When you buy a vps or dedicated server with Ubuntu 18.04 server installed, there are a few steps that you should take. Those steps will increase the security and usability of your server and keep away the attackers.
Note: The guide Initial Server Setup for Ubuntu 18.04 demonstrates how to manually complete the steps we recommend for new Ubuntu 18.04 servers. Following this procedure manually can be useful to learn some basic system administration skills and as an exercise to fully understand the actions being taken on your server.
Step 1 — Logging in as Root
In order to log in to your server, you need to know the public IP address of the server. You will also need the password or if you installed an SSH key for authentication, the private key for the root user’s account.
If you are not already connected to your server, go ahead and log in as the root user using the following command (substitute the highlighted portion of the command with your server’s public IP address):
ssh [email protected]_server_ip
Accept the warning about host authenticity if it appears.
The root user is the administrative user in a Linux environment that has very broad privileges. Because of the heightened privileges of the root account, you are discouraged from using it on a regular basis. This is because part of the power inherent with the root account is the ability to make very destructive changes, even by accident.
The next step is to set up an alternative user account with a reduced scope of influence for day-to-day work. We’ll teach you how to gain increased privileges during the times when you need them.
Step 2 — Creating a New User
Once you are logged in as root, we’re prepared to add the new user account that we will use to log in from now on.
This example creates a new user called sammy, but you should replace it with a username that you like:
You will be asked a few questions, starting with the account password.
Enter a strong password and, optionally, fill in any of the additional information if you would like. This is not required and you can just hit ENTER in any field you wish to skip.
Step 3 — Granting Administrative Privileges
Now, we have a new user account with regular account privileges. However, we may sometimes need to do administrative tasks.
To avoid having to log out of our normal user and log back in as the root account, we can set up what is known as “superuser” or root privileges for our normal account. This will allow our normal user to run commands with administrative privileges by putting the word sudo before each command.
To add these privileges to our new user, we need to add the new user to the sudo group. By default, on Ubuntu 18.04, users who belong to the sudo group are allowed to use the sudo command.
As root, run this command to add your new user to the sudo group (substitute the highlighted word with your new user):
usermod -aG sudo sammy
Now, when logged in as your regular user, you can type sudo before commands to perform actions with superuser privileges.
Step 4 — Setting Up a Basic Firewall
Ubuntu 18.04 servers can use the UFW firewall to make sure only connections to certain services are allowed. We can set up a basic firewall very easily using this application.
Different applications can register their profiles with UFW upon installation. These profiles allow UFW to manage these applications by name. OpenSSH, the service allowing us to connect to our server now, has a profile registered with UFW.
You can see this by typing:
ufw app list
OutputAvailable applications: OpenSSH
We need to make sure that the firewall allows SSH connections so that we can log back in next time. We can allow these connections by typing:
ufw allow OpenSSH
Afterward, we can enable the firewall by typing:
Type “y” and press ENTER to proceed. You can see that SSH connections are still allowed by typing:
OutputStatus: active To Action From -- ------ ---- OpenSSH ALLOW Anywhere OpenSSH (v6) ALLOW Anywhere (v6)
As the firewall is currently blocking all connections except for SSH, if you install and configure additional services, you will need to adjust the firewall settings to allow acceptable traffic in. You can learn some common UFW operations in this guide.
Step 5 — Enabling External Access for Your Regular User
Now that we have a regular user for daily use, we need to make sure we can SSH into the account directly.
Note: Until verifying that you can log in and use it with your new user, we recommend staying logged in as root. This way, if you have problems, you can troubleshoot and make any necessary changes as root.
The process for configuring SSH access for your new user depends on whether your server’s root account uses a password or SSH keys for authentication.
If the Root Account Uses Password Authentication
If you logged in to your root account using a password, then password authentication is enabled for SSH. You can SSH to your new user account by opening up a new terminal session and using SSH with your new username:
ssh [email protected]_server_ip
After entering your regular user’s password, you will be logged in. Remember, if you need to run a command with administrative privileges, type sudo before it like this:
You will be prompted for your regular user password when using sudo for the first time each session (and periodically afterward).
To enhance your server’s security, we strongly recommend setting up SSH keys instead of using password authentication. Follow our guide on setting up SSH keys on Ubuntu 18.04 to learn how to configure key-based authentication.
If the Root Account Uses SSH Key Authentication
If you logged in using SSH keys to your root account, then password authentication is disabled for SSH. You will need to add a copy of your local public key to the new user’s
~/.ssh/authorized_keys file to log in successfully.
Since your public key is already in the root account’s
~/.ssh/authorized_keys file on the server, we can copy that file and directory structure to our new user account in our existing session.
The simplest way to copy the files with the correct ownership and permissions is with the rsync command. This will copy the root user’s
.ssh directory, preserve the permissions, and modify the file owners, all in a single command. Make sure to change the highlighted portions of the command below to match your regular user’s name:
rsync command treats sources and destinations that end with a trailing slash differently than those without a trailing slash. When using
rsync below, be sure that the source directory (
~/.ssh) does not include a trailing slash (check to make sure you are not using
If you accidentally add a trailing slash to the command,
rsync will copy the contents of the root account’s
~/.ssh directory to the
sudo user’s home directory instead of copying the entire
~/.ssh directory structure. The files will be in the wrong location and SSH will not be able to find and use them.
rsync --archive --chown=sammy:sammy ~/.ssh /home/sammy
Now, open up a new terminal session and use SSH with your new username:
ssh [email protected]_server_ip
You should be logged in to the new user account without using a password. Remember, if you need to run a command with administrative privileges, type
sudo before it like this:
You will be prompted for your regular user password when using
sudo for the first time each session (and periodically afterward).
Where To Go From Here?
At this point, you have a solid foundation for your server. You can install any of the software you need on your server now.