(Old content; kept as still useful)

There are several ways in which you to harden a system. This is presented in Unix terms, but the underlying principles apply to all operating systems.

Against network attacks
  • Disable all unused services.
  • Restrict administrative services to trusted addresses, and use encrypted protocols like ssh.
  • Turn off many ICMP features - redirects, timestamp requests, netmask requests, etc. Consider whether you need pings.
  • Configure services not to advertise their type and version in their banner, headers or in response to queries like help, syst or version.bind.
  • Install a firewall, although for a well-configured device this doesn't give as much protection as generally hyped.
  • Have a message like "authorised users only" in your banners - this will make it easier to prosecute a hacker.
  • Don't use rhosts authentication.
Against Denial-of-Service attacks
  • Limit number of connections per IP address per second, also ICMP replies, etc.
  • Limit number of processes per user, memory and CPU time per process, etc.
  • Turn on disk quotas.
  • Take care not to provide remote disk-filling services - log files, root mailboxes, etc.
Against malicious local users
This may be an attacker who has already hacked a non-root service.
  • Where possible, turn the setuid/gid bit off binaries e.g. ping, making them usable only by root.
  • Restrict access to /proc and other sensitive locations to root.
  • Turn off users' access to cron, sendmail, etc.
  • Disable ptrace
  • The best protection is to keep all users inside a chroot that contains no device nodes or setuid binaries.
  • FreeBSD can go one step further and do a chroot jail which restricts network access, as well as file system access.
Against legitimate users' clumsiness
  • Use a password checker to stop people using weak passwords.
  • Don't let administrators use the same password for admin services as they do for unencrypted things like POP3.
  • Make users home directories root owned, with permissions 770, so the user can still write to their home directory, but they cannot accidentally change the permissions to let others in.
  • Gives users a strict default umask, e.g. 077.
Against software bugs
  • Use library functions to escape HTML, SQL, etc.
  • Avoid PHP register_globals.
  • One tmp directory per user, instead of a system-wide one.
  • Some steps can be taken to reduce the exploitability of buffer overruns. OpenBSD takes the best approach - making the heap and stack non-executable, and using a token to check stack integrity.
Against a hacker who has broken one service
  • Don't run services as root.
  • Consider running services inside a chroot.
  • The best solution is to run each service on a separate computer.
  • A close emulation of this on a single computer is to run each service in a separate user-mode Linux.
Against an attacker who has gained root
  • secure level / capabilities
  • Use chflags to make logs append-only, or use a central log server.
  • mount file systems read-only where possible
Against physically-local attacks
  • Password protected single-user maintenance mode, and the boot loader (to stop anyone entering kernel parameters).
  • Set BIOS to only boot off the hard drive, and password protect the BIOS.
  • Padlock the case. Most cases are able to do this, though you may have to fit the attachment.
  • Disable serial consoles and ctrl-alt-delete.
  • Don't leave the console logged in!
  • The best protection against physically-local attacks is to use an encrypted file system, where the key is entered at boot-time and only stored in memory. As soon as the box is powered down or reset, the information is safe.

Detecting an attack

  • Crank up logging
  • tripwire
  • port scan detector
© 1998 - 2012 Paul Johnston, distributed under the BSD License   Updated:10 Jun 2009