How to Secure a VPS: 12 Server Security Tips

December 4th, 2023
How to Secure a VPS: 12 Server Security Tips

Virtual private server (VPS) hosting has become a preferred choice for many businesses and developers, combining the advantages of two popular hosting types - shared hosting (most cost-effective but less secure) and dedicated servers (most secure, but also most expensive).

However, while a VPS is generally more secure, it still comes with potential security flaws like guest OS escapes, and with the rise of cyber-attacks, ensuring a secure VPS is paramount. In this guide, we'll glance at VPS security and bring 12 crucial tips for maintaining a secure VPS.

What is a VPS?

A VPS or a virtual private server is a single physical machine divided into multiple servers, each isolated from the other using virtualization. It offers a slice of a larger server's resources, operating independently of other virtual spaces on the same machine.

With VPS’ scalable nature, users can easily adjust and customize resources based on their needs, making it adaptable for growing businesses. Therefore, a secure VPS is an ideal hosting solution for many organizations. But let's see how secure VPS is and what you can do to increase your server security.

Virtual machines explained in 15 minutes. Source: TechWorld with Nana YouTube.

Is VPS secure?

VPS provides better security than shared hosting due to the isolation of resources for each virtual server, which prevents one compromised account from affecting others on the same server. However, virtualization introduces some VPS security risks not present on dedicated servers.

For example, vulnerabilities in hypervisor software used in virtualization could allow a guest OS to "escape" its isolation. User error also remains a significant risk. Mishandling credentials, misconfiguring apps/servers, or downloading malware can compromise otherwise secure VPS.

However, when properly configured and managed, you can secure VPS by ensuring the host OS and hypervisor are fully patched, restricting resources, using a firewall, disabling unneeded ports/services, and updating software to strengthen each VPS instance.

Thus, even though VPS provides several advantages over shared hosting, virtualization introduces new risks vs dedicated hosting. Prioritizing secure VPS configuration and regular maintenance paired with choosing a reliable hosting provider and host environment, VPS can be very secure.

Generally, virtual server hosting providers offer several standard VPS security features as part of their VPS plans. These include firewalls, intrusion detection, DDoS Protection, and free and paid SSL/TLS Certificates. Securing the virtualization platform and host resources is a top priority, and a secure VPS provider might also perform security audits and have tools to contain incidents quickly.

Common VPS vulnerabilities

Cybercriminals are always on the prowl, employing tactics to breach virtual servers. Gaining a deep understanding of these methods is paramount to allowing for a more secure VPS, as it forms the foundation for building robust defenses against these threats. allowing for a more secure VPS.

Brute force attacks

Brute force attacks are a rudimentary yet effective method used by hackers. By attempting multiple combinations of usernames and passwords, they persistently try to gain unauthorized access. The sheer determination of this method means that weak or commonly used passwords can easily become a gateway for these attackers.

DDoS attacks

DDoS attacks, or distributed denial-of-service attacks, are designed to overwhelm a server with an immense traffic volume. This surge in requests can cause the server to crash, rendering websites or services hosted on it inaccessible. The primary aim here isn't always to steal data but to disrupt the service, which can be just as damaging.

Malware infections

Malware infections involve the introduction of malicious software onto a server. This software can have various purposes, from stealing sensitive data and corrupting files to deleting data altogether. The stealthy nature of malware means it can often operate undetected, causing significant harm before it's even identified.

Software and cloud vulnerabilities

Exploiting software and cloud vulnerabilities is a more sophisticated method. Hackers are always looking for outdated software or known vulnerabilities within systems. Once they identify these weak spots, they can exploit them to gain unauthorized access or cause other forms of damage.

Port scanning

Port scanning is akin to a burglar checking for unlocked doors or windows in a house. By identifying open ports on a server, hackers can find potential entry points. Once they locate an open port, especially one not adequately secured, it can serve as a doorway into the system.

Phishing

Phishing is a deceptive tactic that relies more on human psychology than technological prowess. By masquerading as trustworthy entities, hackers trick users into providing sensitive information, such as login credentials or personal data. This method often involves crafted cold emails or fake websites that appear legitimate.

Zero-day exploits

Lastly, zero-day exploits are among the most feared attacks in the cybersecurity world. These involve hackers attacking software vulnerabilities even before the developer becomes aware of the flaw or has had a chance to create a patch. The name "zero-day" refers to the fact that developers have zero days to fix the issue before it's exploited, making it a race against time.

Now, let’s have a look more in-depth on how to secure a VPS.

How to secure a VPS: 12 Tips

As cyber threats evolve, so should your defenses. That's why you should always stay on top of VPS security and digital transformation trends. Here's a deeper dive into twelve actionable tips on how to secure a VPS to fortify your server security.

1. Regular system updates

The digital landscape is ever-changing, with new vulnerabilities emerging daily. By keeping your system and software updated, you're not just adding new features but also patching potential security loopholes. Regular updates act as a shield, ensuring that known vulnerabilities are addressed, making it harder for hackers to exploit them.

Furthermore, these updates can enhance the overall performance and efficiency of the system, ensuring that it runs smoothly and is compatible with the latest technologies. Users are also alerted to potential issues or resolved bugs, promoting transparency and trust.

Holger Sindbaek, entrepreneur and founder of a gaming platform Online Solitaire, says, "At one of my ventures, we learned the hard way that even a minor oversight in system updates can leave a big gap for cyber attackers. We once delayed a critical patch, thinking it was minor. Within days, we faced a security breach that took weeks to resolve fully. From that day, we made it a rule: no matter how small, every update is a priority. It's not just about adding new features; it's about strengthening our digital walls. Regular system updates are like routine health check-ups; they might seem routine, but they're vital for long-term well-being."

2. Use firewalls

Think of firewalls as the first line of defense against cyber threats. Tools like APF or CSF serve as gatekeepers, monitoring incoming and outgoing traffic. They help detect and prevent unauthorized access attempts, ensuring only legitimate traffic gets through.

They can be customized to fit the specific needs and security requirements of your system, offering a tailored defense mechanism. For example, using Firewalld is a firewall management solution for Linux systems.

Firewalls also provide detailed logs and alerts on potential security incidents, aiding in the swift identification and response to threats. Their adaptability and real-time protection make them an indispensable asset in cybersecurity.

3. Close unnecessary ports

Every open port on your server is a potential entry point for hackers. By closing ports that aren't in use, you're effectively reducing the number of doors a hacker can attempt to enter, thereby bolstering your server's security.

This practice also optimizes the server's performance, ensuring that only essential services are running. It aids in efficiently managing resources reducing the load on the server. Moreover, it simplifies the security audit process, making it easier to identify and address potential vulnerabilities..

4. Change the default SSH port

The default SSH port, 22, is a well-known entry point, making it a prime target for brute force attacks. By switching to a custom port, you're adding an element of unpredictability, making unauthorized access attempts significantly more challenging.

This tactic also obscures the attack surface from automated scripts targeting default ports. It's a simple yet effective strategy to enhance security without compromising functionality.

5. Implement malware scanners

Malware is a constant threat to any server. Tools like ClamAV and Maldet act as vigilant sentinels, scanning your VPS for malicious software. Regular scans ensure that threats are identified and neutralized before they can cause harm.

They provide real-time alerts and detailed reports, enabling swift action to mitigate the impact of malware. The flexibility to schedule automated scans ensures that security is maintained without constant manual oversight.

6. Enable intrusion detection systems

Software solutions like Fail2Ban elevate your VPS security by continuously monitoring system logs. They can detect patterns indicative of an attack and take preemptive measures, such as blocking IP addresses exhibiting suspicious behavior.

The adaptability of these systems allows for customized server security protocols tailored to specific needs. They also facilitate automated responses, reducing the time between threat detection and mitigation. Furthermore, detailed logs and alerts provide insights into attack patterns, enhancing security measures.

7. Use SSH key authentication

Password-based logins, especially if the passwords are weak, can be a vulnerability. SSH key authentication offers a more secure alternative. By using cryptographic keys instead of passwords, you're ensuring a more robust and hard-to-crack authentication method.

This method also mitigates the risk of brute force attacks, rendering traditional password-cracking attempts futile. It facilitates a streamlined login process, enhancing user experience while maintaining high-security standards.

8. Disable root logins

The root account has unparalleled access and control over a system. By disabling direct root logins, you're ensuring that even if an attacker gains access, they won't have the highest level of system privileges, adding an extra layer of security.

This measure forces attackers to guess both the username and password, significantly complicating unauthorized access attempts. It also encourages the use of sudo privileges, which require re-authentication, adding an extra security checkpoint.

9. Limit user access

Only some users need access to every part of your system. By understanding and implementing different types of authorization, you can grant only the necessary permissions to each user. This approach ensures that even if an account is compromised, the damage remains limited.

This minimizes the attack surface and reduces the potential impact of internal threats, ensuring that sensitive data and systems remain protected. It also facilitates audit processes, making it easier to track user activities and identify anomalies.

10. Backup regularly

While backups are primarily for data recovery, they're also a crucial security measure. In case of a breach or malware infection, having a recent backup allows you to restore your system safely without significant data loss.

They also facilitate quick recovery, minimizing downtime and the potential loss of revenue or reputation. Backups can be automated and stored in secure, off-site locations, ensuring data integrity and availability. Implementing DataOps practices can further streamline this process, ensuring data consistency and timely backups.

11. Monitor server logs

Server logs are a treasure trove of information about your server's operations. Regularly reviewing these logs helps identify anomalies or suspicious activities, allowing for a secure VPS via timely interventions before any potential threat escalates.

For example, Kubernetes monitoring provides a critical and linked data stream for compliance and troubleshooting needs. Visualization dashboards in Prometheus also display correlated log messages along with metrics for better problem diagnosis. Log analysis tools like Fluentd are used for collecting and monitoring log data and events from various sources like servers, applications, containers etc.

Monitoring server logs offers insights into user behaviors, system performance, and potential security threats. By employing automated tools for log analysis, anomalies can be detected in real-time, enabling swift responses.

12. Implement network security policy management

Network security policy management (NSPM) is a crucial aspect of ensuring a secure VPS environment. It involves the design, implementation, and monitoring of security policies across the network.

By having a well-defined NSPM in place, you can ensure that all network traffic, both inbound and outbound, adheres to established security protocols. This not only helps in preventing unauthorized access but also ensures that legitimate traffic flows seamlessly.

Regular reviews and updates of these policies ensure they remain relevant and effective against emerging threats. Moreover, a robust NSPM can aid in compliance with various regulatory standards, further enhancing your VPS security.

Consequences of a weak VPS security

Even though it is entirely manageable to maintain a secure VPS, a compromised VPS security and mistakes in choosing the provider can have devastating consequences for businesses and individuals alike, leading to consequences such as:

Operational disruptions

One of the immediate consequences of a successful cyberattack is the disruption of daily operations. Whether it's a DDoS attack that overwhelms a server with traffic or malware that harms essential software, the result is often the same: halted business operations. This not only leads to immediate revenue losses but can also cause long-term damage if prospective customers or clients perceive the company as unreliable.

Data theft

Data theft can be devastating. Unauthorized access to a server can lead to significant data breaches, exposing sensitive information ranging from personal customer details to proprietary business intelligence.

Such breaches not only jeopardize the privacy of individuals but can also provide competitors with an unfair advantage if trade secrets are leaked. Proper data management is crucial in preventing such breaches and ensuring data integrity.

Financial losses

The financial implications of a cyberattack are multifaceted. Direct costs can arise from ransomware demands, where hackers encrypt vital data and demand payment for its release. However, indirect costs can be even more substantial.

These include the loss of business during and after the attack, the cost of bolstering security post-breach, and potential compensation to affected parties. Over time, these costs can accumulate, straining the financial health of an organization.

Reputation damage

Trust is a fragile commodity in the business world. A security breach, especially one that exposes customer data, can severely erode the trust that a company has built over years or even decades.

Once the public's confidence is shaken, it can be an uphill battle to regain it. A damaged reputation can lead to losing customers, partners, and even potential investors, all wary of associating with a perceived insecure entity.

Legal implications

Beyond the immediate operational, financial, and reputational damages, companies must also grapple with potential legal consequences following a breach. Depending on the jurisdiction and the nature of the data exposed, companies might face hefty fines or lawsuits.

Regulatory bodies worldwide are becoming increasingly stringent about data protection, and non-compliance or negligence can lead to severe penalties.

Examples of secure VPS hosting providers

Cherry Servers

Cherry Servers is committed to maintaining the integrity and availability of hosted services with robust DDoS protection mechanisms—network safeguards against common DDoS attacks ensure minimal downtime.

Private subnets and DDoS-protected IPs offer further layers of security, allowing for tailored protection strategies. With a 99.97% uptime SLA and free technical support 24/7, Cherry Servers emphasizes reliability and customer trust.

DigitalOcean

DigitalOcean focuses on providing a streamlined and secure hosting experience, with automated backups and system updates to prevent data loss and mitigate vulnerabilities. Their use of SSDs as standard across all services underscores a commitment to performance and durability.

Hetzner

Hetzner, a reputable German hosting provider, offers competitively priced services with a strong emphasis on security. Automating security updates and backups is a testament to their proactive approach to cybersecurity.

Wrapping up

Taking the steps to secure VPS is not just a one-time task but a continuous commitment. With the ever-evolving landscape of cyber threats, it's crucial to stay updated and proactive in safeguarding your virtual space and server security.

For those seeking a secure and cost-effective virtual server, Cherry Servers offers robust solutions tailored to your needs.

Mantas is a hands-on growth marketer with expertise in Linux, Ansible, Python, Git, Docker, dbt, PostgreSQL, Power BI, analytics engineering, and technical writing. With more than seven years of experience in a fast-paced Cloud Computing market, Mantas is responsible for creating and implementing data-driven growth marketing strategies concerning PPC, SEO, email, and affiliate marketing initiatives in the company. In addition to business expertise, Mantas also has hands-on experience working with cloud-native and analytics engineering technologies. He is also an expert in authoring topics like Ubuntu, Ansible, Docker, GPU computing, and other DevOps-related technologies. Mantas received his B.Sc. in Psychology from Vilnius University and resides in Siauliai, Lithuania.

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