5 Best Practices to Secure and Protect SSH Server

SSH (Secure Shell) is an open source network protocol that is used to connect local or remote Linux servers to transfer files, make remote backups, remote command execution and other network related tasks via scp or sftp between two servers that connects on secure channel over the network.

SSH Security Tips

SSH Server Security Tips

In this article, I will show you some simple tools and tricks that will help you to tighten your ssh server security. Here you will find some useful information on how to secure and prevent ssh server from brute force and dictionary attacks.

1. DenyHosts

DenyHosts is an open source log-based intrusion prevention security script for SSH servers was written in python programming language that intended to run by Linux system administrators and users to monitor and analyzes SSH server access logs for failed login attempts knows as dictionary based attacks and brute force attacks. The script works by banning IP addresses after set number of failed login attempts and also prevent such attacks from gaining access to server.

DenyHosts Features
  1. Keeps track of /var/log/secure to find all successful and failed login attempts and filters them.
  2. Keeps eye on all failed login attempts by user and offending host.
  3. Keeps watch on each existing and non-existent user (eg. xyz) when a failed login attempts.
  4. Keeps track of each offending user, host and suspicious login attempts (If number of login failures) bans that host IP address by adding an entry in /etc/hosts.deny file.
  5. Optionally sends an email notifications of newly blocked hosts and suspicious logins.
  6. Also maintains all valid and invalid failed user login attempts in separate files, so that it makes easy for identifying which valid or invalid user is under attack. So, that we can delete that account or change password or disable shell for that user.

Read More : Install DenyHosts to Block SSH Server Attacks in RHEL / CentOS / Fedora

2. Fail2Ban

Fail2ban is one of the most popular open source intrusion detection/prevention framework written in python programming language. It operates by scanning log files such as /var/log/secure, /var/log/auth.log, /var/log/pwdfail etc. for too many failed login attempts. Fail2ban used to update Netfilter/iptables or TCP Wrapper’s hosts.deny file, to reject an attacker’s IP address for a set amount of time. It also has a ability to unban a blocked IP address for a certain period of time set by administrators. However, an certain minutes of unban is more enough to stop such malicious attacks.

Fail2Ban Features
  1. Multi-threaded and Highly configurable.
  2. Support for log files rotation and can handle multiple services like (sshd, vsftpd, apache, etc).
  3. Monitors log files and looks for known and unknown patterns.
  4. Uses Netfilter/Iptables and TCP Wrapper (/etc/hosts.deny) table to ban attackers IP.
  5. Runs scripts when a given pattern has been identified for the same IP address for more than X times.

Read More : Install Fail2ban to Prevent SSH Server Attacks in RHEL / CentOS / Fedora

3. Disable Root Login

By default Linux systems are per-configured to allow ssh remote logins for everyone including root user itself, which allows everyone to directly log in to system and gain root access. Despite the fact that ssh server allows a more secure way to disable or enable root logins, it’s always a good idea to disable root access, keeping servers a bit more secure.

There are so many people trying to brute force root accounts via SSH attacks by simply supplying different account names and passwords, one after another. If you are a system administrator, you can check ssh server logs, where you will find number of failed login attempts. The main reason behind number of failed login attempts is having weak enough passwords and that makes sense for hackers/attackers to try.

If you are having strong passwords, then you’re probably safe, however it’s better to disable root login and have regular separate account to log into, and then use sudo or su to gain root access whenever required.

Read More : How to Disable SSH Root Login and Limite SSH Access

4. Display SSH Banner

This is one of the oldest feature available from the beginning of the ssh project, but I’ve hardly seen it is used by anyone. Anyway I feels its important and very useful feature that I’ve used for all my Linux servers.

This is not for any security purpose, but the most greatest benefit of this banner is that it is used to display ssh warning messages to UN-authorized access and welcome messages to authorized users before the password prompt and after the user logged in.

Read More : How to Display SSH & MOTD Banner Messages

5. SSH Passwordless Login

A SSH Password-less login with SSH keygen will establish a trust relationship between two Linux servers which makes file transfer and synchronization much easier. This is very useful if you are dealing with remote automated backups, remote scripting execution, file transfer, remote script management etc without enter passwrod each time.

Read More : How to Set SSH Passwordless Login

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Ravi Saive

I am Ravi Saive, creator of TecMint. A Computer Geek and Linux Guru who loves to share tricks and tips on Internet. Most Of My Servers runs on Open Source Platform called Linux. Follow Me: Twitter, Facebook and Google+

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19 Responses

  1. Gonzalo says:

    This looks like the author lives in 1999!

  2. jiten chadva says:

    If CSF is running then no need of any, but I recommend you to disable root login

  3. Mohsin Khan says:

    one must disable ssh root access to save server from basic hacking attempts.

  4. Akhilesh says:

    Hi Ravi – The site looks really fabulous as it answers almost all Linux queries, a very great job, special thanks to you and the team of yours.

    I am a new member who registered just 30 mins ago. I love Linux.

  5. Harry says:

    Adding Google’s “Google Authenticator” PAM module is a real bonus IMHO – you can use their free smartphone app to prompt for a one-time passcode in addition to your password if you attempt to log in without an RSA/DSA key – very useful if you’re connecting via an untrusted machine.

  6. Gerhard says:

    Displaying an SSH banner is unforgivably annoying and interferes with scp even in quiet mode forcing script writers to redirect the output of scp to /dev/null and therefore losing possible error reports that could otherwise have been sent to root.

  7. Mark B. says:

    Another good security tip is to run sshd on a non-standard port. See the “Port” option in /etc/sshdconfig. This will vastly cut down on login attempts by crackers.

    • Fiisch says:

      This is hardly any improvement. It will help you to get rid of script kiddies. If someone does portscan on the machine, it is the same as if you were running it on 22. Also this setting can confuse those who use ssh on daily basis.
      Besides, scripts kiddies can do portscans too.

      • Mark B. says:

        From my own experience, using a non-default port for ssh completely eliminated login attempts by crackers. Works for me.

        • Fiisch says:

          I don’t doubt that changing default port can reduce number of tries but completely eliminating attempts seems too strange to me.
          My point was, if someone targets your server and tries a little bit more than a quick blind attempt, it doesn’t really matter which port you are running ssh on.

          • Mark B. says:

            That’s true, but every bit helps. A long time ago I had already done the items listed in this article to secure my ssh server.

  8. Jacob says:

    Is it necessary to use any of these when CSF firewall is running?

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