Photo - Lucas Neasi

New Roots part 3, Services & Hardening

This is the third in a series of posts about getting settled into a server. First we talked about choosing a server, then we talked about installing a base OS on a dedicated server. In this post we'll discuss configuring, securing, and hardening our server.

In our last post we left our new server in a very, very minimal state. Heck, we didn't even tell it it's own name! In this post we'll talk about configuration. Throughout this process we're going to try to keep things simple and tightly knit. Through most of this guide you'll need to be using sudo or acting as root.

I'm purposely choosing some things I'm not familiar with to learn as I go, so please feel free to offer any advice you might have.


We can set the hostname with the following command:

hostnamectl set-hostname $HOSTNAME

This writes the hostname to /etc/hostname. After you'll want to look in /etc/hosts. Here's what mine ended up like after I was done editing it. I'm setting up a host called silicon on the domain.

# /etc/hosts: static lookup table for host names

#<ip>	    <>	     <hostname>       silicon.local  silicon
::1             silicon.local  silicon    silicon

You can test that the local name is working with ping $HOSTNAME.

Now that our server thinks it's $HOSTNAME we need to tell everything else in the world that it is! If you happen to have a domain name, you should go to your provider's DNS console and route $HOSTNAME.$DOMAIN.$TLD to your device's IP address. You can find this with ip addr.

For me that looked like adding a line to a table with the following information:

silicon      A (Address)

Go make yourself a tea, then try pinging your server from a different machine a few minutes later.
ping $FQDN

Once it starts working you're all set with your domain name! Do note it can take up to 24 hours for global DNS propagation.


One choice which may bring up confusion is the timezone to set your server to. If you're only going to be hosting services in one time zone you may wish to simply set it to that. If you provide services internationally the question becomes more unclear. One option is UTC.

One thing to consider while evaluating your options on time is to consider how you'll be hosting your services. Later we'll talk about using containers to host your services, and these can all operate on their own timezones. You can review timezones available with timedatectl list-timezones.

Properly designed programs will store timezones as part of their dates, but not all programs are properly designed. Changing your timezone later can temporarily cause rather strange issues, so be forwarned.

I'm going to just choose my current local time for now. Since my root host won't be running any time sensitive services I can change it without worrying too much.

timedatectl set-timezone Canada/Pacific

Since we're running a server that will, ultimately, be responsible for possibly time-sensitive data it might be a good idea to ensure we have accurate times. In order to do this we'll enable an ntp service.

timedatectl set-ntp true

A Simple Firewall

Most modern kernels come built in with iptables and nftables support already. In Arch, iptables is pulled in as part of base. nftables is a newer 'spiritual successor' to iptables however there is little practical real world documentation. Since some of the things we'll be doing later on will be utilizing iptables it's probably a good idea to use that.

There is a menagerie of different frontends for iptables that put a layer between you and it. However iptables isn't that difficult to understand and has some great documentation. Learning how to understand what's happening in iptables will make using even frontends easier later on, if you even choose to use them.

We'll be referencing the Simple Stateful Firewall for our initial setup.

Since we're currently on a remote device over SSH we need to be careful not to lock ourselves out. So let's set some basic filter settings in /etc/iptables/iptables.rules:

### Defaults for the chain.
# Drop anything that we don't catch from input.

# We're not a router, we shouldn't forward anything along a NAT.

# We trust things running on this machine, so accept them all.

# User defined chains.
:TCP - [0:0]
:UDP - [0:0]

# Accept already established or related connections.
--append INPUT --match conntrack --ctstate RELATED,ESTABLISHED --jump ACCEPT

# Accept anything from the local loopback.
--append INPUT --in-interface lo --jump ACCEPT

# Drop any invalid packets. We can't reject since there's no valid way to reject.
--append INPUT --match conntrack --ctstate INVALID --jump DROP

# Accept any pings.
--append INPUT --protocol icmp --match icmp --icmp-type 8 --match conntrack --ctstate NEW --jump ACCEPT

# Attach the user defined chains (UDP, TCP) to valid connections on the
# respective protocol. Recall that anything established is already accepted.
--append INPUT --protocol udp --match conntrack --ctstate NEW --jump UDP
--append INPUT --protocol tcp --tcp-flags FIN,SYN,RST,ACK SYN --match conntrack --ctstate NEW --jump TCP

# Reject TCP connections with TCP RESET packets and UDP streams with ICMP port
# unreachable messages if the ports are not opened.
--append INPUT --protocol udp --jump REJECT --reject-with icmp-port-unreachable
--append INPUT --protocol tcp --jump REJECT --reject-with tcp-reset

# Reject all remaining incoming traffic with icmp protocol unreachable messages.
--append INPUT --jump REJECT --reject-with icmp-proto-unreachable

### TCP Chain
# Allow SSH connections.
--append TCP --protocol tcp --dport 22 --jump ACCEPT


Now you can start and get the status of the iptables service.

systemctl start iptables
systemctl status iptables

Now try ending your ssh session and hopping back in. If it didn't work you can just reset the machine and try reconfiguring. If it did work then we can enable the service on boot.

systemctl enable iptables

At this point you can review your current settings and see various usages with iptables -nvL:

Chain INPUT (policy DROP 0 packets, 0 bytes)
 pkts bytes target     prot opt in     out     source               destination         
  215 18609 ACCEPT     all  --  *      *              ctstate RELATED,ESTABLISHED
    0     0 ACCEPT     all  --  lo     *             
    0     0 DROP       all  --  *      *              ctstate INVALID
    0     0 ACCEPT     icmp --  *      *              icmptype 8 ctstate NEW
    1   439 UDP        udp  --  *      *              ctstate NEW
    4   188 TCP        tcp  --  *      *              tcp flags:0x17/0x02 ctstate NEW
    1   439 REJECT     udp  --  *      *              reject-with icmp-port-unreachable
    2    80 REJECT     tcp  --  *      *              reject-with tcp-reset
    0     0 REJECT     all  --  *      *              reject-with icmp-proto-unreachable

Chain FORWARD (policy DROP 0 packets, 0 bytes)
 pkts bytes target     prot opt in     out     source               destination         

Chain OUTPUT (policy ACCEPT 146 packets, 20108 bytes)
 pkts bytes target     prot opt in     out     source               destination         

Chain TCP (1 references)
 pkts bytes target     prot opt in     out     source               destination         
    2   108 ACCEPT     tcp  --  *      *              tcp dpt:22

Chain UDP (1 references)
 pkts bytes target     prot opt in     out     source               destination

As you can see from the pkts column, our rule in TCP got used for an ssh connection, and the rule for already established connections is also being used.


Servers get attacked, it's a fact of life. Let's take some simple steps to help build up a bit of security for ourselves. First let's set some flags in /etc/sysctl.d/50-hardening.conf:

# Only root can see dmesg
kernel.dmesg_restrict = 1
# Restrict kernel pointer access.
kernel.kptr_restrict = 1

# TCP SYN cookie protection (default) helps protect against SYN flood attacks
# only kicks in when net.ipv4.tcp_max_syn_backlog is reached
net.ipv4.tcp_syncookies = 1

# Protect against tcp time-wait assassination hazards drop RST packets for
# sockets in the time-wait state (not widely supported outside of linux,
# but conforms to RFC)
net.ipv4.tcp_rfc1337 = 1

# Sets the kernels reverse path filtering mechanism to value 1, it will do
# source validation of the packet's recieved from all the interfaces on the
# machine protects from attackers that are using ip spoofing methods to do harm
net.ipv4.conf.all.rp_filter = 1
net.ipv6.conf.all.rp_filter = 1

# We will be forwarding for IPv4 to containers. Enable this.
net.ipv4.ip_forward = 1

# Ignore echo broadcast requests to prevent being part of smurf attacks
net.ipv4.icmp_echo_ignore_broadcasts = 1

# Ignore bogus icmp errors
net.ipv4.icmp_ignore_bogus_error_responses = 1

# Protect against some hardlink and symlink vulnerabilities.
fs.protected_hardlinks = 1
fs.protected_symlinks = 1

Much of this configuration was taken from the security guide. Now you can apply the changes with systemctl --system.

DNS and Name Resolution

It's now time to properly configure systemd-resolved. First we'll link its configuration into the old /etc/resolv.conf location for compatability reasons.

rm /etc/resolv.conf
ln -s /run/systemd/resolve/resolv.conf /etc/resolv.conf
systemctl restart systemd-resolved

Next we'll go into /etc/nsswitch.conf and set up to local DNS stub resolver. Change this line:

+ hosts: files mymachines resolve myhostname
- hosts: files dns myhostname

Now we can go about creating and modifying files in /etc/systemd/network/. Before going about this it's a good idea to review your network adapters and check out man You can do this with ip addr. You should see a lo and some adapter starting with enp. The enp prefixed adapter is your physical adapter.

We can go back and review our previous /etc/systemd/network/ now. Some changes can be made:

# Make sure this matches your adapter from the ip addr command

# Use global NTP pools

Then we'll configure /etc/systemd/resolved.conf:

# Specify Google's DNS instead of whatever the default picked by DHCP is.

Reboot & Tea Time

At this point we've tinkered with enough things it's a good idea to verify everything is working as intended still. Give your system a reboot, go make yourself a cup of tea (servers take time to reboot), and verify that you can reconnect.

So far we've set up a basic firewall, configured time syncronization, added some kernel parameters, and added some basic configuration to our physical network adapter. These are things that you'll likely want to do on your server regardless of what it's final purpose is, and even if you do need to change them this gives you a good basis.

At this point our configuration is roughly as so:

internet -> host { iptables -> ssh }

Our host is configured through systemd-networkd and name resolution is augmented by systemd-resolved. This configuration places us in a great position to use container based services.

Adding a New Service (mosh)

We'll discuss setting up and networking various services at length in future posts, including example nginx, postgres, nodejs and rust service deployments. We'll end up using containers for these, the idea of using containers for these services is a choice of isolation and modularization. We'd, ideally, like to keep our 'root' system as simple and secure as possible, it shouldn't have the job of hosting any public facing services other than ssh and nginx, and we'll only use nginx to proxy requests to other HTTP servers.

For me there is one exception to this rule, mosh. mosh completely changed my experience using ssh, especially over unreliable or mobile connections (such as a laptop). It works by transporting your ssh session data over UDP, and works through changes in IP or situations of large lag.

The process for adding any new service will be similar, so even if you're not interested in installing mosh it's good to be familiar with it. We'll use it as an example below.

Install: You should choose a reliable, secure source for your service. You should always prefer the official Arch repositories over the AUR or a third party repository, especially on the 'root' of the server.

pacman -S mosh

Discover: Most externally facing services require a port to bind to (if they're TCP), or recieve from / send through (if they're UDP). You may recall we set up our firewall to accept all outgoing connections, so we only need to configure it to accept incoming data. You can generally discover this by looking in their respective man pages, website, or the configuration itself.

mosh uses ports starting at 60000 and going up to 60999 if lower numbered ports are not available. It's pretty reasonable to assume that we'll never have more than 100 mosh sessions, so we only need to allow the lower 100 ports.

Accept: In order to accept data on these ports we'll open them up by adding the following line near the bottom of our /etc/iptables/iptables.rules file, before the COMMIT line.

# Allow MOSH connections.
--append UDP --protocol udp --dport 60000:60100 --jump ACCEPT

Then you can restart the firewall with systemctl restart iptables.

Test: At this point if your new service has a daemon to run you should start it with the appropriate systemctl start $SERVICE command. Then take a moment to test your service and make sure it works as expected.

With mosh there is no daemon, we just test by trying to use it!

Enable: Once you know things are working correctly we can enable it to start at boot if desired with systemctl enable $SERVICE Since mosh has no related daemon we don't need to do this.

Verify: At this point my mosh service works fine, and we can verify that the firewall is catching this by reviewing iptables -nvL and checking out our UDP chain:

Chain UDP (1 references)
 pkts bytes target     prot opt in     out     source               destination         
    2   217 ACCEPT     udp  --  *      *              udp dpts:60000:60100

As you can see here, the rule was used twice, which means it's working! At this point, we're done setting up the new service. We'll have a chance to practice this more in future posts when we're configuring various serices.

For our next post we'll explore nice ways to personalize your server environment and make it feel like home. Remember, there's no place like :)