Basic SSH server hardening
When discussing some of my recent findings with Kippo I’ve been asked a few times for suggestions for how people can prevent their systems from being compromised via this vector. A quick Google search shows that there are already a number of good resources covering the options, including: Debian Administration Article and Securing Debian Manual. However, the high number of options can leave people unsure where to start so I’ll summarise some of those that are more common and can provide the highest return on investment for the time taken to make the change.
N.B. a lot of the suggestions below are valid for most/all remote access functionality.
Restrict access from unknown locations
If possible (it isn’t always) restrict access to only come from known and trusted sources. This can be down at multiple choke points in the network and system; perimeter firewall, host firewall (iptables etc.) or sshd config. For working with sshd the /etc/hosts.allow and /etc/hosts.deny, for example:
#Corporate HQ gateway
#Generic Deny All
It doesn’t matter how insecure your system is, if an attacker can’t connect and communicate with a vulnerable service they can’t exploit it, period.
Restrict remote root access
Preventing remote access to the root account can reduce the damage that can be caused by a compromised. With SSH this can be achieved with a single configuration line:
Only allow access to specific accounts
Does every account on you system need to be able to remotely access the system via SSH? No? Then why can it?
Remote system access can be restricted on a per user basis. This can be either as a whitelist using the AllowUsers directive or as a blacklist with the DenyUsers directive. For example, if I only wanted to allow my own account access via ssh:
These capabilities can be useful with certain honeypot systems; if you create a weak user account linked with an ftp or pop3 honeypot (for example), then the same weak accounts can be prevented from gaining access to a shell with the DenyUsers directive, limiting the weak account to only access those services that are being monitored.
Run on non-standard port
Yes, this is ‘security by obscurity’; if this is the only change you make you haven’t really improved security any, but it is still useful as part of wider security posture. Attackers are continually scanning the internet looking for new systems to exploit, currently the ISC statistics show connections to tcp22 at around 100k targets; even moving to a relatively common alternative port of 2222 drops the malicious traffic by around 90%.
This reduces the number of malcious attempts targeting the service, which will both reduce processor/network load and ‘noise’ in the log. If you now get a burst of failed log-in attempts in the logs, then this may be indicative of a specific attacker rather than just the usual background noise of bots and worms scanning for new victims.
Implementing the above can drastically improve SSH security above the defaults, with a relatively small effort required providing a great ROI. So what’s your excuse? Go harden that SSH installation