Automated Rsync – without compromising security

Rsync is one of the most popular tools to synchronize data between two computers, and used mostly in taking backups using this sync feature. It’s easy to use and only uploads the changed files when a sync is necessary, so it’s effective in saving bandwidth and time too. To run rsync, you need root or a properly privileged user which can access that specific path in the remote machine. And to setup this privilege, you can either use a should-never-be-used root account or an user chrooted using a jail shell. But if, by any chance, current machine is compromised then remote machine is compromised too. Because anyone can connect to your remote machine using those credentials from the current machine. To avoid plain text credentials (or the credentials written in a shell script), people usually use ssh keys to establish a connection between two machines. Still, your remote machine is unsecured if anything goes wrong in the current machine from where you’re taking the backup.

So a fullproof solution is to use ssh keys and properly chroot the remote user so that it can only access the backup files and nothing else. However, setting up a jailed shell is a not-for-everyone type task and takes time and experience to accomplish properly. So here is a quick work around that you can implement in your remote machine to prevent the connecting user from doing anything malicious but only tasks those are needed to perform the rsync backup. Let’s see how we can do that

Before continuing, let’s name our two machines. The one which should be backed up, lets name that Workstation. And the one which is storing the backups is BackupServer. Also for now, let’s assume that you are backing up complete “/var/www” folder in the WorkStation.

Step 1: Create SSH key in the BackupServer
Log into the BackupServer and run the following command in ssh terminal. But remember, if you already have a key in ~/.ssh/id_rsa.pub then IGNORE IGNORE IGNORE this step.

ssh-keygen -t rsa

It will prompt for a passphrase, REMEMBER to just hit the enter without typing anything.

Step 2: Display and Copy the SSH key from BackupServer
Run the following command to display the ssh public key in the terminal, and then copy it.
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