Fail2ban Setup (Intrusion Prevention Framework)

Last Release: 11/23/2020     Last Commit: 08/29/2022

Fail2ban Setup (Intrusion Prevention Framework)


Last Release: 11/23/2020     Last Commit: 08/29/2022

Fail2ban is an Intrusion Detection/Prevention System (IDS/IPS), a great tool that helps you keep “unwanted” guests at bay. It’s mainly used to stop, prevent or slow down bruteforce attacks, but can be used to limit the number of requests per unit of time (backend, API,..). It scans/monitor log files and bans IPs that show malicious signs, like too many password failures, probing, bruteforcing attempts, etc. You can specify which service and log to monitor, how many attempts per unit of time (second/hour…), define regex (regular expression) patterns, etc. Out of the box it comes with filters for various services: Apache, ssh, nginx, asterisk, proftp, mysql… Here we’ll quickly go through Fail2ban setup.

Fail2Ban Setup

Install process it is relatively straightforward.

RedHat (CentOS)

Update, Install with EPEL repository:

$ yum update
$ yum install epel-release
$ yum install fail2ban

Debian (Ubuntu)

Update & install:

$ apt-get update
$ apt-get install fail2ban

Fail2ban Configuration Files

Relevant File2Ban Configuration files and dirs:

  • /etc/fail2ban/filter.d/ : Contains predefined (regex) fail2ban filters
  • /etc/fail2ban/jail.conf : Not recommended to be updated, use custom jails
  • /etc/fail2ban/jail.local : Your customized Jails (or customisation.local)
  • /etc/fail2ban/fail2ban.conf : Main Configuration File

Fail2ban Definitions

Before we continue, it’s probably good idea to define what’s what:

  • filter : a filter defines a regular expression which must match a pattern corresponding to a log-in failure or any other expression
  • action : an action defines several commands which are executed at different moments
  • jail : a jail is a combination of one filter and one or several actions. Fail2ban can handle several jails at the same time
  • client : refers to the script fail2ban-client
  • server : refers to the script fail2ban-server

Fail2ban Server is multi-threaded, listens on a Unix socket for commands. Knows nothing about configuration files.

   -b                   start in background
   -f                   start in foreground
   -s <FILE>            socket path
   -x                   force execution of the server
   -h, --help           display this help message
   -V, --version        print the version

Fail2ban Client is basically the frontend, operate the servers. Reads the configuration files, or accept individual commands via interactive mode.

   -c <DIR>                configuration directory
   -s <FILE>               socket path
   -d                      dump configuration. For debugging
   -i                      interactive mode
   -v                      increase verbosity
   -q                      decrease verbosity
   -x                      force execution of the server
   -h, --help              display this help message
   -V, --version           print the version


$ fail2ban-client set loglevel 1
$ fail2ban-client set logtarget STDERR

$ fail2ban-client status
|- Number of jails: 1
`- Jail list: sshd

$ fail2ban-client status sshd
Status for the jail: sshd
|- Filter
|  |- Currently failed: 2
|  |- Total failed: 42635
|  |- File list: /var/log/auth.log
`- Actions
   |- Currently banned: 0
   |- Total banned: 863
   |- Banned IP list:

Fail2ban Main Configuration

  • loglevel: The level of detail that Fail2ban’s logs provide:
    • 1 (error)
    • 2 (warn)
    • 3 (info)
    • 4 (debug).
  • logtarget: Logs actions into a specific file. The default value of /var/log/fail2ban.logputs all logging into the defined file. Alternately, you can change the value to:
    • STDOUT: output any data
    • STDERR: output any errors
    • SYSLOG: message-based logging
    • FILE: output to a file
  • socket: The location of the socket file.
  • pidfile: The location of the PID file.

Fail2ban Jail Options

  • filter : ame of the filter to be used by the jail to detect matches. Each single match by a filter increments the counter within the jail
  • logpath : Path to the log file which is provided to the filter
  • maxretry : Number of matches (i.e. value of the counter) which triggers ban action on the IP.
  • bantime : Duration (in seconds) for IP to be banned for. Negative number for “permanent” ban.
  • enabled : True or false. Defines if filter is turned on or not
  • port: The port used by the service
  • ignoreip : IP(s) that should be ignored by fail2ban
  • findtime : Time range fail2ban will pay attention to when looking at the logs.
  • backend : Defines how fail2ban monitor logs. It will try pinotify, gaming and finaly pooling.
  • destemail: Address to send email notifications to
  • sendername : From field for notification emails
  • sender: Email address from which Fail2ban will send emails.
  • mta : MTA used to send notification mails
  • protocol :
  • banaction : Action to be used when ban is triggered. Check /etc/fail2ban/action.d/

Let’s explain one example:



enabled = true
port = ssh
filter = sshd
action = iptables[name=SSH, port=ssh, protocol=tcp]
logpath = /var/log/secure
findtime = 120
maxretry = 5
bantime = 3600

Log path can vary, adjust it on your system (OS). Based on rules above, we’re monitoring SSH log (/var/log/secure), and we’re banning anyone (for 1 hour, 3600 seconds) who fails to log 5 times within 2 minutes (120 seconds). Rules are pretty straight forward. We’ve specified “sshd” filter, so if you go to /etc/fail2ban/filter.d/sshd.conf, you’ll se a number of failregex rules, used to match login attempts from log file.

To whitelist (ignore) an IP, add them to the ignoreip line:

ignoreip =
Note: Depending on the amount of traffic specific service has (website, wordpress, etc.) fail2ban can generate CPU concerns/load.

Custom Fail2ban PhpMyAdmin filter (Jail & Regex)

The best way to learn is to try and write your own filters. I’ll show you an example for Custom Fail2ban PhpMyAdmin filter. First, we need the jail in our jail.local file:


enabled = true
port = http,https
filter = phpmyadmin
action = iptables-multiport[name=PHPMYADMIN, port="http,https", protocol=tcp]
logpath = /var/log/nginx/access.log
bantime = 3600
findtime = 60
maxretry = 3

Next we need that filter. Check your web server (Apache/nginx) logs:

/var/log/nginx/access.log.1: - - [19/Sep/2018:01:41:23 +0000] "GET /phpmyadmin/index.php?pma_username=root&pma_password=root&server=1 HTTP/1.1" 200 10050 "-" "Mozilla/5.0"
/var/log/nginx/access.log.1: - - [19/Sep/2018:01:41:23 +0000] "GET /phpmyadmin/index.php?pma_username=root&pma_password=toor&server=1 HTTP/1.1" 200 10050 "-" "Mozilla/5.0"
/var/log/nginx/access.log.1: - - [19/Sep/2018:01:41:23 +0000] "GET /phpmyadmin/index.php?pma_username=root&pma_password=r00t&server=1 HTTP/1.1" 200 10050 "-" "Mozilla/5.0"

The IP is trying to bruteforce its way in (well known malicious IP). We’ll try to make their life a bit more difficult. Make a file in your /etc/fail2ban/filter.d/phpmyadmin.conf, and insert:

failregex = ^<HOST> -.*"(GET|POST).*/phpmyadmin/index\.php\?pma_username=root&pma_password=.*$
ignoreregex =

The above regex is matching the lines we’ve seen in the logs. This will ban anyone for 1 hour if they fail to login more than 3x in 60 seonds. When done, restart fail2ban:

$ service fail2ban restart

or reload:

$ fail2ban-client reload phpmyadmin

Fail2ban testing regex

When you finish creating some filter it’s good idea to test it before activating it. For that we have fail2ban-regex:

$ fail2ban-regex /var/log/nginx/access.log /etc/fail2ban/filter.d/phpmyadmin.conf

Running tests

Use   failregex filter file : phpmyadmin, basedir: /etc/fail2ban
Use         log file : /var/log/nginx/access.log
Use         encoding : UTF-8


Failregex: 56 total
|-  #) [# of hits] regular expression
|   1) [56] ^<HOST> -.*"(GET|POST).*/phpmyadmin/index\.php\?pma_username=root&pma_password=.*$

Ignoreregex: 0 total

Date template hits:
|- [# of hits] date format
|  [4078] Day(?P<_sep>[-/])MON(?P=_sep)Year[ :]?24hour:Minute:Second(?:\.Microseconds)?(?: Zone offset)?

Lines: 4078 lines, 0 ignored, 56 matched, 4022 missed [processed in 0.33 sec]
Missed line(s): too many to print.  Use --print-all-missed to print all 4022 lines

We have a match. In case filter/regex is wrong, we’ll probably end up with no matches:

Lines: 3315 lines, 0 ignored, 0 matched, 3315 missed [processed in 0.23 sec]
Missed line(s): too many to print. Use --print-all-missed to print all 3315 lines

Fail2ban Email Alerts

I didn’t experiment with this much, but its probably worth mentioning that you have Email Alert option. Adjust email setings:

  • destemail: Destination Email address, where you would like to receive the emails.
  • sendername: Name under which the email will shows up.
  • sender: Email address from which Fail2ban will send emails.

Use fail2ban predefined actions.d/sendmail-whois:

enabled = true
filter = sendmail
action = iptables-multiport[name=sendmail, port="pop3,imap,smtp,pop3s,imaps,smtps", protocol=tcp]
logpath = /var/log/maillog

Another example:

enabled  = true
port     = ssh
filter   = sshd
action   = iptables-multiport[name=ssh,port=["ssh"|”22,4422”],protocol=tcp]
logpath  = /var/log/auth.log
maxretry = 3
bantime = 600

For this you’ll need an email server. Check Mail Server Setup.


I hope we managed to clarify more than a few things with this Fail2ban setup tutorial. Fail2ban is a great IDS/IPS tool, doing its job well. Depending on the traffic and findtime span it can cause significant load on CPU. Personally I didn’t experiance significant problems. If CPU load increases, try changing the backend parameter to to pooling or similar. Experiment. Since fail2ban relies on log file parsing, it doesn’t do anything to “prevent” initial attack, it only responds to predefined conditions and rules. It’s actively maintaned and we’re definitely recomending you to try it out.

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