Set SSH Client Alive Count Max

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The SSH server sends at most ClientAliveCountMax messages during a SSH session and waits for a response from the SSH client. The option ClientAliveInterval configures timeout after each ClientAliveCountMax message. If the SSH server does not receive a response from the client, then the connection is considered unresponsive and terminated. For SSH earlier than v8.2, a ClientAliveCountMax value of 0 causes a timeout precisely when the ClientAliveInterval is set. Starting with v8.2, a value of 0 disables the timeout functionality completely. If the option is set to a number greater than 0, then the session will be disconnected after ClientAliveInterval * ClientAliveCountMax seconds without receiving a keep alive message.


This ensures a user login will be terminated as soon as the ClientAliveInterval is reached.


Shell script

The following script can be run on the host to remediate the issue.


# Remediation is applicable only in certain platforms
if [ ! -f /.dockerenv ] && [ ! -f /run/.containerenv ]; then


if [ -e "/etc/ssh/sshd_config" ] ; then
    LC_ALL=C sed -i "/^\s*ClientAliveCountMax\s\+/Id" "/etc/ssh/sshd_config"
    touch "/etc/ssh/sshd_config"
# make sure file has newline at the end
sed -i -e '$a\' "/etc/ssh/sshd_config"

cp "/etc/ssh/sshd_config" "/etc/ssh/sshd_config.bak"
# Insert at the beginning of the file
printf '%s\n' "ClientAliveCountMax $var_sshd_set_keepalive" > "/etc/ssh/sshd_config"
cat "/etc/ssh/sshd_config.bak" >> "/etc/ssh/sshd_config"
# Clean up after ourselves.
rm "/etc/ssh/sshd_config.bak"

    >&2 echo 'Remediation is not applicable, nothing was done'

Ansible playbook

The following playbook can be run with Ansible to remediate the issue.

- name: XCCDF Value var_sshd_set_keepalive # promote to variable
    var_sshd_set_keepalive: !!str 3
    - always

- name: Set SSH Client Alive Count Max

  - name: Check for duplicate values
      path: /etc/ssh/sshd_config
      create: true
      regexp: (?i)^\s*ClientAliveCountMax\s+
      state: absent
    check_mode: true
    changed_when: false
    register: dupes

  - name: Deduplicate values from /etc/ssh/sshd_config
      path: /etc/ssh/sshd_config
      create: true
      regexp: (?i)^\s*ClientAliveCountMax\s+
      state: absent
    when: dupes.found is defined and dupes.found > 1

  - name: Insert correct line to /etc/ssh/sshd_config
      path: /etc/ssh/sshd_config
      create: true
      regexp: (?i)^\s*ClientAliveCountMax\s+
      line: ClientAliveCountMax {{ var_sshd_set_keepalive }}
      state: present
      insertbefore: BOF
      validate: /usr/sbin/sshd -t -f %s
  when: ansible_virtualization_type not in ["docker", "lxc", "openvz", "podman", "container"]
  - CJIS-5.5.6
  - DISA-STIG-UBTU-20-010036
  - NIST-800-171-3.1.11
  - NIST-800-53-AC-12
  - NIST-800-53-AC-17(a)
  - NIST-800-53-AC-2(5)
  - NIST-800-53-CM-6(a)
  - NIST-800-53-SC-10
  - PCI-DSS-Req-8.1.8
  - PCI-DSSv4-8.2.8
  - low_complexity
  - low_disruption
  - medium_severity
  - no_reboot_needed
  - restrict_strategy
  - sshd_set_keepalive