When proftpd processes the USER and PASS FTP commands from a client, it has to perform checks against configured ACLs, look up user and group information, etc. These checks are not done if the given username is known to not exist for the server, in order to not tie up system resources needlessly. However, this does mean that more work is done when handling "good" users than when handling "bad" users. This difference can be detected in the time it takes for proftpd to send a response to the USER and PASS commands. This means it is possible for an attacker to look for these statistical timing differences, and determine which users are "good" and which are "bad". From there, a determined attacker can focus their attention on the known good usernames. Note that the timings will vary depending on server load, number of users in the user base, type of storage of user data (e.g. LDAP directories, SQL tables, RADIUS servers, flat files, etc).
The mod_delay module attempts to prevent such timing differences by keeping track of the time taken to process the USER and PASS commands. It does this for the most recent USER and PASS commands. The timing data are stored in the module's DelayTable. If the module detects that proftpd has not taken enough time to handle one of these commands, compared to its past response times, a small delay will be added to the response cycle. The amount of delay is determined by the difference between the current time spent handling the command and the median time spent handling the same command in the past.