Note: This page is quite old and is likely out of date. My opinions may have also changed dramatically since this was written. It is here as a reference until I get around to updating it.

PLEASE NOTE: This guide was developed for Red Had Based architectures, specifically CentOS 5, and Fedora 16+. A lot of the information here is generally solid principles but you may need to adapt it to your distribution.

Hardening of all my servers is the largest piece IMHO to the defence in depth. It brings to them each a strength to stand on their own. I want to be able to plug each and everyone on a raw internet connection and feel safe knowing that they won’t be compromised.

In the event that any section of my defence fails, I’ll know that the rest of my systems are strong enough to hopefully be protected from whatever the weak link was.

This section of my documentation provides a quick overview of procedures to harden a system to make sure I never miss a step.

This hardening guide started out as a summary and a few updates to the NSA RedHat 5 Operating System Security Guidelings. Since then it has grown to include a lot of services that were not mentioned anywhere in there, and a few best practices that I’ve developed myself over the years of managing Linux boxes.

I’ve started including information from National Vulnerability Database (NVD) National Checklist Program Repository hosted by NIST. They aggregate some useful information from a few sites including the Center for Internet Security (CIS) Security Benchmarks. One more site I’ve got some information from is the SANS Information Security Reading Room.

These have all been listed here to give them some credit towards the following security guidelines. If you doubt anything I’ve mentioned here I’d recommend you go look through these sites.

General Principles

  • Encrypt Transmitted Data Whenever Possible
  • Minimize Software to Minimize Vulnerability
  • Run Different Network Services on Separate Systems
  • Configure Security Tools to Improve System Robustness
  • Least Privilege

Review of the Security Notes

This section is mostly a TODO for myself. To keep this as up to date and relevant as possible I need to annually review the following information:

  • Any pre-bootloader changes include BIOS, EFI, RAID, etc.
  • OS install instructions
  • Applications to be installed, possibly sorted by machine function
  • Hardening guidelines starting with OS and including applications
  • Instructions for validating the configurables
  • Ensure exceptions are documented in the ticket for the device/machine
  • Regularly validate the configuration, this should be automated if possible


Hardware and BIOS’s change from machine to machine but there are some quick best practices that should be followed. The BIOS should be hardened and physical security should be assessed.

Installation Notes

  • Follow the Partitioning guidelines.
  • Ensure you set the date correctly so that the remote certificates can have their expiration properly checked
  • Set a sufficiently strong boot loader password
  • Set a sufficiently strong root password
  • Install the absolute minimum required packages (Service specific packages can be installed afterwards)
  • Include the updates repository, so there is never any initial out of date packages


A strong firewall does not just protect against incoming attacks but also prevents a machine from connecting to things it shouldn’t. In the event of a partially compromised system, an egress ruleset can help prevent an attacker from using the machine as a springboard to launch further attacks on the internal networks.

IPv4 and IPv6 traffic have separate firewalls. I have examples and a decent base config on the IPTables page.


Follow the Network guide to configure a static address and gateway.

Update /etc/resolv.conf to include the proper domain and nameserver. It will look something like this:


Verify hostname / domain in /etc/sysconfig/network. An example is given below:


Edit /etc/hosts. Remove all the IPv6 loopback entries with the exception of localhost6 and all of the IPv4 addresses with the exception of localhost. should also have entries for the FQDN of this server and just the hostname. Other extraneous entries should be removed unless absolutely necessary. testing localhost localhost4
::1    testing localhost localhost6


You’ll want to make sure you configure RSyslog, Logrotate, and Logwatch according to their appropriate guides. Logwatch is not installed in the minimum install and should be installed.

Configure Root’s Mail Recipient

Add the line to following line to /etc/aliases, replacing administrator@example.tld with an administrator’s email address. This is where logs will be emailed.

root:     administrator@example.tld

As root run the newaliases command which will update the binary database of mail recipients.


Review the list of services running on the machine with the following command:

systemctl --type=service

Pay special attention to any that is listed as “running”, these are the always on services that start up on boot. If it says “exited” it has started up on boot finished whatever part in the boot process it took care of and then properly exited. The latter need to be audited as well, if they’re not needed they should not be executing on boot.

Whenever you find a service that shouldn’t be started on boot run the following command replacing “rpcbind.service” with the service you would like to disable.

systemctl disable rpcbind.service
systemctl stop rpcbind.service

If it’s particularily pesky about not going away you may need to mask it. This will essentially create a symlink of the service to /dev/null, allowing it to attempt to execute without actually accomplishing anything.

systemctl mask rpcbind.service

To re-enable a service you’ll want to execute the following commands:

system enable rpcbind.service
system start rpcbind.service

If you masked the service you’ll need to unmask it before re-enabling it.

systemctl unmask rpcbind.service

You need to be aware that the mask / unmask command is a stronger version of “disable”, disable just prevents systemd from starting the service on boot. “mask” links the service file to /dev/null preventing manual activation as well as other services attempting to start it as requirements.

If you mask a critical service that the machine need to boot it will fail and you’ll need to fix this by hand in the debug shell.

All Server Services

On all of my servers I configure:

  • SSHd (If you follow this guide, you won’t be able to SSH into the box until users and groups have been configured)
  • NTPd or Chronyd (pick your preference)
  • RSyslog


Updates regardless of whether KSplice is being used should be done as soon as possible. For the most part there shouldn’t be any reason not to update automatically unless you are using untrusted repositories.

There is a daemon available yum-updatesd in the Fedora repositories which can be configured to notify administrators of new packages and optionally install them automatically.

Updating Manually

Updating the system manually can be performed using the following command:

yum update

Init Process

Ensure that root logins are only permitted on appropriate terminals in /etc/securetty. An example used by me is the following:


If I’m going to access the system of the serial console I’d want to add “console” to that as well.

The init process by default starts with that pretty plymouth graphical boot loader, to change it back to the default linux boot sequence that is actually verbose and useful you need to make a few changes to the /etc/sysconfig/init file. I use the following:


The changes actually made reduces the number of active TTYs to 3 from 6, requires a root login to get into single user mode, and disables the pretty color status display when in text mode during boot up.

The other change that needs to be made is in the default grub options in /etc/default/grub. Remove rhgb and quiet from the GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX variable. Strictly speaking you don’t need to remove quiet, however, it allows the kernel to print out it’s boot messages which can help debug some lower level issues and I generally find it useful. After making the change you’ll need to run grub2-mkconfig -o /boot/grub2/grub.cfg as root.

One thing that I have noticed is that as of grub2 if a boot password is defined you need to add --unrestricted to the menu entry if you want to boot the menu entry without a super user password. I’ve done this in /etc/grub.d/10_linux by adding --unrestricted to the CLASS environment variable around line 29 and rebuilding the grub config.


Sudo is one of those things that I need to go through and properly restrict. Since I’m usually the lone administrator or am very close with the few others on servers and I trust the people given sudo permissions with global root like permissions.

This definitely has larger security implications but here is how to configure that. This grants unlimited sudo privileges to any user in the sudoers group. They still need to authenticate however.

Edit /etc/sudoers adding the line:

%sudoers                ALL=(ALL)        ALL


Password Requirements

Update the minimum user password to 10 characters in /etc/login.defs


If local authentication is used, create any users that will need access to the system using the following command:

useradd <username>
passwd <username>

If the user isn’t available locally to enter their own password, a hash from another system can be extracted and dropped into place or alternatively a very strong temporary password can be set and provided to the user through secure means. You can then run the following command to force the user to change their password the next time they login:

chage -d 0 <username>

Securing System Users

Review /etc/passwd to ensure all non-user accounts have their account shells set to /sbin/nologin with the exception of halt, shutdown, sync which should be /sbin/halt, /sbin/shutdown, and /bin/sync respectively.

Mysql creates it’s user with /bin/bash as the shell which shouldn’t be (this is just an example).

System Wide Settings

Edit /etc/profile, find HISTSIZE replace that line with these couple of lines.

readonly HISTSIZE=50
export readonly TMOUT=900
export readonly HISTFILE="$HOME/.bash_history"



Create the sudoers and sshers group

groupadd sudoers -g 400
groupadd sshers -g 401

Add Users

useradd <username>
passwd <username>

Any users that are going to be SSH’ing into the server should be added to the sshers group. This includes root if necessary (which by default is only available to pubkey based authentication if you follow this guide).

usermod -a -G sshers <username>

Any users that NEED sudo permission should be added to the sudoers group like so:

usermod -a -G sudoers <username>

You can do both at the same time like so:

usermod -a -G sshers,sudoers <username>

System Hardening

  • Change the permissions of the rpm binary /bin/rpm to 0700
  • Remove suid privileges on /bin/mount and /bin/umount using the following command: chmod a-s /bin/mount /bin/umount
  • Create /etc/cron.allow and /etc/at.allow putting root in both of them. Set the permissions on the files to 600.
  • Restrict permissions on all of the cron tasks using the following command: chmod -R go-rwx /etc/cron.* /etc/crontab
  • Restrict boot configurations to only be readable / writable by root chmod 600 /etc/grub.conf
  • Restrict access to the boot scripts chmod -R go-rwx /etc/rc.d
  • Change the owner and permission of the sudo binary to be owned by root:sudoers and have permissions 750

You’ll want to verify that that there are not more SUID or GUID flags set than absolutely necessary. You can find all of the files with these flags set with the following command:

[root@localhost ~]# find / -type f \( -perm -04000 -o -perm -02000 \)

The same goes for unowned files as there should never be any of these:

[root@localhost ~]# find / \( -nouser -o -nogroup \) -print

Something that should be considered is security limits per user. This can not only be used to prevent users from abusing the system but to prevent a user accidentally fork bombing a system or causing other kinds of havoc. These settings can be found in /etc/security/limits.conf


  • Network
    • If DHCP is used, minimize accepted options /etc/dhclient.conf
      • Accept only IP, Router, DNS
      • Override domain name
  • Package updating
    • Install additional packages
      • aide
  • Disable USB Support
    • Disable usb-storage kernel module in /etc/modules.d/blacklist.conf
    • If USB devices are completely unecessary, disable USB completely with the nousb option in kernel boot options
  • Set kernel.randomize_va_space to 2, 1 if that’s not possible
  • Disable Rebooting When ‘ctrl-alt-del’ is Pressed
    • /etc/init/control-alt-delete.conf: -exec /sbin/shutdown -r now “Control-Alt-Delete pressed”

Updating Software

  • Repository Configuration
    • yum install yum-plugin-fastestmirror yum-plugin-security yum-presto
      yum-plugin-changelog yum-plugin-protectbase -y
    • Configure local repository if available
    • If using the btrfs filesystem install yum-plugin-fs-snapshot
  • Manual Software Update
    • Manual verification of installed GPG key with remote resource
    • Verify gpgcheck is enabled in all yum configuration files
  • Configuring Automatic Updates
    • Fedora Update & Security Check Script

Permission Verification

  • Verify Permissions on passwd, shadow, group, and gshadow Files
  • Verify All World-Writeable Directories Have Sticky Bits Set
  • Verify All World Writeable Directories Have Proper Ownership
  • Find Unauthorized World-Writeable Files
  • Find Unauthorized SUID/SGID System Executables
  • Find and Repair Unowned Files
  • Restrict access to init files only to root /etc/rc.d
  • Restrict Permissions on Files Used by cron

Restrict Dangerous Execution Patterns

  • Set Daemon umask to 027
    • /etc/init.d/functions: umask 022 -> umask 027
  • Disable Core Dumps
    • /etc/security/limits.conf: +* hard core 0
    • /etc/sysctl.conf: +fs.suid_dumpable = 0
  • Disable Prelink (if turned on)
    • /etc/sysconfig/prelink: PRELINKING=yes -> PRELINKING=no
    • /usr/sbin/prelink -ua
    • yum remove prelink -y

Restrict Password Based Login

  • Limit su Access to root and the wheel Group
    • chgrp wheel /bin/su && chmod o-rx /bin/su
  • Configure sudo to Improve Auditing of Root Access
    • Create sudoers Group and Allow it to Use sudo
  • Verify Proper Storage and Existence of Password Hashes
  • Verify No Non-root Accounts Have UID 0

Account Security

  • Create a Unique Default Group for Each User
  • Create and Maintain a Group Containing All Human Users
    • users Group
  • Set Password Quality Requirements
    • Either pam_cracklib or pam_passwdqc
  • Set Lockouts for Failed Password Attempts
    • pam_tally2
  • Set Password Hashing Algorithm to SHA-512
    • /etc/pam.d/system-auth: Ensure: password sufficient {sha512}
    • /etc/login.defs: Ensure: ENCRYPT_METHOD SHA512
    • /etc/libuser.conf: Ensure: crypt_style = sha512
  • Limit Password Reuse
    • /etc/pam.d/system-auth: password sufficient + remember=5
  • Ensure User Home Directories Are Not Group-Writable or World-Readable
  • Ensure User’s Hidden Files Are Not World-Writeable
  • Configure User umask Values
    • /etc/profile: umask 022 -> umask 027
  • Use a Centralized Authentication Service
  • Ensure there are no dangerous directories in root’s path (realtive or world-writable)


  • Ensure SELinux is Properly Enabled
  • Disable and Remove SETroubleshoot if Possible
  • Disable MCS Translation Service (mcstrans) if Possible
  • Configure Restorecon Service (restorecond)
  • Check for Unconfined Daemons
  • Check for Unlabeled Device Files
  • Debug any SELinux Policy Errors
  • Strengthen the Default SELinux Boolean Configuration

Network/Firewall Configuration

  • Ensure System is Not Acting as a Network Sniffer
  • Remove Wireless Hardware if Possible
  • Disable Wireless Through Software Configuration if Possible

Logging and Auditing

  • Configure auditd’s Data Retention
  • Enable Auditing for Processes Which Start Prior to the Audit Daemon
  • Configure auditd Rules for Comprehensive Auditing
  • Configure Audit Log aureport To Send Daily Emails



  • Configure SMART Disk Monitoring
  • Disable at & anacron if Possible
  • Configure an MTA if necessary