Fail2ban with PF on OpenBSD 5.2

This explains how to quickly setup the amazing fail2ban, which monitors your log files for activity you specify and performs certain actions once a threshold is reached. Simplest case: Monitor authlog for failed ssh login attempts, and ban the originating IP after a few tries.


I think no system should be without fail2ban for its simple to extend and pretty effective in blocking all kinds of attacks on your server. In my example setup i used OpenBSD 5.2 on a laptop, configured a simple packet filter firewall, and configured fail2ban to block ssh brute force attacks. Of course fail2ban can do a lot more – such as destroying your attacker by automatically pointing a few thousand machines from your botnet against him – but that is left as an exercise to the reader.


Fail2ban has few requirements and in my case simply having python2.7 was enough.

Download and install fail2ban

# wget
# unzip
# cd fail2ban-master
# python2.7 install

I do encourage you to read the relevant README files in the fail2ban directory and not just blindly copy & paste. Depending on your system you may need to do some other configuration.

Open /etc/fail2ban/jail.conf and setup a new “jail”, which specifies a logfile to monitor and an action to perform. You can append the below to jail.conf and adjust ignoreip to the IP of your machine

enabled  = true  
filter   = sshd  
action   = pf[localhost=]
logpath  = /var/log/authlog
ignoreip =

The next step is to setup an action that fail2ban shall perform when it detects activity specified by the filter “sshd”. Create a new file called /etc/fail2ban/action.d/pf.conf and make sure it has below contents

actionstart = 
actionstop = 
actioncheck = 
actionban = /sbin/pfctl -t fail2ban -T add /32
actionunban = /sbin/pfctl -t fail2ban -T delete /32

Setting up PF

PF is a wonderful firewall created and maintained by the OpenBSD project. To use it together with fail2ban, we will add a new “table” that holds the IP addresses of our would be attackers. See below file for a very very simplistic /etc/pf.conf that i use on my testing machine

lan_int = "alc0" # my laptops network card

set block-policy return
set skip on lo
set loginterface $lan_int

table  persist

block log
block in quick from {  } to any 

pass out quick

# On this machine, i just allow ssh access
pass in quick inet proto tcp from any to any port 22

Depending on your current pf.conf, all you have to do is to add a new table called fail2ban and a subsequent block rule that drops all traffic from IP’s listed in that table. After you made your adjustments, issue pf -f /etc/pf.conf to reload your packet filter configuration.


Now that everything is in place, start fail2ban and then try to repeatedly login to your machine via ssh from another pc. After a few tries, fail2ban will tell pf to ban your IP address for 5 minutes. You may want to be careful playing with this when you are setting up fail2ban on a remote server without physical access. (Use cron to disable fail2ban each hour for example, in case you lock yourself out).

# Start fail2ban
# failban-client start

To make sure both fail2ban and PF survive a reboot, make sure your that /etc/rc.conf.local contains PF=”YES” and that /etc/rc.local contains something like the following:

if [[ -x /usr/local/bin/fail2ban-client ]]; then
        mkdir /var/run/fail2ban
        /usr/local/bin/fail2ban-client start


My above outline works and is effective, yet it does no justice to how powerful fail2ban and PF are. As usual you want to do more reading on the subject by looking up it’s relevant documentation. Fail2ban and PF are cool products, and we will do a lot more with them in future posts.


  1. Hi Fred – thanks for your comment… YIKES you are right! I noticed also in another post; will fix it asap :-(

  2. Exactly. PF takes care on the banning or unbanning – fail2ban is for watching logfiles and once it sees something you define, triggering one or more actions. Two different responsibilities here entirely. The most common case for fail2ban i guess is to watch your auth.log and ban people that are hitting your ssh port – but other more complex cases are possible as well – basically anything you could think of – as long you know what to look for in a logfile and what you want to do once fail2ban triggers. Watch for a certain file download, and send you an email with the downloaders IP address and GEO IP Lookup. I dunno – imagination :-)

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