Linux Security in a Cloud Native World

Linux security refers to the set of practices and measures used to protect Linux-based operating systems from various security threats and vulnerabilities.

May 18, 2023

What Is Linux Security? 

Linux security refers to the set of practices and measures used to protect Linux-based operating systems from various security threats and vulnerabilities. Linux is a widely used open-source operating system that has gained popularity due to its security features, stability, and flexibility.

By implementing a robust Linux security strategy, organizations can help protect their systems from cyber attacks, data breaches, and other security incidents, and comply with regulatory requirements.

This is part of a series of articles about DevSecOps

In this article:

How Secure Is Linux? 

Linux is considered more secure than operating systems like macOS and Windows due to its open-source nature, which allows for extensive peer review and faster security updates. It has several built-in security mechanisms, such as firewalls, firmware verification, Linux Kernel Lockdown, and mandatory access control systems like SELinux and AppArmor. Linux restricts root access, reducing the risk of unauthorized changes or malicious activities.

However, Linux systems can still be vulnerable to compromises if not properly configured or if services are mismanaged. Proper system administration and adherence to security best practices are crucial to maintaining a secure Linux environment. Despite its inherent advantages, Linux security relies on the diligence of administrators and users.

Common Threats Facing Linux Systems 

Linux systems, like any other operating system, can face various threats that may compromise their security. 

Exploits Resulting from Unpatched Security Vulnerabilities

Vulnerabilities in the Linux kernel or software packages may be exploited by attackers to gain unauthorized access, execute malicious code, or escalate privileges. Regular updates and patching are crucial to prevent such exploits.

Malware-Based Attacks         

Linux systems can be targeted by malware, including viruses, worms, ransomware, and Trojans. Some attacks may be silent, operating covertly without detection while stealing data, spying on users, or using system resources for malicious purposes. Antivirus software and system hardening can help mitigate such threats.

Network Intrusion

Attackers may attempt to breach Linux systems by exploiting vulnerabilities in network services or protocols. Intrusions may involve brute-force attacks on user accounts or passwords, exploiting misconfigured services, or using known vulnerabilities in network-facing applications. Implementing firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and secure network protocols can help defend against network intrusion.

Linux Security with CIS 

CIS (Center for Internet Security) is a non-profit organization that focuses on enhancing the cybersecurity posture of organizations. It develops and promotes best practices, guidelines, and frameworks for improving the security of information systems, including Linux-based systems.

CIS Controls are a set of prioritized, actionable security measures designed to help organizations improve their cybersecurity posture. These controls provide a roadmap for systematically addressing security risks and reducing the attack surface. For Linux systems, CIS offers the CIS Linux Benchmark, which includes a set of recommendations for configuring and securing Linux environments.

By implementing CIS Controls and adhering to the CIS Linux Benchmark, organizations can strengthen their Linux system security, reduce the likelihood of successful attacks, and improve overall cybersecurity resilience. Following these guidelines helps organizations establish a secure foundation and maintain a consistent security posture across their Linux infrastructure.

Linux Security Best Practices 

Leverage the SSH Protocol

Using SSH (Secure Shell) is a best practice for remote system administration and secure data communication. SSH encrypts data transmitted between the client and server, ensuring the confidentiality and integrity of the information exchanged. It replaces insecure protocols like Telnet and FTP, which transmit data in plaintext, making them vulnerable to eavesdropping and man-in-the-middle attacks. 

By employing SSH with strong authentication methods, such as public key authentication, organizations can protect their Linux systems from unauthorized access and maintain secure remote connections.

Enable SELinux

SELinux (Security-Enhanced Linux) is a Linux security module that provides mandatory access control (MAC) through policy enforcement. It helps confine processes and limit their access to system resources. Enabling SELinux strengthens system security by preventing unauthorized actions and minimizing potential damage from vulnerabilities. 

SELinux has three modes: disabled (no enforcement), permissive (policy violations logged, but not enforced), and enforcing (policy actively enforced, violations logged and denied). Enforcing mode offers the strongest protection.

Disable Booting from Devices

Disabling booting from external devices like USB, disk, or Thunderbolt is a Linux security best practice that prevents unauthorized access to system resources through bootable media. This measure mitigates the risk of attackers bypassing system security or gaining unauthorized access by booting from an external device. 

Additionally, encrypting the full disk using tools like LUKS (Linux Unified Key Setup) ensures that sensitive data is protected, even if the device is physically compromised or stolen. Full disk encryption prevents unauthorized users from accessing data, reducing the risk of data loss.

Eliminate Redundant Packages

Purging unneeded software packages is important because it minimizes the attack surface of a Linux system. Each installed package may contain vulnerabilities or introduce potential security risks. By removing unnecessary software, you reduce the likelihood of exploitation, enhance system stability, and free up system resources.

Perform Frequent Audits

Frequent tests and security audits help identify gaps in the Linux security strategy by systematically evaluating system configurations, installed software, and potential vulnerabilities. These assessments provide valuable insights, allowing organizations to address security issues proactively. 

Linux AuditD, a kernel-level auditing system, facilitates continuous monitoring of security-relevant events, enabling organizations to detect anomalies, maintain compliance, and improve their overall security posture.