Ensure SSH MaxStartups is configured

Description

The MaxStartups parameter specifies the maximum number of concurrent unauthenticated connections to the SSH daemon. Additional connections will be dropped until authentication succeeds or the LoginGraceTime expires for a connection. To confgure MaxStartups, you should add or correct the following line in the /etc/ssh/sshd_config file:

MaxStartups 10:30:60

CIS recommends a MaxStartups value of ‘10:30:60’, or more restrictive where dictated by site policy.

Rationale

To protect a system from denial of service due to a large number of pending authentication connection attempts, use the rate limiting function of MaxStartups to protect availability of sshd logins and prevent overwhelming the daemon.

Remediation

Shell script

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

#!/bin/bash

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

var_sshd_set_maxstartups='10:30:60'


if [ -e "/etc/ssh/sshd_config" ] ; then
    
    LC_ALL=C sed -i "/^\s*MaxStartups\s\+/Id" "/etc/ssh/sshd_config"
else
    touch "/etc/ssh/sshd_config"
fi
# 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' "MaxStartups $var_sshd_set_maxstartups" > "/etc/ssh/sshd_config"
cat "/etc/ssh/sshd_config.bak" >> "/etc/ssh/sshd_config"
# Clean up after ourselves.
rm "/etc/ssh/sshd_config.bak"

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

Ansible playbook

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

- name: XCCDF Value var_sshd_set_maxstartups # promote to variable
  set_fact:
    var_sshd_set_maxstartups: !!str 10:30:60
  tags:
    - always

- name: Ensure SSH MaxStartups is configured
  block:

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

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

  - name: Insert correct line to /etc/ssh/sshd_config
    lineinfile:
      path: /etc/ssh/sshd_config
      create: true
      regexp: (?i)^\s*MaxStartups\s+
      line: MaxStartups {{ var_sshd_set_maxstartups }}
      state: present
      insertbefore: BOF
      validate: /usr/sbin/sshd -t -f %s
  when: ansible_virtualization_type not in ["docker", "lxc", "openvz", "podman", "container"]
  tags:
  - PCI-DSSv4-2.2.6
  - low_complexity
  - low_disruption
  - medium_severity
  - no_reboot_needed
  - restrict_strategy
  - sshd_set_maxstartups