Server Quality of Life

  1. Initial Server Setup
    1. Security Groups
    2. Basic Hardening and Server Utility Scripts
      1. Enabling Automatic Updates
      2. Create New User with Root Privileges
      3. Configure SSH Daemon
      4. Change the Message of the Day

Similar to the Workspace Quality of Life document that I created, I decided to write a similar document for manual configurations of new linux servers.
The following contains some utility scripts and hardening practices.

Although multiple tools exist for programmatic provisioning of virtual machines and infrastructure, this document will rely primarily on manual configuration using ssh.

Initial Server Setup

For servers, I typically use a combination of Ubuntu and Debian, opting to use the stable or long term support variants.
The following setup instructions are intended for Rapid Access Cloud (RAC) but can be tooled for other cloud virtual machine providers with minimal changes.
These following instructions should be applicable to both operating systems, but assume Ubuntu, as the Debian image is not provided by default through RAC.
The documentation from Cybera is excellent and serves as a useful starting point for working with these virtual machines.

Security Groups

The quickstart default security group settings are modified slightly to lockdown inbound SSH to trusted IP addresses only.

Direction Ether Type IP Protocol Port Range Remote IP Prefix Remote Security Group Notes
Egress IPv6 Any Any ::/0 - No restrictions on outbound traffic.
Egress IPv4 Any Any -
Ingress IPv4 ICMP Any - Allow all incoming Internet Control Message Protocol traffic (ex: ping)
Ingress IPv6 ICMP Any ::/0 -
Ingress IPv4 TCP 22 (SSH) home_residential_ip/0 -
Ingress IPv4 TCP 22 (SSH) rac_instance_private_ipv4/0 -
Ingress IPv6 TCP 22 (SSH) rac_instance_private_ipv6/0

Basic Hardening and Server Utility Scripts

Hardening is a practice of security to reduce the vulnerability of a system.
Various approaches for hardening exist and may depend on the tasks that the server will be used to perform.
Here are some of the common minimal steps that are done on my servers.

I use the default Cybera cloud image helper scripts that are provided in each new Ubuntu 18.04 instance.
These scripts can be ported to other cloud providers and on-site Linux systems.

Enabling Automatic Updates

cat /usr/local/bin/enableAutoUpdate
#! /bin/bash

if [ -f /etc/debian_version ]; then

# Enable Automatic Security Updates
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install -y unattended-upgrades

echo """
APT::Periodic::Update-Package-Lists "1";
APT::Periodic::Unattended-Upgrade "1";
""" | sudo tee /etc/apt/apt.conf.d/20auto-upgrades

echo "To disable Auto Security Updates - delete /etc/apt/apt.conf.d/20auto-upgrades"

elif [ -f /etc/redhat-release ]; then
# Enable Auto Updates
sudo yum updateinfo
# Work around CentOS package bug
sudo yum update -y yum
sudo yum -y install yum-cron

echo """
update_cmd = security
apply_updates = yes
random_sleep = 360
system_name = None
debuglevel = -2
mdpolicy = group:main
""" | sudo tee /etc/yum/yum-cron.conf

sudo service yum-cron start

echo "Automatic Security Updates Have Been Enabled."

Create New User with Root Privileges

A new user account should be created and used instead of the default root or ubuntu VM user. The following will use my first name as the new user.
Follow the prompts to create the UNIX password and optionally enter user information like.

# requires root
adduser alexander
Adding user `alexander' ...
Adding new group `alexander' (1001) ...
Adding new user `alexander' (1001) with group `alexander' ...
Creating home directory `/home/alexander' ...
Copying files from `/etc/skel' ...
Enter new UNIX password:
Retype new UNIX password:
passwd: password updated successfully
Changing the user information for alexander
Enter the new value, or press ENTER for the default
Full Name []: Alexander Wong
Room Number []:
Work Phone []:
Home Phone []:
Other []:
Is the information correct? [Y/n]
# add this new user to the `sudo` group
# requires root
gpasswd -a alexander sudo

We want to use this user for secure shell and linux server maitainance operations with the server. Generate a local SSH key and add install it in the /home/alexander/.ssh/authorized_keys file.
Refer to the Useful SSH section for further instructions.

Configure SSH Daemon

Backup the SSH daemon configuration file located at /etc/ssh/sshd_config before making any changes.
Calling the SSH daemon with the extended test mode flag -T will show the configuration details.

# show the current SSH daemon settings
sshd -T
ignorerhosts yes
x11forwarding no
usedns yes
permitemptypasswords no
maxauthtries 3
pubkeyauthentication yes
passwordauthentication no
permitrootlogin no

The following baseline settings are applied to my /etc/ssh/sshd_config file.

X11Forwarding no
IgnoreRhosts yes
UseDNS yes
PermitEmptyPasswords no
MaxAuthTries 3
PubkeyAuthentication yes
PasswordAuthentication no
PermitRootLogin no

Reload the SSH daemon and run the test mode flag -t to ensure that no errors exist. Perform a sanity check by sshing into the server with the new settings.

# requires root
systemctl reload ssh.service
sshd -t # no output should appear

Change the Message of the Day

I like to use my logo as motd.
Contents of this file are shown to all users prior to executing the login shell.

cat /etc/motd
,▄██▀┘ ╙▀██▄ç
,▄██▀▀ ╙▀██▄,
▄▄█▀▀` ▀▀██▄
██▀└ ▀██
██ ║█ ║█
██ ;▄██ █▌ ██▄ç ║█
██ ;▄████▀╙ ▐█⌐ ╙▀▀███▄µ ║█
██ ███▄ ██ ▄███⌐ ║█
██ ▀▀███▄▄ █▌ ▄▄███▀▀¬ ║█
██ ▀▀█ ██ █▀▀¬ ║█
██ █▌ ║█
▀█▄▄ ▄▄██
└▀██▄▄ ╓▄██▀┘
╙▀██▄ç ;▄██▀└