Stopping SSH Brute Force Attacks

A few weeks ago at work, I noticed a bunch of failed login attempts to one of our Linux servers. After doing some investigation, I found that no intrusion had actually been made, which is excellent. Lines similar to this were filling my /var/log/messages log file:

Aug 20 23:31:26 elixer sshd[22526]: Failed password for invalid user alias from port 26217 ssh2

Notice they’re trying to login with the username “alias”, which doesn’t exist on that system. In fact, all the usernames attempted don’t exist, which makes me feel a little safer. Still, I don’t like seeing my boxes actively attacked. So, to stay on top of these breakin attempts, I installed Breakinguard.

Breakinguard basically watches your log file for any failed login attempts. You can set a pre-defined number of attempts that can be executed before breakinguard will block the IP.

The Package itself does a ‘tail -f’ of your syslog, and when it identifies a matching line within your logs, it logs this ‘attempt’. If more than the pre-defined number of attempts from the same IP address are received it triggers the iptables (or any other block method defined) block and also emails you notification.

I’ve never been able to get the configure script to work for me, simply because the perl module installation always fails. So, to get around that I simply installed these perl modules manually and commented out these lines in the configure script:

$PERL -MCPAN -e "install File::Tail"
$PERL -MCPAN -e "install IO::Socket"

Those two lines execute perl and try to install the File::Tail module and the IO::Socket module. After manually installing the perl modules below and commenting out the lines above in the configure script, the configure script should run and do it’s thing without error.


After the configuration script has run, you should have a couple new files, /etc/breakinguard.conf and /etc/rc.d/breakinguard. Now, the /etc/breakinguard.conf file stores the breakinguard configuration. This is where you tell breakinguard which log file to monitor and how many incorrect login attempts are defined as a breakin.

I’m not going to bother going through all the options in breakinguard.conf, simply because they’re all explained pretty well within the conf file.

The other “new file”, /etc/rc.d/breakinguard is the script used to launch breakinguard. Run “/etc/rc.d/breakinguard start” to start breakinguard.

Once breakinguard is running, it will monitor whichever log file you specified in /etc/breakinguard.conf (/var/log/messages in my case). When it sees a failed login attempt, it will be noted. Now, when an IP fails a certain number of logins, iptables will be called to block all traffic from the IP.

Below is an example email that’s generated by Breakinguard when it blocks an IP:

BreakinGuard has blocked an IP based on suspicious activity
Please review this server.

Hostname: elixer.hostname
IP Blocked:
Last log entry that caused the block:
Aug 22 06:17:05 elixer sshd[25591]: Failed password for invalid user alias from port 45340 ssh2