Detecting account manipulation

Account manipulation refers to the creation, modification, or deletion of user accounts or other credentials within an organization's IT infrastructure. Monitoring this activity is critical to the cybersecurity of an organization. Unauthorized account manipulations might grant an attacker access to sensitive systems and data.

To maintain persistence on a victim endpoint, adversaries can alter the SSH authorized_keys file in Linux. The .ssh directory within a user home directory holds this file. For example, for a user named smith, you can find the authorized_keys file located at /home/smith/.ssh/authorized_keys. This file defines the public keys this user uses to login into some of their accounts. Each line in the file represents a single public key.

You can configure the Wazuh FIM module to monitor the authorized_keys file. This triggers an alert whenever a user or process modifies the public keys in the file. Detecting the modification of the SSH keys allows you to take action before a system compromise occurs.

Use case description



Ubuntu 20.04

The FIM module detects SSH key modification on this endpoint.


Perform the following steps to configure the FIM module to monitor SSH key modification.

  1. Edit the /var/ossec/etc/ossec.conf configuration file and add authorized_keys for monitoring:

      <directories whodata="yes">/home/*/.ssh/authorized_keys</directories>
  2. Restart the Wazuh agent to apply the configuration:

    systemctl restart wazuh-agent

Test the configuration

  1. Generate an SSH key-pair for user authentication and save it as .ssh/test_key using the following command:

    ssh-keygen -f .ssh/test_key
  2. Run the following command to copy the content of the generated SSH public key and add it to the authorized_keys file in the target Ubuntu user .ssh directory:

    cat ~/.ssh/ | ssh <UBUNTU_USER>@<UBUNTU_IP> "sudo tee -a /home/<UBUNTU_USER>/.ssh/authorized_keys"

Replace <UBUNTU_USER> and <UBUNTU_IP> with the user and IP address for your Ubuntu endpoint respectively.

Visualize the alert

Navigate to Modules > Integrity monitoring on the Wazuh dashboard to view the alert generated when the FIM module detects changes to the authorized_keys file.

Changes to the authorized_keys file