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Securing The New Server & Security In General

This was originally going to be part of another post, but it ended up getting more complex than I originally intended so it’s been given it’s own. I go into into many of my personal security practices, on both my public facing servers & personal machines. Since the intertubes are so central to life these days, good security is a must, especially since most people use the ‘net to do very sensitive operations, such as banking, it’s becoming even more essential to have strong security.

Since bringing the new server online & exposing it to the world, it’s been discovered in record time by the scum of the internet, SSH was under constant attack within 24 hours, and within that time there were over 20,000 failed login attempts in the logs.
This isn’t much of an issue, as I’ve got a strong Fail2Ban configuration running which at the moment is keeping track of some 30 IP addresses that are constantly trying to hammer their way in. No doubt these will be replaced with another string of attacks once they realise that those IPs are being dropped. I also prevent SSH login with passwords – RSA keys only here.
MySQL is the other main target to be concerned about – this is taken care of by disabling root login remotely, and dropping all MySQL traffic at the firewall that hasn’t come from

Keeping the SSH keys on an external device & still keeping things simple just requires some tweaking to the .bashrc file in Linux:

alias ssh='ssh -i <Path To Keys>'

This little snippet makes the ssh client look somewhere else for the keys themselves, while keeping typing to a minimum in the Terminal. This assumes the external storage with the keys always mounts to the same location.

Everything else that can’t be totally blocked from outside access (IMAP, SMTP, FTP, etc), along with Fail2Ban protection, gets very strong passwords, unique to each account, (password reuse in any situation is a big no-no) and where possible TOTP-based two factor authentication is used for front end stuff, all the SSH keys, master passwords & backup codes are themselves kept offline, on encrypted storage, except for when they’re needed. General password management is taken care of by LastPass, and while they’ve been subject to a couple of rather serious vulnerabilities recently, these have been patched & it’s still probably one of the best options out there for a password vault.
There’s more information about those vulnerabilities on the LastPass blog here & here.

This level of security paranoia ensures that unauthorized access is made extremely difficult – an attacker would have to gain physical access to one of my mobile devices with the TOTP application, and have physical access to the storage where all the master keys are kept (along with it’s encryption key, which is safely stored in Meatware), to gain access to anything.
No security can ever be 100% perfect, there’s always going to be an attack surface somewhere, but I’ll certainly go as far as is reasonable, while not making my access a total pain, to keep that attack surface as small as possible,and therefore keeping the internet scum out of my systems.
The last layer of security is a personal VPN server, which keeps all traffic totally encrypted while it’s in transit across my ISP’s network, until it hits the end point server somewhere else in the world. Again, this isn’t perfect, as the data has to be decrypted *somewhere* along the chain.

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OpenVPN Server Speed Tweaks

I’ve been running my own VPN so I can access my home-based servers from anywhere with an internet connection (not to mention, in this day & age of Government snooping – personal privacy & increased security).

I’m on a pretty quick connection from Virgin Media here in the UK, currently the fastest they offer:

Virgin Media
Virgin Media

To do these tests, I used the closest test server to my VPN host machine, in this case Paris. This keeps the variables to a minimum. Testing without the VPN connection gave me this:

Paris Server Speed
Paris Server Speed

I did expect a lower general speed to a server further away, this will have much to do with my ISP’s traffic management, network congestion, etc. So I now have a baseline to test my VPN throughput against.
The problem I’ve noticed with OpenVPN stock configs are that the connections are painfully slow – running over UDP on the usual port of 1194 the throughput was pretty pathetic:

Stock Config Speed
Stock Config Speed

I did some reading on the subject, the first possible solution being to change the send/receive buffers so they’re set to a specific value, rather than letting the system handle them. I also added options to get the server to push these values to the clients, this saving me the trouble of having to reissue all the client configurations.

sndbuf 393216
rcvbuf 393216

push "sndbuf 393216"
push "rcvbuf 393216"

Unfortunately just this option didn’t work as well as I’d like, downstream speeds jumped to 25Mb/s. In the stock config, the tunnel MTU & MSSFIX settings aren’t bothered with, some adjustment to set the tunnel MTU to lower than the host link MTU (in my case the standard 1500) prevents packet fragmentation, MSSFIX let’s the client TCP sessions know to limit the packet sizes it sends so that after OpenVPN has done the encryption & encapsulation, the packets do not exceed the set size. This also helps prevent packet fragmentation.

tun-mtu 1400 
mssfix 1360
VPN Tweaked
VPN Tweaked

After adjusting these settings, the download throughput over the VPN link has shot up to 136Mb/s. Upload throughput hasn’t changed as this is limited by my connection to Virgin Media. Some more tweaking is no doubt possible to increase speeds even further, but this is fine for me at the moment.