Prevent Brute Force Attacks Using These Tools

About Brute Force Attacks

We, all, know the popular saying: “Prevention is better than cure”. If you are a Linux System administrator, you might know how the ‘brute force attack applications’ causes the problem in your local or remote servers. Imagine if your server is compromised by an unknown attacker and the data from the servers are in the wrong hand. It could definitely lead you and your organization into a biggest trouble you ever imagined. Brute force attacks are trial and error methods used by applications to decode your encrypted data. The encrypted can be any passwords or Keys. In simple, a brute force attack application will try all possible combination of passwords or keys repeatedly until find out the correct one. Depending upon the complexity of password, It will take time. If it takes too much time to find the password, your password, probably, safe and strong.

There are some intelligent tools available to block or prevent Brute force attacks. Today, we are going to discuss about the following tools.

  1. SSHGuard ;
  2. Fail2Ban.

A word of caution: Do not install both tools on the same systems. You might not be able to get the correct results.

First, let us see what is SSHGuard, and how to install and configure it to prevent brute force attacks.

1. SSHGuard

SSHGuard is a fast and lightweight monitoring tool written in C language. It monitors and protects servers  from brute force attacks using their logging activity. If someone continuously trying to access your server via SSH with many(may be four) unsuccessful attempts, the SSHGuard will block him/her for a bit by putting their IP address in iptables. Then, it will release the lock automatically after sometime. Not only SSH, it protects almost all services such as sendmail, exim, dovecot, vsftpd, proftpd and many.

Install SSHGuard

On Ubuntu/Debian, SSHGuard is available in the default repositories.

So, we can easily install it with command:

sudo apt-get install sshguard

On CentOS/RHEL 6.x:

First download and add FlexBox repository as shown below.


Update repositories list using command:

yum repolist

Finally, install sshguard using command:

yum install sshguard

For other disros, download the respective binary file from the official site and install yourself.

Or, you can download it from here.

Configure SSHGuard with Iptables/Netfilter

The SSHGuard doesn’t have a configuration file. All you have to do is to create a new chain for SSHGuard in iptables to insert blocking rules.

For IPv4 support, run the following command with root privileges:

iptables -N sshguard

For IPv6:

ip6tables -N sshguard

Now update the INPUT chain to pass the traffic to the sshguard. Specify --dport option to protect all the ports of services using sshguard. If you want to prevent attackers from doing any traffic to the host, remove the option completely

Block all traffic from abusers

For IPv4 support:

iptables -A INPUT -j sshguard

For IPv6 support:

iptables -A INPUT -j sshguard

Block particular services such as SSH, FTP, POP, IMAP from abusers

For IPv4 support:

iptables -A INPUT -m multiport -p tcp --destination-ports 21,22,110,143 -j sshguard

For IPv6 support:

ip6tables -A INPUT -m multiport -p tcp --destination-ports 21,22,110,143-j sshguard

Finally, save the iptables rule.

service iptables save

Verify that you have NOT a default allow rule passing all ssh traffic higher in the chain. Verify that you have NOT a default deny rule blocking all ssh traffic in your firewall. In either case, you already have the skill to adjust your firewall setup.

Here is a sample ruleset that makes sense:

iptables -N sshguard

Block whatever sshguard says is bad:

iptables -A INPUT -j sshguard

Enable ssh, dns, http, https:

iptables -A INPUT -p tcp --dport 22 -j ACCEPT
iptables -A INPUT -p udp --dport 53 -j ACCEPT
iptables -A INPUT -p tcp --dport 80 -j ACCEPT
iptables -A INPUT -p tcp --dport 443 -j ACCEPT

Block everything else:

iptables -P INPUT DROP

Configure SSHGuard without Iptables/Netfilter

If you do not use iptables, the following commands will create and save an iptables configuration that does absolutely nothing except allowing sshguard to work:

iptables -F
iptables -X
iptables -P INPUT ACCEPT
iptables -N sshguard
iptables -A INPUT -j sshguard

Finally save the iptables configuration:

service iptables save

That’s it. Now you have installed and configured SSHGuard to protect your ssh, ftp and other services from brute force attackers.

2. Fail2Ban

Fail2ban is an open-source intrusion prevention system that can be used to prevent brute force attacks and other suspicious malicious attacks. It scans log files (e.g. /var/log/apache/error_log) and bans IP’s that show the malicious signs such as too many password failures, seeking for exploits etc.

Generally, Fail2Ban then used to update firewall rules to reject the IP addresses for a specified amount of time, although any arbitrary other action (e.g. sending an email, or ejecting CD-ROM tray) could also be configured. Out of the box Fail2Ban comes with pre-configured filters for various services (Apache, curier, SSH etc.).

Install Fail2Ban

Login as root user and enter the following command to install Fail2Ban:

On Ubuntu/Debian:

apt-get install fail2ban


Add EPEL repository first.

yum install epel-release
yum repolist

Then, install fail2ban with command:

yum install fail2ban

Enable and start fail2ban service.

service fail2ban start
chkconfig fail2ban on


systemctl enable fail2ban
systemctl start fail2ban


Backup Fail2Ban Main Configuration File:

All configuration files will be found under /etc/fail2ban directory. The main configuration file is /etc/fail2ban/jail.conf. It’s a good idea to take backup of main config file to avoid merges during upgrades. Take local copy of /etc/fail2ban/jail.conf file as shown below:

cp /etc/fail2ban/jail.conf /etc/fail2ban/jail.local

Configure Fail2Ban

Open up /etc/fasil2ban/jail.local file using any editor:

vi /etc/fail2ban/jail.local

Find a section called [Default]. This section contains the basic set of rules that Fail2Ban will follow. Set the values as per your requirement.

Here is my settings:


# "ignoreip" can be an IP address, a CIDR mask or a DNS host
ignoreip =
bantime  = 600
maxretry = 3

# "backend" specifies the backend used to get files modification. Available
# options are "gamin", "polling" and "auto".
# yoh: For some reason Debian shipped python-gamin didn't work as expected
#      This issue left ToDo, so polling is default backend for now

backend = auto
# Destination email address used solely for the interpolations in
# jail.{conf,local} configuration files.
destemail = root@localhost


  • ignoreip – White list your IP address that you trust to prevent blocking from Fail2Ban. You can add multiple addresses separate by a space character. Here I whitelisted the IP address So this IP address will not be banned even if it sends unlimited number of failed log in attempts.
  • bantime – Number of seconds that a host would be banned if it is caught by Fail2Ban. The default time is 600 seconds (10 minutes). You can increase the time if you like.
  • maxretry – Number of incorrect login attempts before a host is blocked by Fail2Ban.

Service Configuration

By default, Fail2Ban contains set of pre-defined filters for various services. So you don’t need to enter any manual entries in the configuration files. All you need to do is just change the values of enabled to true or false, the respective services are automatically watched by Fail2Ban.

Here is sample output of SSH section in jail.local file.


enabled  = true
port     = ssh
filter   = sshd
logpath  = /var/log/auth.log
maxretry = 6

Here, let us see brief details of each entry.

  • enabled – This means that the ssh service protection is on. If you want to turn it off, just set to false.
  • port – SSH service port
  • filter – It refers to the config file containing the rules that Fail2Ban uses to find matches. By default, it is set to sshd that refers to /etc/fail2ban/filter.d/sshd.conf file.
  • logpath – The log file for failed login attempts.
  • maxretry – Number of incorrect login attempts before a host is blocked by Fail2Ban.

Once you have changed the configuration, restart Fail2Ban service to save the changes:

systemctl restart fail2ban


service fail2ban restart

You can verify the rules that added by Fail2Ban in iptables using the following command:

iptables -L

Sample output:

Chain INPUT (policy ACCEPT)
target     prot opt source               destination         
f2b-sshd   tcp  --  anywhere             anywhere             multiport dports ssh
ACCEPT     all  --  anywhere             anywhere             ctstate RELATED,ESTABLISHED
ACCEPT     all  --  anywhere             anywhere            
INPUT_direct  all  --  anywhere             anywhere            
INPUT_ZONES_SOURCE  all  --  anywhere             anywhere            
INPUT_ZONES  all  --  anywhere             anywhere            
ACCEPT     icmp --  anywhere             anywhere            
REJECT     all  --  anywhere             anywhere             reject-with icmp-host-prohibited

Testing Fail2Ban

I am going to try some random failed attempts from my local client to my Fail2Ban server.

Then, I verified the failed login attempts in the /var/log/fail2ban.log file:

cat /var/log/fail2ban.log

Sample output:

2015-07-13 15:38:15,480 fail2ban.filter         [11792]: INFO    [sshd] Found
2015-07-13 15:38:15,482 fail2ban.filter         [11792]: INFO    [sshd] Found
2015-07-13 15:38:15,483 fail2ban.filter         [11792]: INFO    [sshd] Found
2015-07-13 15:38:15,485 fail2ban.filter         [11792]: INFO    [sshd] Found
2015-07-13 15:38:15,485 fail2ban.filter         [11792]: INFO    [sshd] Found
2015-07-13 15:38:15,487 fail2ban.filter         [11792]: INFO    [sshd] Found
2015-07-13 15:38:15,488 fail2ban.filter         [11792]: INFO    [sshd] Found
2015-07-13 15:38:15,490 fail2ban.filter         [11792]: INFO    [sshd] Found
2015-07-13 15:38:15,491 fail2ban.filter         [11792]: INFO    [sshd] Found
2015-07-13 15:38:15,492 fail2ban.filter         [11792]: INFO    [sshd] Found
2015-07-13 15:38:15,493 fail2ban.filter         [11792]: INFO    [sshd] Found
2015-07-13 15:38:15,495 fail2ban.filter         [11792]: INFO    [sshd] Found
2015-07-13 15:38:15,496 fail2ban.filter         [11792]: INFO    [sshd] Found
2015-07-13 15:38:16,234 fail2ban.actions        [11792]: NOTICE  [sshd] Ban


iptables -L

Debian 7, 1 nic, internet, bridge, local repo [Running] - Oracle VM VirtualBox_004

As you seen in the above two outputs, my local IP is banned by Fail2Ban.

Note: The banned IP address will removed after 600 seconds by default.

That’s it. Hope these tools will be useful to you somewhere.

Good luck!