There’s a war out there

Since I have set up my little Virtual Private server about two months ago, I keep reading and learning more about its administration. In particular I’m trying to make it more secure, since nobody likes data lost or their things used behind their back. I know that the Internet is a tough place. Most computer users are nicely isolated behind their routers and internal networks, nevertheless I had my freshly installed WinXP being infected in less then 5 minutes when connected to the Net. (Well, since then I don’t install anything Microsoft and first thing to take care is the security, so things are much better).

Thwarting brute force attacks

One of the first thing is securing the remote login access to the machine: disabling root login for SSH is always a good idea. But since I’m interested in cleverer methods, I wanted to do something more potent and general. Found this blog post about how to limit brute-force attack with iptables, so I set out to implement it. The basic idea is that if another computer is trying to connect too many times in short succession, then it is likely an attack. Use the firewall to see how many connections are made in a specific time interval to the sensitive ports and if a threshold is passed then ban that host from connecting for a while. I like it and had to implement it.

The information on the linked page is quite detailed and very useful. Just save the current iptables rules, edit them, and then restore.

# iptables-save > myrules
.... edit them rules ....
# iptables-restore < myrules

For remote servers one thing to be extra careful about is not to block the SSH connections completely: keep the current connection open, try to make a new connection and if you can log in, then things should be fine.

The only thing I have changed compare to the other site is the log level, so i can separate them better. In the following line there was originally --log-level 7 (debug) I’m using --log-level 4 (warning):
-A ATTACKED -m limit --limit 5/min -j LOG --log-prefix "IPTABLES (Rule ATTACKED): " --log-level 4

Then update the line in /etc/syslog.conf to:
kern.warning   /var/log/warnings

Of course this might vary somewhat from Linux distro to distro: the above is for my CentOS install with syslog,

From the logs

Well, not sure if my host was particularly busy or not – I assume it wasn’t since I don’t rank high in Google so fewer attackers would find my little “home”. Still, in the last month there’s a nice little collection of IP addresses which triggered that ATTACKED rule of the firewall.

Using Python I extracted the IP addresses from the logs, run them through GeoIP Python API to get their locations and fed that into the Google Maps Static API, to get this picture:

Location of hosts that triggered my ATTACKED iptables rules
Location of hosts that triggered my ATTACKED iptables rules. Red: once, blue: 2-9 times, yellow: 10+ times

Altogether in about 1 month, I logged 110 ATTACKED triggers from 47 different hosts. Most of them tries only once, there was one that did 48 times. According to GeoIP database, it is from Varna, Bulgaria. Well, if there is one good thing that came out of this, that Varna actually¬†looks quite good and I’d be interested to visit it. :) Talk about strange my reactions to things…

It seems Europe and China are up to no good. Not sure if American baddies are less or just targeting mostly Americans. Might investigate the regional differences some time later. Though this is just for curiosity and fun, if I was serious, then I could set up a proper honeypot.

Some technical notes on making this picture:

  • GeoIP Python API looks one of the worst documented codes I’ve ever seen. I found a tutorial that helped me to get the results I wanted: cities and locations, not just countries.
  • Static maps are quick, dirty and limited. Will try to figure out use the Google Map API for a proper zoomable, scrollable, annotated map. Could imagine making a heat-map of threats, or better colour-coding of the number of attempts from each IP/City.

Anyways, at least there’s no sign of unauthorized entry so far, since most of these attacks are not sophisticated at all. I wonder if I’d recognize if I ever was targeted by a sophisticated attack, but that’s not something to fret over. Just keep the automated backups going and it will be all fine. :D

Update:

The Python script I used to get that map can be found over here.

Published by Gergely Imreh

Physicist, hacker. Enjoys avant-guarde literature probably a bit too much. Open source advocate and contributor, both for software and hardware.

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