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This Ansible role was mainly created for my blog series Kubernetes the not so hard way with Ansible - Harden the instances. But it can be used also standalone of course to harden Linux. It has the following features:

  • Change root password
  • Add a regular/deploy user used for administration (e.g. for Ansible or login via SSH)
  • Adjust APT update intervals
  • Setup UFW firewall and allow only SSH access by default (add more rules/allowed networks if you like)
  • Adjust security related sysctl settings (/proc filesystem)
  • Change sshd default port (if requested)
  • Disable sshd password authentication
  • Disable sshd root login
  • Disable sshd PermitTunnel
  • Install Sshguard and adjust whitelist
  • Optional: Install/configure Network Time Synchronization (NTP) e.g. openntpd/ntp/systemd-timesyncd


I tag every release and try to stay with semantic versioning. If you want to use the role I recommend to checkout the latest tag. The master branch is basically development while the tags mark stable releases. But in general I try to keep master in good shape too.



Role Variables

The following variables don't have defaults. You need to specify them either in a file in group_vars or host_vars directory. E.g. if this settings should be used only for one specific host create a file for that host called like the FQDN of that host (e.g host_vars/your-server.example.tld) and put the variables with the correct values there. If you want to apply this variables to a host group create a file group_vars/your-group.yml e.g. Replace your-group with the host group name which you created in the Ansible hosts file (do not confuse with /etc/hosts...). harden_linux_deploy_user_public_keys loads all the public SSH key files specified in the list from your local hard disk. So at least you need to specify:

harden_linux_root_password: your_encrypted_password_here

harden_linux_deploy_user: deploy
harden_linux_deploy_user_password: your_encrypted_password_here
harden_linux_deploy_user_home: /home/deploy
  - /home/your_user/.ssh/

With harden_linux_root_password and harden_linux_deploy_user_password we specify the password for the root user and the deploy user. Ansible won't encrypt the password for you. How to create an encrypted password is described in the Ansible FAQs. But as Ansible is installed anyways the most easiest way is probably the following command:

ansible localhost -m debug -a "msg={{ 'mypassword' | password_hash('sha512', 'mysecretsalt') }}"

harden_linux_deploy_user specifies the user we want to use to login at the remote host. As already mentioned the harden-linux role will disable root user login via SSH for a good reason. So we need a different user. This user will get "sudo" permission which we need for Ansible (and yourself of course) to do it's work.

harden_linux_deploy_user_public_keys specifies a list of public SSH key files you want to add to $HOME/.ssh/authorized_keys of the deploy user on the remote host. If you specify /home/deploy/.ssh/ e.g. as a value here the content of that local file will be added to $HOME/.ssh/authorized_keys of the deploy user on the remote host.

The following variables below have defaults. So you only need to change them if you need another value for the variable. harden_linux_required_packages specifies the packages this playbook requires to work. You can extend the list but don't remove the packages listed:

  - ufw
  - sshguard
  - unattended-upgrades
  - sudo

The role changes some sshd settings by default:

  "^PasswordAuthentication": "PasswordAuthentication no"  # Disable password authentication
  "^PermitRootLogin": "PermitRootLogin no"                # Disable SSH root login
  "^PermitTunnel": "PermitTunnel no"                      # Disable tun(4) device forwarding
  "^Port ": "Port 22"                                     # Set sshd port

Personally I always change the default SSH port as lot of brute force attacks taking place against this port. So if you want to change the port setting for example you can do so:

  "^Port ": "Port 22222"

(Please notice the whitespace after "Port"!). The playbook will combine harden_linux_sshd_settings and harden_linux_sshd_settings_user while the settings in harden_linux_sshd_settings_user have preference which means it will override the ^Port setting/key in harden_linux_sshd_settings. As you may have noticed all the key's in harden_linux_sshd_settings and harden_linux_sshd_settings_user begin with ^. That's because it is a regular expression (regex). One of playbook task's will search for a line in /etc/ssh/sshd_config e.g. ^Port (while the ^ means "a line starting with ...") and replaces the line (if found) with e.g Port 22222. This way makes the playbook very flexible for adjusting settings in sshd_config (you can basically replace every setting). You'll see this pattern for other tasks too so everything mentioned here holds true in such cases.

Next we have some defaults for our firewall/iptables:

  "^IPV6": 'IPV6=yes'
  "^IPT_SYSCTL": 'IPT_SYSCTL=/etc/ufw/sysctl.conf'
  "^IPT_MODULES": 'IPT_MODULES="nf_conntrack_ftp nf_nat_ftp nf_conntrack_netbios_ns"'

This settings are basically changing the values in /etc/defaults/ufw. To override one or more of the default settings you can so by specifying the same key (which is a regex) as above e.g. ^DEFAULT_FORWARD_POLICY and simply assign it the new value:


As already mentioned above this playbook will also combine harden_linux_ufw_defaults and harden_linux_ufw_defaults_user while the settings in harden_linux_ufw_defaults_user have preference.

Next we can specify some firewall rules with harden_linux_ufw_rules. This is the default:

  - rule: "allow"
    to_port: "22"
    protocol: "tcp"

You can add more settings for a rule like interface, from_ip, ... Please have a look at tasks/main.yml (search for "Apply firewall rules") for all possible settings.

You can also allow hosts to communicate on specific networks (without port restrictions) e.g.:

  - ""
  - ""

Next harden-linux role also changes some system variables (sysctl.conf / proc filesystem). This settings are recommendations from Google which they use for their Google Compute Cloud OS images (see Google Cloud - Requirements to build custom images and Configure your imported image for Compute Engine). These are the default settings (if you are happy with this settings you don't have to do anything but I recommend to verify if they work for your setup):

  "net.ipv4.tcp_syncookies": 1                    # Enable syn flood protection
  "net.ipv4.conf.all.accept_source_route": 0      # Ignore source-routed packets
  "net.ipv6.conf.all.accept_source_route": 0      # IPv6 - Ignore ICMP redirects
  "net.ipv4.conf.default.accept_source_route": 0  # Ignore source-routed packets
  "net.ipv6.conf.default.accept_source_route": 0  # IPv6 - Ignore source-routed packets
  "net.ipv4.conf.all.accept_redirects": 0         # Ignore ICMP redirects
  "net.ipv6.conf.all.accept_redirects": 0         # IPv6 - Ignore ICMP redirects
  "net.ipv4.conf.default.accept_redirects": 0     # Ignore ICMP redirects
  "net.ipv6.conf.default.accept_redirects": 0     # IPv6 - Ignore ICMP redirects
  "net.ipv4.conf.all.secure_redirects": 1         # Ignore ICMP redirects from non-GW hosts
  "net.ipv4.conf.default.secure_redirects": 1     # Ignore ICMP redirects from non-GW hosts
  "net.ipv4.ip_forward": 0                        # Do not allow traffic between networks or act as a router
  "net.ipv6.conf.all.forwarding": 0               # IPv6 - Do not allow traffic between networks or act as a router
  "net.ipv4.conf.all.send_redirects": 0           # Don't allow traffic between networks or act as a router
  "net.ipv4.conf.default.send_redirects": 0       # Don't allow traffic between networks or act as a router
  "net.ipv4.conf.all.rp_filter": 1                # Reverse path filtering - IP spoofing protection
  "net.ipv4.conf.default.rp_filter": 1            # Reverse path filtering - IP spoofing protection
  "net.ipv4.icmp_echo_ignore_broadcasts": 1       # Ignore ICMP broadcasts to avoid participating in Smurf attacks
  "net.ipv4.icmp_ignore_bogus_error_responses": 1 # Ignore bad ICMP errors
  "net.ipv4.icmp_echo_ignore_all": 0              # Ignore bad ICMP errors
  "net.ipv4.conf.all.log_martians": 1             # Log spoofed, source-routed, and redirect packets
  "net.ipv4.conf.default.log_martians": 1         # Log spoofed, source-routed, and redirect packets
  "net.ipv4.tcp_rfc1337": 1                       # Implement RFC 1337 fix
  "kernel.randomize_va_space": 2                  # Randomize addresses of mmap base, heap, stack and VDSO page
  "fs.protected_hardlinks": 1                     # Provide protection from ToCToU races
  "fs.protected_symlinks": 1                      # Provide protection from ToCToU races
  "kernel.kptr_restrict": 1                       # Make locating kernel addresses more difficult
  "kernel.perf_event_paranoid": 2                 # Set perf only available to root

You can override every single setting e.g. by creating a variable called harden_linux_sysctl_settings_user:

  "net.ipv4.ip_forward": 1
  "net.ipv6.conf.default.forwarding": 1
  "net.ipv6.conf.all.forwarding": 1

One of the playbook tasks will combine harden_linux_sysctl_settings and harden_linux_sysctl_settings_user while again harden_linux_sysctl_settings_user settings have preference. Have a look at defaults/main.yml file of the role for more information about the settings.

If you want UFW logging enabled set:

harden_linux_ufw_logging: 'on'

Possible values are on,off,low,medium,high and full.

Next we've the Sshguard settings. Sshguard protects from brute force attacks against SSH. To avoid locking out yourself for a while you can add IPs or IP ranges to a whitelist. By default it's basically only "localhost":

  - ""
  - "::1/128"

And finally a NTP package can be installed/configured. This is optional. By default openntpd is used. You can als use ntp package. But openntpd has the advantage that it doesn't listen on any ports by default. If you just want to keep the hosts clock in sync this is absolutely sufficient. Having the same time on all your hosts is critical for some services. E.g. for certificate validation, for etcd, databases, ... If you remove this variable no NTP package will be installed and you're on your own:

And finally a NTP package can be installed/configured. This is optional but having the same time on all your hosts is critical for some services. E.g. for certificate validation, for etcd, databases, cryptography, ... By default harden_linux_ntp variable is commented so no NTP service will be installed.

Valid options for harden_linux_ntp are:

  • openntpd
  • ntp
  • systemd-timesyncd

openntpd and systemd-timesyncd have the advantage that they don't listen on any ports by default. If you just want to keep the hosts clock in sync one of those two should do the job. systemd-timesyncd is already installed if a distribution uses systemd (which is basically true for most Linux OSes nowadays). So no additional packages are needed in this case. To enable openntpd set harden_linux_ntp accordingly e.g.:

harden_linux_ntp: "openntpd"

Settings for openntpd, ntpd or systemd-timesyncd (see next paragraph). For further options see man page: man 5 ntpd.conf for ntp and openntpd and man 5 timesyncd.conf for systemd-timesyncd.

The "key" here is a regular expression of a setting you want to replace and the value is the setting name + the setting value. E.g. we want to replace the line servers with servers The regex (the key) would be ^servers 0 which means:

"search for a line in the configuration file that begins with server 0 and replace the whole line with servers". This way every setting in the configuration file can be replaced by something else. Some examples:

  "^servers 0": "servers"
  "^servers 1": "servers"
  "^servers 2": "servers"
  "^servers 3": "servers"

Please note: systemd-timesyncd comes with reasonable compile time defaults. So there is normally no need to change the configuration (not even the NTP servers). So the following are just examples but you don't really need to specify harden_linux_ntp_settings for systemd-timesyncd.

For systemd-timesyncd the configuration file is a little bit different. In this case a systemd drop-in for /etc/systemd/timesyncd.conf will be created at /etc/systemd/timesyncd.conf.d/.

Example for Debian:

  "^#NTP=": ""

For Ubuntu:

  "^#NTP=": ""

For Archlinux:

  "^#NTP=": ""

Example Playbook

If you installed the role via ansible-galaxy install githubixx.harden-linux then include the role into your playbook like in this example:

- hosts: webservers
    - githubixx.harden-linux



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