Now it's time to secure your VM and protect it from unauthorized access. You'll learn how to implement a firewall, SSH key pair authentication, and an automatic blocking mechanism called Fail2Ban. By the time you reach the end of this guide, your VM will be protected from attackers.
So far we asked you to log in to your VM as the root user, the most powerful user of all. The problem with logging in as root is that you can execute any command - even a command that could accidentally break your server. For this reason and others, we recommend creating another user account and using that at all times. After you log in with the new account, you'll still be able to execute superuser commands with the sudo command.
Here's how to add a new user:
Open a terminal window and log in to your VM via SSH.
Create the user by entering the following command. Replace example_user with your desired username:
Add the user to the administer the system (admin) group by entering the following command. Replace example_user with your username:
usermod -a -G sudo example_user
On Debian 7 installations, you will need to install sudo before logging in as the new user:
apt-get install sudo
Log out of your VM as the root user by entering the following command:
Log in to your VM as the new user by entering the following command. Replace example_user with your username, and the example IP address with your VM's IP address:
Now you can administer your VM with the new user account instead of root. When you need to execute superuser commands in the future, preface them with sudo. For example, later in this guide you'll execute sudo iptables -L while logged in with your new account. Nearly all superuser commands can be executed with sudo, and all commands executed with sudo will be logged to /var/log/auth.log.
You've used password authentication to connect to your VM via SSH, but there's more a secure method available: key pair authentication. In this section, you'll generate a public and private key pair using your desktop computer and then upload the public key to your VM. SSH connections will be authenticated by matching the public key with the private key stored on your desktop computer - you won't need to type your account password. When combined with the steps outlined later in this guide that disable password authentication entirely, key pair authentication can protect against brute-force password cracking attacks.
Here's how to use SSH key pair autentication to connect to your VM:
Generate the SSH keys on a desktop computer running Linux or Mac OS X by entering the following command in a terminal window on your desktop computer. PuTTY users can generate the SSH keys by following the instructions in our PuTTY guide.
The SSH keygen utility appears. Follow the on-screen instructions to create the SSH keys on your desktop computer. To use key pair authentication without a passphrase, press Enter when prompted for a passphrase.
Two files will be created in your ~/.ssh directory: id_rsa and id_rsa.pub. The public key is id_rsa.pub - this file will be uploaded to your VM. The other file is your private key. Do not share this file with anyone!
Upload the public key to your VM with the secure copy command (scp) by entering the following command in a terminal window on your desktop computer. Replace example_user with your username, and 123.456.78.90 with your VM's IP address. If you have a Windows desktop, you can use a third-party client like WinSCP to upload the file to your home directory.
scp ~/.ssh/id_rsa.pub email@example.com:
Create a directory for the public key in your home directory (/home/yourusername) by entering the following command on your VM:
Move the public key in to the directory you just created by entering the following command on your VM:
mv id_rsa.pub .ssh/authorized_keys
Modify the permissions on the public key by entering the following commands, one by one, on your VM. Replace example_user with your username.
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chown -R example_user:example_user .ssh chmod 700 .ssh chmod 600 .ssh/authorized_keys
The SSH keys have been generated, and the public key has been installed on your VM. You're ready to use SSH key pair authentication! To try it, log out of your terminal session and then log back in. The new session will be authenticated with the SSH keys and you won't have to enter your account password. (You'll still need to enter the passphrase for the key, if you specified one.)
You just strengthened the security of your VM by adding a new user and generating SSH keys. Now it's time to make some changes to the default SSH configuration. First, you'll disable password authentication to require all users connecting via SSH to use key authentication. Next, you'll disable root login to prevent the root user from logging in via SSH. These steps are optional, but are strongly recommended.
You may want to leave password authentication enabled if you connect to your VM from many different desktop computers. That will allow you to authenticate with a password instead of copying the private key to every computer.
Here's how to disable SSH password authentication and root login:
Open the SSH configuration file for editing by entering the following command:
sudo nano /etc/ssh/sshd_config
If you see a message similar to -bash: sudo: command not found, you'll need to install sudo on your VM. To do so, log in as root by entering the su command, and type the root password when prompted. Next, install sudo by entering the following command: apt-get install sudo. After sudo has been installed, log out as the root user by entering the exit command.
Change the PasswordAuthentication setting to no as shown below. Verify that the line is uncommented by removing the # in front of the line, if there is one.:
Change the PermitRootLogin setting to no as shown below:
Save the changes to the SSH configuration file by pressing Control-X, and then Y.
Restart the SSH service to load the new configuration. Enter the following command:
sudo service ssh restart
After the SSH service restarts, the SSH configuration changes will be applied.
Now it's time to set up a firewall to limit and block unwanted inbound traffic to your VM. This step is optional, but we strongly recommend that you use the example below to block traffic to ports that are not commonly used. It's a good way to deter would-be intruders! You can always modify the rules or disable the firewall later.
Here's how to create a firewall on your VM:
Check your VM's default firewall rules by entering the following command:
sudo iptables -L
Examine the output. If you haven't implemented any firewall rules yet, you should see an empty ruleset, as shown below:
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Chain INPUT (policy ACCEPT) target prot opt source destination Chain FORWARD (policy ACCEPT) target prot opt source destination Chain OUTPUT (policy ACCEPT) target prot opt source destination
Create a file to hold your firewall rules by entering the following command:
sudo nano /etc/iptables.firewall.rules
Now it's time to create some firewall rules. We've created some basic rules to get you started. Copy and paste the rules shown below in to the iptables.firewall.rules file you just created.
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*filter # Allow all loopback (lo0) traffic and drop all traffic to 127/8 that doesn't use lo0 -A INPUT -i lo -j ACCEPT -A INPUT -d 127.0.0.0/8 -j REJECT # Accept all established inbound connections -A INPUT -m state --state ESTABLISHED,RELATED -j ACCEPT # Allow all outbound traffic - you can modify this to only allow certain traffic -A OUTPUT -j ACCEPT # Allow HTTP and HTTPS connections from anywhere (the normal ports for websites and SSL). -A INPUT -p tcp --dport 80 -j ACCEPT -A INPUT -p tcp --dport 443 -j ACCEPT # Allow SSH connections # # The -dport number should be the same port number you set in sshd_config # -A INPUT -p tcp -m state --state NEW --dport 22 -j ACCEPT # Allow ping -A INPUT -p icmp -j ACCEPT # Log iptables denied calls -A INPUT -m limit --limit 5/min -j LOG --log-prefix "iptables denied: " --log-level 7 # Drop all other inbound - default deny unless explicitly allowed policy -A INPUT -j DROP -A FORWARD -j DROP COMMIT
Edit the rules as necessary. By default, the rules will allow traffic to the following services and ports: HTTP (80), HTTPS (443), SSH (22), and ping. All other ports will be blocked.
Be sure to revise these rules if you add new services later.
Save the changes to the firewall rules file by pressing Control-X, and then Y.
Activate the firewall rules by entering the following command:
sudo iptables-restore < /etc/iptables.firewall.rules
Recheck your VM's firewall rules by entering the following command:
sudo iptables -L
Examine the output. The new ruleset should look like the one shown below:
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Chain INPUT (policy ACCEPT) target prot opt source destination ACCEPT all -- anywhere anywhere REJECT all -- anywhere 127.0.0.0/8 reject-with icmp-port-unreachable ACCEPT all -- anywhere anywhere state RELATED,ESTABLISHED ACCEPT tcp -- anywhere anywhere tcp dpt:http ACCEPT tcp -- anywhere anywhere tcp dpt:https ACCEPT tcp -- anywhere anywhere state NEW tcp dpt:ssh ACCEPT icmp -- anywhere anywhere LOG all -- anywhere anywhere limit: avg 5/min burst 5 LOG level debug prefix "iptables denied: " DROP all -- anywhere anywhere Chain FORWARD (policy ACCEPT) target prot opt source destination DROP all -- anywhere anywhere Chain OUTPUT (policy ACCEPT) target prot opt source destination ACCEPT all -- anywhere anywhere
Now you need to ensure that the firewall rules are activated every time you restart your VM. Start by creating a new script with the following command:
sudo nano /etc/network/if-pre-up.d/firewall
Copy and paste the following lines in to the file you just created:
#!/bin/sh /sbin/iptables-restore < /etc/iptables.firewall.rules
Press Control-X and then press Y to save the script.
Set the script's permissions by entering the following command:
sudo chmod +x /etc/network/if-pre-up.d/firewall
That's it! Your firewall rules are in place and protecting your VM. Remember, you'll need to edit the firewall rules later if you install other software or services.
Fail2Ban is an application that prevents dictionary attacks on your server. When Fail2Ban detects multiple failed login attempts from the same IP address, it creates temporary firewall rules that block traffic from the attacker's IP address. Attempted logins can be monitored on a variety of protocols, including SSH, HTTP, and SMTP. By default, Fail2Ban monitors SSH only.
Here's how to install and configure Fail2Ban:
Install Fail2Ban by entering the following command:
sudo apt-get install fail2ban
Optionally, you can override the default Fail2Ban configuration by creating a new jail.local file. Enter the following command to create the file:
sudo nano /etc/fail2ban/jail.local
bantime variable to specify how long (in seconds) bans should last.
maxretry variable to specify the default number of tries a connection
may be attempted before an attacker's IP address is banned.
Fail2Ban is now installed and running on your VM. It will monitor your log
files for failed login attempts. After an IP address has exceeded the maximum
number of authentication attempts, it will be blocked at the network level and
the event will be logged in