Ubuntu security hardening for the cloud.

The following describes a few simple means of improving Ubuntu Server security for use in the cloud. Many of the optimizations discussed below apply equally to other Linux based distribution although the commands and settings will vary somewhat.

Azure cloud specific recommendations

  1. Use private key and certificate based SSH authentication exclusively and never use passwords.
  2. Never employ common usernames such as root , admin or administrator.
  3. Change the default public SSH port away from 22.

AWS cloud specific recommendations

AWS makes available a small list of recommendation for securing Linux in their cloud security whitepaper.

Ubuntu / Linux specific recommendations

1. Disable the use of all insecure protocols (FTP, Telnet, RSH and HTTP) and replace them with their encrypted counterparts such as sFTP, SSH, SCP and HTTPS

yum erase inetd xinetd ypserv tftp-server telnet-server rsh-server

2. Uninstall all unnecessary packages

dpkg --get-selections | grep -v deinstall
dpkg --get-selections | grep postgres
yum remove packageName

For more information: http://askubuntu.com/questions/17823/how-to-list-all-installed-packages

3. Run the most recent kernel version available for your distribution

For more information: https://wiki.ubuntu.com/Kernel/LTSEnablementStack

4. Disable root SSH shell access

Open the following file…

sudo vim /etc/ssh/sshd_config

… then change the following value to no.

PermitRootLogin yes

For more information: http://askubuntu.com/questions/27559/how-do-i-disable-remote-ssh-login-as-root-from-a-server

5. Grant shell access to as few users as possible and limit their permissions

Limiting shell access is an important means of securing a system. Shell access is inherently dangerous because of the risk of unlawfully privilege escalations as with any operating systems, however stolen credentials are a concern too.

Open the following file…

sudo vim /etc/ssh/sshd_config

… then add an entry for each user to be allowed.

AllowUsers jim,tom,sally

For more information: http://www.cyberciti.biz/faq/howto-limit-what-users-can-log-onto-system-via-ssh/

6. Limit or change the IP addresses SSH listens on

Open the following file…

sudo vim /etc/ssh/sshd_config

… then add the following.

ListenAddress <IP ADDRESS>

For more information:


7. Restrict all forms of access to the host by individual IPs or address ranges

TCP wrapper based access lists can be included in the following files.


Note: Any changes to your hosts.allow and hosts.deny files take immediate effect, no restarts are needed.


ALL : 123.12.

Would match all hosts in the network.


An IP address and subnet mask can be used in a rule.

sshd : /etc/sshd.deny

If the client list begins with a slash (/), it is treated as a filename. In the above rule, TCP wrappers looks up the file sshd.deny for all SSH connections.


This will allow SSH connections from only the machine with IP address and block all other connection attemps. You can use the options allow or deny to allow or restrict access on a per client basis in either of the files.

in.telnetd : : deny
in.telnetd : : allow

Warning: While restricting system shell access by IP address be very careful not to loose access to the system by locking the administrative user out!

For more information: https://debian-administration.org/article/87/Keeping_SSH_access_secure

8. Check listening network ports

Check listening ports and uninstall or disable all unessential or insecure protocols and deamons.

netstat -tulpn

9. Install Fail2ban

Fail2ban is a means of dealing with unwanted system access attempts over any protocol against a Linux host. It uses rule sets to automate variable length IP banning sources of configurable activity patterns such as SPAM, (D)DOS or brute force attacks.

“Fail2Ban is an intrusion prevention software framework that protects computer servers from brute-force attacks. Written in the Python programming language, it is able to run on POSIX systems that have an interface to a packet-control system or firewall installed locally, for example, iptables or TCP Wrapper.” – Wikipedia

For more information: https://www.digitalocean.com/community/tutorials/how-to-protect-ssh-with-fail2ban-on-ubuntu-14-04

10. Improve the robustness of TCP/IP

Add the following to harden your networking configuration…


… such as

sudo vim /etc/sysctl.d/10-network-security.conf
Ignore ICMP broadcast requests
net.ipv4.icmp_echo_ignore_broadcasts = 1

# Disable source packet routing
net.ipv4.conf.all.accept_source_route = 0
net.ipv6.conf.all.accept_source_route = 0 
net.ipv4.conf.default.accept_source_route = 0
net.ipv6.conf.default.accept_source_route = 0

# Ignore send redirects
net.ipv4.conf.all.send_redirects = 0
net.ipv4.conf.default.send_redirects = 0

# Block SYN attacks
net.ipv4.tcp_max_syn_backlog = 2048
net.ipv4.tcp_synack_retries = 2
net.ipv4.tcp_syn_retries = 5

# Log Martians
net.ipv4.conf.all.log_martians = 1
net.ipv4.icmp_ignore_bogus_error_responses = 1

# Ignore ICMP redirects
net.ipv4.conf.all.accept_redirects = 0
net.ipv6.conf.all.accept_redirects = 0
net.ipv4.conf.default.accept_redirects = 0 
net.ipv6.conf.default.accept_redirects = 0

# Ignore Directed pings
net.ipv4.icmp_echo_ignore_all = 1

And load the new rules as follows.

service procps start

For more information: https://blog.mattbrock.co.uk/hardening-the-security-on-ubuntu-server-14-04/

11. If you are serving web traffic install mod-security

Web application firewalls can be helpful in warning of and fending off a range of attack vectors including SQL injection, (D)DOS, cross-site scripting (XSS) and many others.

“ModSecurity is an open source, cross-platform web application firewall (WAF) module. Known as the “Swiss Army Knife” of WAFs, it enables web application defenders to gain visibility into HTTP(S) traffic and provides a power rules language and API to implement advanced protections.”

For more information: https://modsecurity.org/

12. Install a firewall such as IPtables

IPtables is a highlight configurable and very powerful Linux forewall which has a great deal to offer in terms of bolstering hosts based security.

iptables is a user-space application program that allows a system administrator to configure the tables provided by the Linux kernel firewall (implemented as different Netfilter modules) and the chains and rules it stores.” – Wikipedia.

For more information: https://help.ubuntu.com/community/IptablesHowTo

13. Keep all packages up to date at all times and install security updates as soon as possible

 sudo apt-get update        # Fetches the list of available updates
 sudo apt-get upgrade       # Strictly upgrades the current packages
 sudo apt-get dist-upgrade  # Installs updates (new ones)

14. Install multifactor authentication for shell access

Nowadays it’s possible to use multi-factor authentication for shell access thanks to Google Authenticator.

For more information: https://www.digitalocean.com/community/tutorials/how-to-set-up-multi-factor-authentication-for-ssh-on-ubuntu-14-04

15. Add a second level of authentication behind every web based login page

Stolen passwords are a common problem whether as a result of a vulnerable web application, an SQL injection, a compromised end user computer or something else altogether adding a second layer of protection using .htaccess authentication with credentials stored on the filesystem not in a database is great added security.

For more information: http://stackoverflow.com/questions/6441578/how-secure-is-htaccess-password-protection

Amazon Web Services, Azure Infrastructure, Azure Platform, Cloud Infrastructure
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Join the conversation! 1 Comment

  1. Instead of managing the server’s firewall yourself, you could use a service like HeatShield (https://heatshield.io/docs/fail2ban-alternative) as a fail2ban alternative. With HeatShield, you’ll have the increased security of automated brute force protection and a complete firewall on each of your servers that can all be managed from a central location. You also don’t have to worry about remembering a lot of fail2ban commands and risk locking yourself out of your server.


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