Configuring and securing sshd

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All following configuration takes place in /etc/ssh/sshd_config. Be sure to look for existing statements, since in most cases chances are that the configuration option already exists in your default sshd_config.


Disable Root Login

You might want to disable root login with:

PermitRootLogin no

But in some settings, you still need direct root login without sudo for some purpose (often for remote scripting). In these situation, permitting root login only for public key authentication might be a solution:

PermitRootLogin without-password

Disable X11Forwarding

If you do not want to use X11 forwarding, you should disable it altogether by setting

X11Forwarding No

While X11 is not a real danger for your server, it may cause users to unwillingly reveal private data because a remote client can spoof on the local X server, e.g. capturing passwords as they are typed.

Restrict the set of allowed users

The AllowUsers directory is very useful in limiting SSH access to some of your users. For example, you might have some users, which should be allowed to login on a physical terminal (so they cannot be assigned /bin/false or nologin as a shell), but should not be able to login via SSH.

If you got just one or two active users, use of this setting is also recommended, because one never knows what might create a new user that has a weak password (probably a bogus package's post-install script?).

AllowUsers user1 user2

AllowGroups / DenyUsers

AllowGroups and DenyUsers work just as AllowUsers.

Disable password authentification

If you know that all of your users will login via public key, you can disable password authentification altogether:

PasswordAuthentification no

Setting only this single setting will defy 99,9% of all brute force bots out there that are attacking your server constantly, but the downside is (of course) that you cannot login to your server from a machine that is not in ~/.ssh/authorized_keys.

Putting sshd on a non-standard port

This is security by obfuscation only and is of little value if someone uses port scanner to check, whether a ssh daemon is running on a non-standard port. Anyway, it can be useful if you need to access your server from somewhere, where TCP port 22 outgoing is blocked. Just extend your sshd_config:

Port port

Note: If you still want the default of 22, you must specify it explicitly now, since you have a differing port already configured.

Block hosts with /etc/hosts.deny

Hosts known to be malicious can be added to the /etc/hosts.deny file. You can also use a script like denyhosts that maintaines this file automatically based on sshd log file analysis.

Changing the MOTD (Message Of The Day)

To change the MOTD, edit /etc/motd and /etc/issue. In theory issue is printed before the login, while the MOTD is printed after a successful login, but this applies more or less loosely in most modern systems.

See also