Securing Linux: few tips for good configuration of SSHD

Most people install sshd daemon using command apt-get install open-sshd, and then forgets about making it more secure. In this article I will point out few sshd options which you should have in your sshd config when going to production.

SSHD config options


Meanig of the property

Protocol 2

Use only protocol version 2 (more secure)

PermitRootLogin no PermitRootLogin without-password

Ban root login or allow to login as root only using ssh-keys

PermitEmptyPasswords no

Disable User logins with Null passwords

Port 6667 and ListenAddress

Changing sshd port (on which daemon listens for connections) and limit network interfaces binding

KeyRegenerationInterval 1h

Generate a new key after some fixed time This option defines how long the server waits before automatically regenerating its key. This is a security measure to prevent decrypting captured sessions.

StrictModes yes

Check user permissions before login (files/directories)


Limit maximum concurrent connections to sshd (in case you are DDOSED)

Compression yes you can specify compression level Compressionlevel 8 (1 in being the fastest and 9 being the slowest but most compressed)

If you have slower connection - try to use compression

KeepAlive yes

Check if connection to user is still alive This will tell the session to make sure your connection stays connected and to also listen for outages when your network go down, it will automatically kill your session for you.

UseDNS no

Disable reverse DNS loockups

MaxAuthTries 3

Maximum Authentication Tries

AllowUsers sinx or AllowGroups group_name

Allow access to sshd only to specified users or groups

DenyUsers johny or DenyGroups group_name

Deny access to sshd for users or groups

Subsystem sftp internal-sftp
Match Group users
ChrootDirectory /home
AllowTCPForwarding no
X11Forwarding no
ForceCommand internal-sftp

Lock SFTP connections in users directory (version 4.8+) Change settings dynamically (for example different settings for different client IP or different user)

This would chroot all members of the users group to the /home directory and start sftp-server. Here is detailed information about creating chrooted sshd.

Match address,3ffe:ffff::/32,!10.*
PasswordAuthentication yes

ConnectTimeout 30

Connect timeout - if you have slow internet connection

ServerAliveInterval 30

ServerAliveInterval - if you have slow internet connection

UsePrivilegeSeparation yes

Privilage separation Specifies whether sshd separates privileges by creating an unprivileged child process to prevent privilege escalation by containing any corruption within the unprivileged processes.

HostbasedAuthentication no and IgnoreRhosts yes

Disable host based authentication

PermitEmptyPasswords no

Disable empty passwords

PrintLastLog yes

Print informations about user last login

PrintMotd yes

Print MOTD for user

If you want to test config before restarting SSH invoke: sshd -t.

Here is more detailed info about securing ssh Top 20 OpenSSH Server Best Security Practices.

If you are really paranoid you can use one-time-passwords using OTPW.

Manage hosts.{allow,deny} files (TCP wrappers)

  • /etc/hosts.allow - white list, trusted computers

  • /etc/hosts.deny - black list, list of blocked computers

Syntax of hosts.{allow,deny} files


Disable connection permission after N failed logins

This can be done usign few methods:

  • sshguard software

  • DenyHosts checks /var/log/auth.log file every 30s and gets client IP address of every of failed login attempt suspicious IP addresses are written to /etc/hosts.deny.

    Check out config variables:

    • DENY_THRESHOLD_INVALID (invalid login),

    • DENY_THRESHOLD_VALID (invalid password),

    • PURGE_DENY (delete IPs of attackers older than some time).

    Think about SYNC_* to keep list of attackers up-to-date, list of 50 most active IP of failed logins will be send to the cloud. If you want to clear IP list run sudo denyhosts --purge.

  • fail2ban - uses iptables to block some hosts exactly like sshguard. It can secure SSH, FTP, IMAP/POP3/SMTP servers. It is not as advanced like denyhosts. There is also a bug: when in log file will be „messages repeated x times”, fail2ban will count only first occurrence. Options to check: bantime (how long ban will be active).

  • ipt_recent - iptables module, which counts number of connections from every ip.

    Removing hosts from ipt_recent is fairly simple

    • echo clear > proc/net/ipt_recent/DEFAULT - for clear all IPs or

    • `` echo «-» > proc/net/ipt_recent/DEFAULT`` - PAM module: pam\ - not recommended ; buggy

For more information about log analysis check out this site.


There are plenty of interesting options in sshd daemon, many of them are described in Linux Journal: Use ssh_config To Simplify Your Life article or on article in this site.

One of nice option is to alias servers, change default login when writing ssh host.

It can be done changing ~/.ssh/config file (remember about permissions chmod 600 ~/.ssh/config).

Now, you can write desired settings to this file

Host dev-server
  User backup
  #  IdentityFile ~/.ssh/backup_dsa

And later write only ssh dev-server and you are connected as user backup!.

Comparing local and remote files

ssh user@host "cat /tmp/remotefile" | diff - /tmp/localfile
diff <(ssh user@host cat remote-filename) local-filename

Outputting your microphone to a remote computer’s speaker

dd if=/dev/dsp | ssh -c arcfour -C username@host dd of=/dev/dsp

Securely transfer a directory with tar/ssh (without scp)!

This is very simillar to using NetCat [PL] but with encryption over the wire.

ssh user@host "tar cvzf - /path" | tar xvzf - /path

Send local file to remote system without scp

cat tempfile |ssh user@host 'sh -c "cat - >>~/tempfile"'
ssh user@host 'cat - > file' < file

How to store your password in memory for some time

It is bad to have your passphrase-protected key permanently stored in ssh-agent, because anyone with access to your machine can use the key without the pass phrase.

A better solution is to use ssh-agent with the -t option to establish a lifetime (after which you will need to re-enter the passphrase).

Typical setup is to keep ssh-agent running with a 2-hour lifespan, and connect to that automatically when user is logged in.

Basically lines below should prevent re-entering passphrase more often than every two hours.

Generate key

ssh-keygen -t dsa -f ~/.ssh/id_dsa -C ""
cat ~/.ssh/ | ssh you@other-host 'cat - >> ~/.ssh/authorized_keys'

Set-up ssh agent

echo "source ~/.ssh-agent" >> ~/.bash_profile
. ~/.bash_profile # reload bash profile

Connect to server

ssh-agent -t 7200 > ~/.ssh-agent # run this only once after login
source ~/.ssh-agent
[... log in ...]
[.. disconnect ..]

If you are interested in secure connection to remote server throught ssh without password you should read: OpenSSH key management.

Connect to computer behind firewall

When having computer behind a firewall whose configuration you don’t have access to? It’s pretty easy to connect to it.

Remember to have option GatewayPorts yes in your /etc/ssh/sshd_config.

Here you can find more info about ssh tunnels.

  1. from the computer you wish to access:

ssh -R 2002:localhost:22
  1. from any computer than can access

ssh -p 2002
  1. you may want to consider „autossh” (restarts ssh connections if they ever exit/disconnect)

Additional resources [en]

Additional resources [pl]


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