Setting up a VPS – Part 1 – Hosting, SSH Security and ntp

Got a VPS from an outfit here in NZ called HostingDirect. Opted for Ubuntu 64-bit edition with the Small VPS package (128MB RAM, 10GB disk, 1 IP address). Also got domain registration (cheapest in NZ) and hosting with them which comes with free website hosting, which is nice.

The configurable options in the VPS setup allowed you to select LAMP setup for $150, Email server (SMTP, POP3, IMAP) for $60 and Security Tools for $45. I thought these prices were a bit steep, especially since the Small VPS package only cost $25/month after GST. But then I reminded myself what I charge for setting up such systems and it made sense. I didn’t opt for these services, preferring to set them up myself.

So the VPS was provisioned in the afternoon on the 28th but I didn’t have time to start configuring it until that night when I came home. By time I started having a look at it, there were already signs of brute force attacks on the ssh server. So the first thing I did was to create a new non-root user and add him to the ‘admin’ group which was already setup in the sudoers file (mimicking the typical Ubuntu setup). From here I disabled the root ssh login and changed the ssh port to 222. Later I changed the ssh port back to the standard 22 and installed a great new piece of software I found called ‘fail2ban‘ which bans login attempts for a period of time based on the number of unsuccessful login attempts.

Before sorting out the ssh server and fail2ban, I did the obligatory ‘apt-get update’ followed by an ‘apt-get upgrade’ which all ran fine. I also did a check on the version of Ubuntu and kernel, with the follwing results:

$ lsb_release -a
No LSB modules are available.
Distributor ID: Ubuntu
Description: Ubuntu 8.04.2
Release: 8.04
Codename: hardy

$ uname -a
Linux 2.6.24-23-xen #1 SMP Mon Jan 26 03:09:12 UTC 2009 x86_64 GNU/Linux

So I ended up with Ubuntu 8.04 LTS 64-bit version, which is exactly what I wanted. Shopping around for NZ VPS sellers, I found that a lot of them offered Ubuntu 7.10, which I found strange. I would think more people would prefer the long term release, maybe something to do with stability issues of each distribution running on Xen.

The next thing to set up was the ntp deamon, whch was quite straight forward and only involved adding the line ‘server’ to the ‘/etc/ntp.conf’ file and restarting the ntp daemon.

The VPS also came with access to XenShell, which is a way to administer your VPS through Xen (kind of like VMWare’s server console). I’ve never worked with XenShell before so I’ll have to look for a good tutorial to figure out how to make use of this tool.

That’s all for today, it’s late now and tomorrow I’ll start setting up Postfix and all the neccessary extras, a task which it is much better to attempt with a clear head.

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