How to Install and Configure Fail2ban on Ubuntu Server 16.04

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Have you ever logged into your server and seen a message such as this?

Last failed login: Fri Dec 28 11:37:02 MST 2018 from 192.168.0.102 on ssh:notty
There were 942 failed login attempts since the last successful login.
Last login: Mon Dec 24 13:35:57 2018 from 192.168.0.101

What happened here? This message is informing me that while I was logged out, there were 942 failed attempts to access my server via SSH! This type of message is a strong indicator that my server was probably under a “brute force” attack. In this type of scenario, an attacker will attempt to randomly guess passwords repeatedly until they get lucky with the correct password. This is one reason why using a secure password is so important! Fear not, Fail2ban can be a fantastic tool for dynamically thwarting these types of brute force attacks. This tutorial will walk you through installing and configuring Fail2ban to help protect sshd from brute force attacks. Let’s dig in!

Note:
The remainder of this tutorial requires you to have root privileges. Start by either logging in as root or prefix these commands with sudo.

 

Installing Fail2ban on Ubuntu Server 16.04 is simple. Run the following two commands to install the program:

apt-get update

apt-get install fail2ban -y

We will start the service, so it is running.

service fail2ban restart

Finally, we check to make sure Fail2ban is running after the restart:

service fail2ban status

The output should display active (running) which indicates the service is up and we’re ready to proceed to configuration.

 

Now that Fail2ban is installed and running, we can define custom rules for what services it protects, and how to handle violations.

First, create a configuration file for Fail2ban. This file doesn’t exist by default, but Fail2ban will look for this file and read the contents if it exists:

touch /etc/fail2ban/jail.local

Now we’ll open the configuration file for editing. We’re using vi as our text editor in this example, but feel free to use nano or whatever text editor you are most comfortable with. (Related: check out our helpful tutorial if you need to brush up on how to use vi.) Run the following command to open the file for editing:

vi /etc/fail2ban/jail.local

Paste in the following contents, and save the file:

[DEFAULT] ignoreip = 127.0.0.1/8 ::1
bantime = 3600
findtime = 600
maxretry = 5
[sshd] enabled = true

Let’s review the options we just set. First, we are telling Fail2ban to ignore IP addresses 127.0.0.1 and ::1. These are the IPv4 and IPv6 addresses for localhost, respectively. For the remaining lines, it is important to understand Fail2ban reads time as seconds in the configuration file. These rules will ban IP addresses for one hour {bantime = 3600}, if they make 5 mistakes {maxretry = 5}, within 10 minutes {findtime = 600}. Finally, we enabled the jail for sshd. Feel free to adjust these numbers to your liking, but please consider the following:

Note:
Setting a ban time of -1 will result in a permanent ban on that IP address. You may need to contact Liquid Web support if you accidentally block yourself from your own server. Consider these options carefully!

Now that we have created a configuration to use, restart Fail2ban so that our new rules are read and utilized:

service fail2ban restart

We will also double check to make sure Fail2ban is running after the restart:

service fail2ban status

Note:
If Fail2ban does not start successfully after creating your configuration file, it is possible you have a typo in the configuration file /etc/fail2ban/jail.local. Check the file contents and try again!

 

At this point, you have successfully installed and configured Fail2ban, congratulations! For the remainder of this tutorial, we will show you how to use to use the program and how to manage IP blocks.

Run the following command to check the status of Fail2ban:

fail2ban-client status

Example output shows you the number of currently configured jails. Right now we have only created a jail for sshd:

Status
|- Number of jail:    1
`- Jail list:    sshd

You can also poll the detailed status of individual jails. This command will check the status of the sshd jail we just configured:

fail2ban-client status sshd

Example output shows no IPs blocked, looks good!

Status for the jail: sshd
|- Filter
|  |- Currently failed:    0
|  |- Total failed:    0
|  `- File list:                 /var/log/auth.log
`- Actions
|- Currently banned:    0
|- Total banned:    0
`- Banned IP list:

Now, for example, I’m going to fail five attempts to SSH to my server. After the fifth failed attempt, my IP should be automatically blocked! The following shows the output from my workstation when I try to SSH to the server after the fifth failed attempt:

ssh root@192.168.0.101
ssh: connect to host 192.168.0.101 port 22: Connection refused

The “connection refused” message indicates that the server’s firewall is now blocking us.

Back on the server, let’s again check the status of the SSH jail by running:

fail2ban-client status sshd

The output shows that my IP has indeed been blocked! Looking at the status, we can see my workstation’s IP address has been added to the “Banned IP list”.

Status for the jail: sshd
|- Filter
|  |- Currently failed:    1
|  |- Total failed:    1
|  `- File list:                 /var/log/auth.log
`- Actions
|- Currently banned:    1
|- Total banned:    1
`- Banned IP list:    192.168.0.102

Finally, we will demonstrate how to remove a banned IP. This is helpful if you have clients that accidentally block themselves from incorrect password attempts. The syntax for this command is as follows:

fail2ban-client set <JAIL NAME> unbanip <IP ADDRESS>

For example, this command will delist 192.168.0.102 from the sshd jail.

fail2ban-client  set sshd unbanip 192.168.0.102

Let’s double check our work and make sure my IP address has been successfully unblocked:

fail2ban-client status sshd

Status for the jail: sshd
|- Filter
|  |- Currently failed:    1
|  |- Total failed:    6
|  `- File list:                 /var/log/auth.log
`- Actions
|- Currently banned:    0
|- Total banned:    1
`- Banned IP list:

That wraps it up for this tutorial! We only discussed protecting sshd in this tutorial, but Fail2ban can be used to help protect all kinds of other services such as httpd. We encourage you to do some further reading and see what it is capable of! Just remember that while Fail2ban is awesome, it is not a replacement for a strong set of firewall rules. When properly configured, however, Fail2ban is a great tool to help further harden your server’s security. Have fun and happy IP blocking!

 

Malicious Activity Detector (MAD) for Windows

Reading Time: 3 minutes

One of the simplest goals of server security is keeping administrator credentials private. There is no better way to achieve this than through strict firewall rules that only allows specific IPs to authenticate. However, there are some situations where it is necessary to open a login prompt to the broader Internet. In this case, the only thing barring anonymous internet users from unauthorized access is your password. The stronger your password, the better off you are, but even the most cryptic passwords can be guessed given enough tries.

Malicious Activity Detector (MAD) helps protect you in these instances. It functions by monitoring login attempts to several services, and if it detects malicious activity, it applies a temporary block on that IP. If more attempts come in, the block continues to last longer. This method is exceptionally effective in preventing a successful brute-force attack while limiting the number of system resources expended.

 

Installation of MAD

Depending on the configuration and age of your server, you may already have it installed. Check the installation status by looking for an item in your Start Menu shown below.

Installing Liquid Web's Malicious Activity Detector for Windows tightens security for you server.

The program path is C:\Program Files (x86)\Liquid Web\MAD\MADGUI.exe

You may also check if “MAD.exe” is running from your Task Manager. If you don’t see it there, please Contact Support so that we may get it up and running for you. Once running,  we can move on to the configuration.

 

Note:
MAD will be installed on all Windows servers by default in the future.

 

Configuring MAD

MAD’s default settings offer protection for the most vulnerable services, and extra configuration is not required. That said, you may find yourself wanting to change its behavior, and we’re happy to give you the tools you need.

Let’s start with the most common change you may want to make: whitelisting and blacklisting. Opening the MAD Configure utility will get you on the right page. From here, you only need to choose the radio button for the list you want to modify, enter the IP, and click the button. You can remove entries in either list by right-clicking. This page also allows you to start or restart the service, but you shouldn’t need to use those functions.

The List tab easily let's you add in blacklisted or whitelisted IPs.

The next page is where most options are located. All of the service scanners list three choices for each: Enabled/Disabled, BlockThreshold, and Retention.

Our Malicious Activity Detector allows you to adjust settings for maximum security.

Enabled/Disabled -You may want to disable scanners for services that you do not have installed, but it is generally recommended to leave all options enabled due to minimal performance cost.

BlockThreshold – This setting controls how many ‘strikes’ it takes to be blocked. These are set fairly high by default to avoid affecting legitimate users, but you may want to lower the threshold to increase MAD’s sensitivity.

Retention -This refers to the size of the window that MAD looks at to determine if a user has met the BlockThreshold in seconds. By default, this is set to 300 (five minutes).

Example:
Set your BlockThreshold to 10 and your Retention to 300. If 9 failed attempts occurred at 12:00 and a failed attempt occurs before 12:05 it will be blocked. By 12:06 you will be in a new period and will be able to attempt 9 more times before being blocked.

PermaBlock – Sometimes robots can’t take the hint after being temporarily blocked several times in a row. The PermaBlock list remedies this situation. By default the retention period is 2 hours, this scanner checks for IPs that have been temp blocked five times (or your custom BlockThreshold). If it gets a hit, it does as the name implies and adds it to your blacklist, where it is managed much like manual entries.

AuditPolicy – This setting determines if MAD is allowed to edit your login event auditing policy. Disabling AuditPolicy is not recommended and may prevent MAD from working as intended.

TempBlockTimeout -When a block is triggered on one of the scanners the offending IP address will be blocked for this amount of time. Measured in seconds with a default setting of 900 (15 minutes).

 

Reviewing MAD Logs

MAD creates logs of all of the actions that it takes. It is good practice to review them regularly to see what has been going on. For example, if a certain service seems to be getting attacked more often than others you may want to consider hardening your firewall rules or MAD’s configuration itself.

Our Malicious Activity Detector keeps logs of anyone attempting to connect to your Windows server.

MAD also creates events in Windows Event Viewer under the ‘Applications and Services Logs’ folder. These events are most helpful for long-term investigation, as the folder will hold historical data for quite some time.

MAD also creates Events for long-term investigation, as the folder will hold historical data.

MAD for Windows is an excellent tool in your security arsenal, but a proactive plan is always better than a reactive one. We recommend utilizing Windows Firewall to ensure that only things that must be publicly accessible are. For further reading on security visit some of our other articles:

Security for Remote Desktop
Best Practices for Your Firewall