Step-by-step guide to Linux security for beginners
last modified: 2020-10-20
Ordering the server
Server ordered on Hetzner.de (based in Germany, dirt cheap, but without management.)
Remember to install the Linux version not from the rescue system in the console but from https://robot.your-server.de/server/index in the "Linux" tab.
(installing from the rescue system provided with the bare server causes a ssh key mess)
I use Debian, version 8.7 (why?)
Vi is used as a text editor in the following
we are logged as root first
Get the latest versions of all packages
apt-get update && sudo apt-get upgrade
→ refreshes the repositories and fetches information about packages that are available online.
→ downloads and installs updates for all installed packages - as long as it doesn’t bother dependencies (install new packages, remove old ones or crosses a repo source (switch a package from one repo to another)).
Install this package to get the clock of your server right:
aptitude install ntp
Then define your time zone (the one where your server is located):
This step helps when your server needs to be synchronized with other servers.
Harden the kernel
The kernel is the software at the closest of the machine: it is provided by the Linux distribution you use.
A configuration file offers parameters which tune the kernel to make things harder for an intruder. Here I rely exactly on the tutorial by Pontikis:
Create a new file, so as to preserver / not to mess up the original file:
Paste the contents of this file:
Close the file
reboot the server
Forward root mail
Add this line if not already present:
Then, rebuild aliases:
Change the SSH port
By default, loggging to the server via SSH is done on the port 22. Knowing that, attackers scan the port 22. Changing the port to a different one makes the attacker’s job more difficult. To do that:
port SSH 22
with a new port (let’s say 1234), write the new port down somewhere
Close the file and:
service sshd restart
Creating a user and disabling logging for root
We should now disable root login via SSH. Why? Because attackers would know that a "root" user is available to log in, and it just remains to attack its password.
With the root user disabled at the SSH login step, the attackers must guess both the username and its password to access the connection, and that’s much harder.
Of course, an attacker who aims at you or your server specifically (a "targeted" attack) would expect a series of usernames (in my case "seinecle", the name I use on all social media), so don’t use it either.
So the logic is the following: we will create a user with much less priviledges than the root user. Only this weak user will have the right to connect to the server.
The user will be "enough" for regular tasks on the server. If we need the admin rights of root to install stuff or else, we will temporarily switch from this weak user to root to execute what we need, but then revert back to this weak user.
This way, we limit greatly the exposure of root privileges to the outside.
making sure we have installed the "sudo" command that will allow us to switch from a weak user to root.
creating a weak user
giving rights to this user to establish a connection to the server (not just act on it once logged)
removing the rights of root to connect to the server.
1. Installing the sudo command:
apt-get install sudo
2. Adding a new user (let’s call it "myUser")
Have a strong password ready
adduser myUser -shell /bin/bash adduser myUser sudo
3. Enabling server connections via myUser
text to add still in the file sshd_config:
Then restart the SSH service:
service sshd restart
4. Disabling connection through root
Text to change in the file:
From there on, you cannot login to the server from root, only from myUser!
Let’s try it. Create a new SSH session with myUser. Then:
Switch to root privileges:
(you must enter the root password at this step)
Disabling password authentication, enabling SSH
Password authentication is less secure than SSH public key. A password transits through the Internet for the auhtentication, it can be hacked at this step.
A SSH private key is not transmitted on the wire. So, it can’t be hacked this way.
A detailed explanation is available here.
How to generate a SSH key?
How to disable password auth and enable SSH?
Logging through SSH rather than passwords can be hair rising because there are so many tiny details that can go wrong. There is a good chance that if you do it for the first time you will lock yourself outside the server.
So, do this when you can still erase the server, of if you are confortable waiting that your provider will unlock it for you.
Parameters to change or add in
LogLevel DEBUG3 (this should be added, the parameter is not listed by default)
Save the file, then:
service sshd restart
Add your public key
In your user home folder:
mkdir ~/.ssh chmod 700 ~/.ssh cd ~/.ssh vi authorized_keys
make sure you have put the public key in /home/myUser/.ssd/authorized_keys (not just in the root user folder)
make sure your key starts with "the "ssh-rsa" (with a space after it, check the first "s" might be missing …)
triple check the key doesn’t break in several lines
service sshd restartafter each modif to load your new ssh key
What will probably happen:
Your private key will probably not be recognized the first time because of some problems above not completely fixed.
Keep trying to log with your SSH key. To find the cause of your issues, inspect the log for auth operations:
tail -f /var/log/auth.log
Some useful answers to questions from developers lost in making SSH keys works:
Finally, when the login via SSH keys work, only then can you disable login via passwords:
/etc/ssh/sshd_config, you can disable password authentification:
service sshd restart
Now only connecions via a public / private key is possible.
Setting up a firewall
A firewall gives you control on what can enter and leave your server.
But there is an even easier alternative.
better: uncomplicated firewall
apt-get install ufw
The firewall is now installed, but is is not active yet.
We add a rule to block all incoming traffic, except for SSH connections through the port we defined: ufw default deny incoming ufw allow 1234/tcp
Now, we can activate the firewall
Use anti-intrusion defenses and audit systems
this part builds on: http://www.pontikis.net/blog/psad-install-config-debian-wheezy
Psad is an app which bans users which scan ports. Before installing it, we need to make sure the firewall logs traffic:
iptables -A INPUT -j LOG iptables -A FORWARD -j LOG
Then we install Psad:
apt-get install psad
Now we configure Psad by modifying this file:
Possible values for some interesting parameters (and the source for this section), are here:
Then we must edit this file to add the address of the server to the whitelist:
where I put just 2 values:
127.0.0.1 0; # localhost xx.xx.xxx.xxx 0; # Server IP (replace xx.xx.xxx.xxx by your actual server IP)
Restart psan with this config:
sudo psad --sig-update sudo service psad restart
This is an app which bans users which fail to login after a number of times - typically bots trying to break in.
fail2ban can actually scan logs from a list of apps you decide (MongoDB, Apache server, GlassFish, etc.) and ban ips mentioned in logs showing a failed access. You need to setup a regex rule specific for each log format, though.
I’ll cover it later, when I’ll have MongoDB and GlassFish installed.
Documentation on failtoban: http://www.pontikis.net/blog/fail2ban-install-config-debian-wheezy
This is an application running on your machine, generating security audits and making suggestions.
apt-get install lynis
Run it: (from any directory)
lynis audit system
The report will appear on screen (hit Enter to move on), and in this file:
Author of this tutorial: Clement Levallois
All resources on linux security: https://seinecle.github.io/linux-security-tutorials/