How to create your first safe server that’s ready for production

In this tutorial, I will present some of the best practices to build your own first safe server. I’ll list the steps you’ll need to take to have a fully functional server that you can use in production for your app.

Having a safe server doesn’t just rely on following some steps. It’s a constant search for new resources and never-ending improvement. But this article can be a step 0 in building your own infrastructure.

I will use Amazon EC2 to run these tests, but I’ve also used Amazon LightSail, Digital Ocean, Vultr and some others. In all cases, they were the same to configure, so you can use the provider you prefer.

Let’s make it safe!

So let’s go:

Creating public and private SSH keys

Before starting, let’s create a pair of keys that some hosts ask for during installation of the server. This step and the next can be omitted if you decide to create a pair of keys while launching a machine instance with Amazon.

Create an SSH key pair using the ssh-keygen tool.

$ ssh-keygen -t rsa -b 4096

After this step, you will have the following files: id_rsa and id_rsa.pub (private and public keys). Never share your private key.

A more detailed document on creating the keys can be found here.

Import the public key on Amazon:

We will import the public key that we just created on the Amazon platform.

  1. Access Amazon Management Console
  2. Click on AWS services > Compute > EC2
  3. Click on the left menu Network & Security > Key Pairs
  4. Click on “Import Key Pair” and upload your public key (id_rsa.pub)

Create your machine

I will install an Ubuntu version on Amazon EC2. You can find a complete setup at this link. The steps are as follows (but just for simplicity, follow this link for more explanation):

  1. Access Amazon Management Console
  2. Click on AWS services > Compute > EC2
  3. Choose Launch Instance
  4. Choose one of the images. I chose Ubuntu Server 16.04 LTS (HVM), SSD Volume Type (but choose accordingly to your needs)
  5. Choose the instance (again, according to your needs). Click Review and Launch
  6. Open a new tab and import the created public key on Amazon.
  7. Here we are asked to “Select an existing key pair or create a new key pair”. I chose “Choose an existing key pair”. Choose the one you uploaded in the previous step.
  8. Click “Launch Instances”.
  9. Click on the link of the instance you just created.

Attention: Some of the steps bellow could be configured on this initial screen of Amazon. But since I want to create a generic tutorial that can be used for other hosts, I chose the default configurations.

Connect to the new server

Access the machine with ssh.

Type on your terminal:

$ ssh @ -p 22 -i 
  • : The user on the Linux system. For Amazon use ubuntu, for others, root
  •  : The IP address of the machine you created. It is the field “Public DNS (IPv4)” on the tab “Description” of your instance.
  •  : The full path to the private key you generated on the item before (e.g. /Users/flavio/.ssh/id_rsa).
  • -i  : this part can be omitted if you added the key to your SSH agent.

Give your new user access

Create a new user account named “wizard”

$ sudo adduser wizard

Give “wizard” the permission to sudo. Open the file

$ sudo nano /etc/sudoers.d/wizard

And set the content:

wizard ALL=(ALL) NOPASSWD:ALL

Create the following directories:

$ mkdir /home/wizard/.ssh
# create authorized_keys file and copy your public key here
$ nano /home/wizard/.ssh/authorized_keys
$ chown wizard /home/wizard/.ssh
$ chown wizard /home/wizard/.ssh/authorized_keys

Copy the content of the public key (PATH-TO-PUBLIC-KEY) and paste on the remote instance on the /home/wizard/.ssh/authorized_keys . Set the permissions:

$ chmod 700 /home/wizard/.ssh
$ chmod 600 /home/wizard/.ssh/authorized_keys

Securing the System

Update all currently installed packages.

$ sudo apt-get update
$ sudo apt-get upgrade

Change the SSH port from 22 to 2201. Configure the firewall (ufw, Uncomplicated Firewall, and it is really uncomplicated) to allow it. Open the file /etc/ssh/sshd_config

$ sudo nano /etc/ssh/sshd_config

and change the following data:

Port 2201
PermitRootLogin no
PasswordAuthentication no
# add this to avoid problem with multiple sshd processes
ClientAliveInterval 600
ClientAliveCountMax 3

Restart the ssh service:

$ sudo service ssh restart

Configure the Uncomplicated Firewall (UFW) to only allow incoming connections for SSH (port 2201), HTTP (port 80), and NTP (port 123).

# close all incoming ports
$ sudo ufw default deny incoming
# open all outgoing ports
$ sudo ufw default allow outgoing
# open ssh port
$ sudo ufw allow 2201/tcp
# open http port
$ sudo ufw allow 80/tcp
# open ntp port : to sync the clock of your machine
$ sudo ufw allow 123/udp
# turn on firewall
$ sudo ufw enable

Configure your server clock

Configure the local timezone to UTC:

$ sudo dpkg-reconfigure tzdata

Choose the option ‘None of the Above’ and then select UTC.

Disconnect and Add your key to your SSH agent

Disconnect from your server and make the following on your machine. To disconnect:

$ exit

Add Access Port Permission on Amazon

This step is required on Amazon. We will set the ssh port that we want to use on Amazon also.

  1. Access Amazon Management Console
  2. Click on AWS services > Compute > EC2
  3. Click on the left menu Network & Security >Security Groups
  4. Choose the one that is attached to your instance
  5. Click on Action > Edit Inbound Rules
  6. Click on “Add Rule” and set: Type: Custom TCP, Port Range: 2201, Source: 0.0.0.0/0 and Description: SSH

Connect with the new credentials

Now you can connect on the machine with the user on the new port.

$ ssh wizard@ -p 2201 -i 

You have a server ready to run your application. Soon I will write another tutorial on how to install an environment to run your Meteor application using pm2. I’ll also discuss configuring SSL, a reverse proxy, a load balancer and Nginx. But this article showed how to make a generic safer server that you can run whatever you need.

If you enjoyed this article, be sure to like it give me a lot of claps — it means the world to the writer 😘 And follow me if you want to read more articles about Culture, Technology, and Startups.

Flávio H. Freitas is an Entrepreneur, Full Stack Software Engineer, Tech lover, Dreamer and Traveler. Worked as CTO in several startups in Silicon Valley, Europe, and Brazil.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash


How to create your first safe server that’s ready for production was originally published in freeCodeCamp on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Gurupriyan is a Software Engineer and a technology enthusiast, he’s been working on the field for the last 6 years. Currently focusing on mobile app development and IoT.

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