sec)
server.kbytes-per-second = 3000
# and limit individual connections to 50 kbytes (~500 kbits/sec) – NB. I don’t actually use this
# connection.kbytes-per-second = 50

I tested this by pulling a copy of the tails iso from one of my other VMs which has a high bandwidth connection and got acceptable (and expected) results. So now I can go back on-line later this month safe in the knowledge that I’m not going to blow all my bandwidth in one week.

Permanent link to this article: https://baldric.net/2012/01/12/tails-in-a-spin/