Security Hardening Ubuntu 20.04

I mentioned already few times, and I will mention it again probably – CentOS is no more a viable option for anything that needs stability in my workflow, so I’m focusing on Debian-Ubuntu alternative. First thing you want to do to on every machine, especially if it is internet oriented is – security hardening. I will go here through some of my steps for Ubuntu.

This guide assumes you are doing this on a clean Ubuntu machine without any services or previous installations. It is mainly focused on SSH since it is service that is running whole time on your server. If you are installing any other services on your server, be sure to check security practice for those services as well.

Login to your server via SSH. I have some VPS machines for testing purposes, so I will use them for this. is your public IP (or private) IP address of the Ubuntu machine you wish to connect to.


Before you try any of this, if you are doing this on the server that already has data – make sure you backup it. In case you mess something up, you can always go back to previous state.

Patching software

Always my first step – bring your software installation up to date.

sudo apt update
sudo apt upgrade

Creating New User

Using root user (also is with Administrator) is not a bright idea, especially if you are exposing a machine to the internet. I’m going to create user named zeljko and use it for all my administrative needs. Later on we will disable root user.

adduser zeljko

We will also add user zeljko to sudo group.

usermod -aG sudo zeljko

and we will test to see if everything is ok.

First we will change from logged root to created account zeljko.

Instead username I entered my account name – zeljko

su - username

After you changed your user from root to zeljko, we will also check is zeljko now part of the sudo group by typing in

sudo whoami

Command returned root, so that means we have sudo privileges.



First to move back to root account ,and then to log-out of ssh session. We will log back in with created zeljko account and manage our machine further.

Also, that is an opportunity to see if everything is ok with our new user, before we move on with our settings.

Log back into ssh, this time with your created account. I will login with zeljko.


Locking root for ssh login

First step will be to remove root account from logging to ssh

sudo nano /etc/ssh/sshd_config

Find following line and change to no

PermitRootLogin no

Save changes and exit file.

Now, we will restart ssh server

sudo service ssh restart

I tried to connect to ssh with root user, but I got message “Permission denied”. That is good.

Changing SSH port and account lockout policy

While we are at SSH setup, we will also change default SSH port 22 to 222. This is optional, you may or may not choose to do this.

If you are going to change SSH port 22, you can select whichever port you like (as long as there is not other service running on it on your server), it does not have to be 222.

This is mainly done because this way you can reduce number of bot attacks that are scanning common ports.

Before we change SSH port, we are first going to check if the firewall is active. If firewall is active we need to pass port 222, if it is not, we will do it later after we configure firewall.

To check if firewall is enabled type in

sudo ufw status

My firewall is inactive, so I will configure it later. If your firewall is active, type following in:

This one is probably enabled if you are able to login to ssh

sudo ufw allow ssh

And this one is a new one we need so that we don’t lock out ourselves after changing ssh port

sudo ufw allow 222

Now, lets change the port.

sudo nano /etc/ssh/sshd_config

Now find following lines, uncomment them (remove #) and type in following

Port value will change port from 22 to 222 and MaxAuthTries will lock out IP address if it enters wrong password in more than 5 attempts (you can set this lower or higher).

Port 222
MaxAuthTries 5

Save and exit file.

Restart ssh service

sudo service ssh restart

I immediately logged out of my ssh session and tried to login again, but – connection is refused.

Command we need now to login back to ssh is

ssh -p 222

If you don’t want to use port 222 and you want to stick with default port 22, you can leave out -p 222 switch.

Ok, this part is done.

Other SSH settings

We will be going through few more settings in SSH config file, check them out and see what fits for your workflow.

So, we will be editing

sudo nano /etc/ssh/sshd_config

Protocol 2

First thing, we will enable Protocol 2. SSH by default works with Protocol 1. Protocol 2 is newer more secure and robust version introduced in 2006.

Protocol 2

Restart SSH

sudo systemctl restart sshd

To test setting, I disconnected from my SSH session and tested first with Protocol 1 by entering switch -1

ssh -1 -p 222

I got error “SSH protocol v.1 is no longer supported” – that is good, and means Protocol 1 no longer works on our machine.

If I try to login with -2 switch

ssh -2 -p 222

That worked, and I was able to login. You can leave out -2 switch from you ssh login command, it will work normally.

Timeout Idle Value

If you leave your PC unattended for some time with your SSH connections active, it can be an issue. To be honest, I don’t find this setting such a big deal, because one open SSH connection is least of my worries if someone gains physical access to my PC.

If you wish, you can uncomment and set following value (I set 180 seconds, which is 3 minutes)

ClientAliveInterval 180

Limit SSH access to some users

You can define user accounts that are enabled to connect to SSH. Every other user would be refused. I will allow access to two users, zeljko and informaticar.

Add following line to your sshd_config file

AllowUsers zeljko informaticar

You will need to restart ssh service after adding this

sudo systemctl restart sshd

Firewall setup

Ok, we went through it a bit when setting custom port for SSH.

You can check your firewall status by typing in

sudo ufw status

We already established that my firewall is not active.

First we will allow outgoing but block incoming connections.

sudo ufw default allow outgoing
sudo ufw default deny incoming

We need to let SSH pass through (in case you haven’t changed default port 22 to 222)

sudo ufw allow ssh

Since I changed default SSH port to 222, I will need to let in port 222 without default SSH rule above.

sudo ufw allow 222

We can now enable our firewall

sudo ufw enable

Now if we check our ufw status

sudo ufw status

After this I rebooted server, logged back into SSH without problem.

Disable root account completely on your system

Besides disabling root user to login via SSH, you can also disable root account completely on your system.

To disable root account type in following

sudo passwd -l root

If you need to re-enable your root user, you can do so by typing in following

sudo passwd root

You will have to type in new password for the user twice, and it would be enabled again.

Enable 2FA

You should make this a habit, it brings security of your internet exposed servers to whole new level.

We will install Google Authenticator

sudo apt install libpam-google-authenticator

We will need to modify /etc/pam.d/sshd file to allow Google Authenticator…

sudo nano /etc/pam.d/sshd

Add following line

auth required

I added line to the bottom of the file

Next file we will need to edit is

 sudo nano /etc/ssh/sshd_config

Change to yes following line

ChallengeResponseAuthentication yes

Now, we will configure Google Authenticator for user zeljko

Into terminal just type in


Time-based tokens – y

After entering y in the first question you will get your QR code and backup codes. Open Google Authenticator on your Android/iPhone and scan QR code. Also, write down verification and emergency codes.

update .google_authenticator file – y

I was always artistic soul.

Dissalow multiple uses – y

Permit shew of up to 4 minutes – n

Enable rate limiting – y

Now we will restart ssh service

sudo service ssh restart

I will also try to log out of my SSH session and hope for the best when I try to log back in.

Success, my verification code was accepted.

Passwordless authentication on SSH

You could also enable public key authentication instead of passwords, if you are often logging from the same machine to your servers. It is highly recommended and secure if used properly. If that is something you will use, you can check out my blog post covering that type of authentication.

Install Fail2Ban

Fail2Ban is IPS (Intrusion Prevention System) and it monitors logs and system and check fdor unusual behavior and login attempts. If it detects multiple failed login attempts it will blacklist IP address from which requests are coming.

To install Fail2Ban

sudo apt-get install fail2ban

Lets check fail2ban service status

sudo service fail2ban status

We will now create new jail.local file. /etc/fail2ban folder holds jail.conf file, we will not edit that file and we will not touch it. We will create jail.local file as follows

sudo nano /etc/fail2ban/jail.local

dd following to this file. If your ssh is located on port 22, then you need to specify it instead port 222. Also, instead of you can specify your IP address if you have fixed one.

 bantime = 8h
 ignoreip =
 ignoreself = true

 enabled = true
 port = 222
 filter = sshd
 logpath = /var/log/auth.log
 maxretry = 3

Save file and exit

Restart fail2ban

sudo systemctl restart fail2ban

To list banned offender type in

sudo iptables -L f2b-sshd --line-numbers

To remove ban, type in

sudo iptables -D fail2ban-ssh <Chain num>

Install AntiVirus

This is something that is highly debated in Linux community – should you, or should you not install antivirus on Linux?

It is all up to you, you need to assess your risks, types of workload you will be handling and in the end decide if you want AV on your Linux. There are not many good AV solutions for Linux I can recommend or know… Ubuntu official website mentions AVAST, NOD32, F-PROT, Panda, Sophos, Symantec… Some of them are supported only on some versions of linux.

ClamAV is a free antivirus, to install it, run following

apt-get install clamav clamav-daemon -y

To update it, we need to first stop the service

systemctl stop clamav-freshclam

Update database using following command


Start service once again by running

systemctl start clamav-freshclam
systemctl enable clamav-freshclam

For more details check the internet for more ClamAV details on scanning, maintaining…

Second one you should think about is rkhunter, which can do a quick scan for rootkits

apt-get install rkhunter

To scan your system run

rkhunter -C


These are most basic tips to get you started, for every service you enable on the server go through documentation and internet – find best practices and security tips and make sure you implement them. Do your research and make sure you have best measures implemented for your situation and your workloads. There is no absolute security in IT world, but you can minimize at least know risk.