July 24, 2018

Hardening a Server with a Geofence

I recently noticed some odd HTTP requests on my web server, which I exclusively use for private purposes like hosting Nextcloud, GOGS, or Wallabag. I did a bit of research where these requests come from – just fire something like for elem in $(awk '{print $1 | "sort | uniq"}' /var/log/nginx/access.log); do curl ipinfo.io/$elem; done – and found out that they all originate from Russia, China or India. That sounds a bit suspicious to me.

I got the idea to add geofencing to my server's other hardening measures. Geofencing only allows connections to a server from certain white listed regions of the world. As it turns out this is actually pretty simple to achieve and a nice little after work project.

First, you need to install xtables-addons-common. On Debian-based systems just fire apt install xtables-addons-common. This will install some extensions for iptables and various required tools. On my system I also had to install apt install libtext-csv-xs-perl libnet-cidr-lite-perl as otherwise the build step in the script below fails.

Now you need a database that lists which IP ranges belong to which country. Such a database can be obtained from Maxmind. Furthermore, the database (which comes in csv format) must be converted in a binary format and placed in /usr/share/xt_geoip. Just put something like the following lines into a bash script, add it to cron and let cron run the script weekly or so. xt_geoip_dl downloads the databases from Maxmind, xt_geoip_build takes care for the conversion.


MYPATH="$( cd "$( dirname "${BASH_SOURCE[0]}" )" && pwd )"

mkdir -p $DL_DIR
cd $DL_DIR

/usr/lib/xtables-addons/xt_geoip_build *.csv -D /usr/share/xt_geoip

rm -rf $DL_DIR

Finally, add something like $IPTABLES -A INPUT -i eth0 -m conntrack --ctstate NEW -m geoip ! --src-cc DE -j DROP to your iptables configuration. For additional white listed countries, just append the corresponding country codes, e.g., DE,AT,CH,FR.


Of cause, someone who really wants to attack your server can overcome the geofence using a proxy that sits in a region of the world you permitted. Furthermore, a geofence does not protect at all against attackers that happen to live in these regions. However, I think this is a good addition to other hardening measures like Fail2Ban as the geofence will exclude many random attacks.

Edit 02.01.2020: As xt_geoip_dl doesn't work with the new Maxmind accounts, read here how to fix this issue.

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