How to Fix “Username is not in the sudoers file. This incident will be reported” in Ubuntu

In Unix/Linux systems, the root user account is the super user account, and it can therefore be used to do anything and everything achievable on the system.

However, this can be very dangerous in so many ways – one could be that the root user might enter a wrong command and breaks the whole system or an attacker gets access to root user account and takes control of the whole system and who knows what he/she can possibly do.

Based upon this background, in Ubuntu and its derivatives, the root user account is locked by default, regular users (system administrators or not) can only gain super user privileges by using the sudo command.

And one of the worst things that can happen to a Ubuntu System admin is losing privileges to use the sudo command, a situation commonly referred to as “broken sudo”. This can be absolutely devastating.

A broken sudo may be caused by any of the following:

  1. A user should not have been removed from the sudo or admin group.
  2. The /etc/sudoers file was altered to prevent users in sudo or admin group from elevating their privileges to that of root using sudo command.
  3. The permission on /etc/sudoers file is not set to 0440.

In order to perform crucial tasks on your system such as viewing or altering important system files, or updating the system, you need the sudo command to gain super user privileges. What if you are denied usage of sudo due one or more of the reasons we mentioned above.

Below is an image showing a case in which the default system user is being prevented from running sudo command:

[email protected] ~ $ sudo visudo
[ sudo ] password for aaronkilik:
aaronkilik is not in the sudoers file.   This incident will be reported.

[email protected] ~ $ sudo apt install vim
[ sudo ] password for aaronkilik:
aaronkilik is not in the sudoers file.   This incident will be reported.

How To Fix Broken sudo Command in Ubuntu

If you happen to be running only Ubuntu on your machine, after powering it, press the Shift key for a few seconds to get the Grub boot menu. On the other hand, if you are running a dual-boot (Ubuntu alongside Windows or Mac OS X), then you should see the Grub boot menu by default.

Using the Down Arrow, select “Advanced options for Ubuntu” and press Enter.

Ubuntu Grub Menu

Ubuntu Grub Menu

You will be at the interface below, select the kernel with “recovery mode” option as below and press Enter to advance to the “Recovery menu”.

Ubuntu Recovery Mode

Ubuntu Recovery Mode

Below is the “Recovery menu”, indicating that the root filesystem is mounted as read-only. Move over to the line “root Drop to root shell prompt”, then hit Enter.

Ubuntu Recovery Menu - Drop to root Shell Prompt

Ubuntu Recovery Menu – Drop to root Shell Prompt

Next, press Enter for maintenance:

Ubuntu Maintenance

Ubuntu Maintenance

At this point, you should be at the root shell prompt. As we had seen before, the filesystem is mounted as read-only, therefore, to make changes to the system we need to remount is as read/write by running the command below:

# mount -o rw,remount /

Solving Case #1 – Add User to sudo or admin Group

Assuming that a user has been removed from the sudo group, to add user back to sudo group issue the command below:

# adduser username sudo

Note: Remember to use the actual username on the system, for my case, it is aaronkilik.

Or else, under the condition that a user has been removed from the admin group, run the following command:

# adduser username admin

Solving Case #2 – Granting sudo Privileges to Users

On the assumption that the /etc/sudoers file was altered to prevent users in sudo or admin group from elevating their privileges to that of a super user, then make a backup of the sudoers files as follows:

# cp /etc/sudoers /etc/sudoers.orginal

Subsequently, open the sudoers file.

# visudo

and add the content below:

#
# This file MUST be edited with the 'visudo' command as root.
#
# Please consider adding local content in /etc/sudoers.d/ instead of
# directly modifying this file.
#
# See the man page for details on how to write a sudoers file.
#
Defaults        env_reset
Defaults        mail_badpass
Defaults        secure_path="/usr/local/sbin:/usr/local/bin:/usr/sbi$

# Host alias specification

# User alias specification

# Cmnd alias specification

# User privilege specification
root    ALL=(ALL:ALL) ALL

# Members of the admin group may gain root privileges
%admin ALL=(ALL) ALL

# Allow members of group sudo to execute any command
%sudo   ALL=(ALL:ALL) ALL

# See sudoers(5) for more information on "#include" directives:

#includedir /etc/sudoers.d

Solving Case #3 – Setting Correct Permission on sudoers File

Supposing that the permission on /etc/sudoers file is not set to 0440, then run following command to make it right:

# chmod  0440  /etc/sudoers

Last but not least, after running all the necessary commands, type the exit command to go back to the “Recovery menu”:

# exit 

Use the Right Arrow to select <Ok> and hit Enter:

Ubuntu Recovery Menu - Resume Normal Boot

Ubuntu Recovery Menu – Resume Normal Boot

Press <Ok> to continue with normal boot sequence:

Confirm Ubuntu Normal Boot

Confirm Ubuntu Normal Boot

Summary

This method should work just fine especially when it is an administrative user account involved, where there is no other option but to use the recovery mode.

However, if it fails to work for you, try to get back to us by expressing your experience via the feedback section below. You can as well offer any suggestions or other possible ways to solve the issue at hand or improve this guide altogether.

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Aaron Kili

Aaron Kili is a Linux and F.O.S.S enthusiast, an upcoming Linux SysAdmin, web developer, and currently a content creator for TecMint who loves working with computers and strongly believes in sharing knowledge.

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23 Responses

  1. Lalande says:

    It doesn’t work for me. Even entering the root mode I keep getting that file system is read-only or that username is already member of sudo group and root group. However I don’t have any admin group

  2. Hayk says:

    On some systems use esc to enter grub

  3. K.Praveena says:

    I am running an CentOS i386 in my system, When i try to log in as root in terminal as sudo su.

    I got the following error, any solution for this?

    Pulse is not in the sudoers file. this incident will be reported…..

  4. Gord K says:

    Relatively new Ubuntu user (6-7 months) and experienced this situation this morning (24/02/18). Found some data online to correct. Your write up is by far the clearest of all I came across. You made it very easy to follow. Thanks for your time and effort to give us “Noob” users such clear and concise info.

    Gord K

  5. Bilal A.Awan says:

    It worked :)
    Thank You :)

  6. Srinivas says:

    Thank you so much! This helped a lot

  7. Chaitanya says:

    Thanks a ton!!! Had a very tough doing this. This helped

  8. Martins Almeida says:

    Thank you for keeping to provide us, users of Ubuntu OS, with important tips on how to overcome common and daily situations we may face.

  9. V says:

    Sorry I want to said passwd instead of pwd

  10. V says:

    There is a lot more to said about this. What about if at recovery time, root have been setup with a different password from defaults? The system ask for password, there is only one way to proceed, mount / with a live CD or USB drive and mount then chroot to / and use pwd command to do what you want. Hope this help/improve.

    • Aaron Kili K says:

      @v

      In recovery mode, you will always get a passwordless root shell, and have absolute control over the system to perform required changes in the system hence the name “recovery mode”.

      Try to go through this Ubuntu documentation about lost password, it covers the same thing here but focuses on resetting a password other than fixing broken sudo in recovery mode: https://help.ubuntu.com/community/LostPassword. You will get a full root access in recovery mode, whether root password was set to something different or not on Ubuntu.

      Lastly, thanks for sharing your useful thoughts on the subject matter.

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