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"Inveniam viam aut faciam" : I will either find a way, or I shall make one


OpenSSH is every system administrators friend. It helps us to do so much, that we sometimes forget that it also needs to be configured securely. Assuming otherwise can lead to problems as people try to use it to gain access to your machine. Just because it is useful does not mean you can be lazy when you setup your SSH server. To help with that here are some guidelines for making it a bit more secure.

Where to Start?
As always, we start with the configuration file for the sshd process, it is called sshd_config and is generally found in /etc/ssh;

Setting Set To Reason
Port 22 This is the port that the sshd server will listen on for connections
Protocol 2 This specifies that the server will only "talk" using ssh protocol 2
PermitRootLogin no Disallows root logins over ssh
IgnoreRhosts yes Disallows use of .rhosts or .shosts files
StrictModes yes This checks file modes and ownership of the user's files and home directory before accepting login
X11Forwarding no Disallows X11 forwarding
RhostsRSAAuthentication no Disallows use of .rhosts or /etc/hosts.equiv
HostbasedAuthentication no Disallows use of .rhosts or /etc/hosts.equiv
PermitEmptyPasswords no Does not allow users who have empty passwords to login
Ciphers blowfish-cbc,aes256-cbc,aes256-ctr Only use the strong encryption schemes
AllowUsers bob jane andrew You can use this option to explicitly specify which users can actually use the sshd server
DenyUsers daemon bin sync adm lp shutdown halt mail news uucp nobody operator squid postgres gopher postfix xfs Deny all system accounts and any other users who you may not want to have access
PasswordAuthentication yes/no If you set this option to "no" then the only way a user will be able to login will be via x509 certificates
Compression yes/no This might give a performance boost. Test and see.

What about Key Usage?
SSH has two options when you create a key - RSA and DSA. I personally prefer the RSA option as I believe it adds a bit more security then the DSA key. So when I create a key for my usage, I generally use the following command for a 2048 bit RSA key;
ssh-keygen -t rsa -b 2048

Also remember that if you use these keys for logging on to a server, then they need to be stored in the authorized_keys2 file in the .ssh directory. Try to always use SSH protocol 2 when connecting to a server, if the server offers protocol 1 and 2 you can force the use of protocol 2 by using the -2 switch with your ssh command. For example;
ssh -2

Final Words
Make sure SSH is properly configured and you will have no reason to regret using it. Remember that no matter how many features a piece of software has -even if they are security enhancing features-, all software needs to be securely setup. As always, have fun and learn.