I just logged in on a GitLab server and noticed that it had 18.974 failed logins since I last checked the server - almost 5 days. I checked the Ip's and it seems that almost all of them were from China and tried to gain access with SSH and Brute Force. I started to block some Ip's but then i realized that it is a huge waste of time and a better idea would be to block the entire country.

Is there any way i can block ALL China or any other country with iptables?

I found some articles on the internet but almost all of them are bash scripts. I'm a newbie on Linux so i don't really understand all those scripts. I find iptables really interesting and i want to learn more about it.

Any ideas ? Thank you!

  • 4
    I solved the same problem in a different way. I hardened SSH on my customer's GitLab server by turning off password and challenge based authentication and only allow login with SSL keys. Maybe that would work in your situation? Blocking IP ranges might reduce the "noise" but it won't give you real protection against brute forcing.
    – blendenzo
    Jan 5, 2017 at 13:47
  • so far it didn't worked. the gitlab server is still up and i had 0 break-in. Ssh acces are made only with ssh-keys and i disabled the root login. It's just that i want to learn iptables so bad.. Jan 5, 2017 at 14:08
  • 2
    You can also switch your ssh to a non-default port in your router. That dropped my ssh bot attack attempts from hundreds per day to zero. Jan 5, 2017 at 14:34

5 Answers 5


China block using ipset

You can't manually add a few thousand IP addresses to your iptables, and even doing it automatically is a bad idea because it can cause a lot of CPU load (or so I've read). Instead we can use ipset which is designed for this sort of thing. ipset handles big lists of ip addresses; you just create a list and then tell iptables to use that list in a rule.

Note; I assume that the entirety of the following is done as root. Adjust accordingly if your system is based on sudo.

apt-get install ipset

Next, I wrote a small Bash script to do all the work, which you should be able to understand from the comments in it. Create a file:

nano /etc/block-china.sh

Here's what you want to paste into it:

# Create the ipset list
ipset -N china hash:net

# remove any old list that might exist from previous runs of this script
rm cn.zone

# Pull the latest IP set for China
wget -P . http://www.ipdeny.com/ipblocks/data/countries/cn.zone

# Add each IP address from the downloaded list into the ipset 'china'
for i in $(cat /etc/cn.zone ); do ipset -A china $i; done

# Restore iptables
/sbin/iptables-restore < /etc/iptables.firewall.rules

Save the file. Make it executable:

chmod +x /etc/block-china.sh

This hasn't done anything yet, but it will in a minute when we run the script. First, we need to add a rule into iptables that refers to this new ipset list the script above defines:

nano /etc/iptables.firewall.rules

Add the following line:

-A INPUT -p tcp -m set --match-set china src -j DROP

Save the file. To be clear, my full iptables.firewall.rules now looks like this:


#  Allow all loopback (lo0) traffic and drop all traffic to 127/8 that doesn't use lo0
-A INPUT -i lo -j ACCEPT

#  Accept all established inbound connections

# Block anything from China
# These rules are pulled from ipset's china list
# The source file is at /etc/cn.zone (which in turn is generated by a shell script at /etc/block-china.sh )
-A INPUT -p tcp -m set --match-set china src -j DROP

#  Allow all outbound traffic - you can modify this to only allow certain traffic

#  Allow HTTP and HTTPS connections from anywhere (the normal ports for websites and SSL).
-A INPUT -p tcp --dport 80 -j ACCEPT
-A INPUT -p tcp --dport 443 -j ACCEPT

#  Allow SSH connections
#  The -dport number should be the same port number you set in sshd_config
-A INPUT -p tcp -m state --state NEW --dport 22 -j ACCEPT

#  Allow ping
-A INPUT -p icmp -j ACCEPT

#  Log iptables denied calls
-A INPUT -m limit --limit 5/min -j LOG --log-prefix "iptables denied: " --log-level 7

#  Drop all other inbound - default deny unless explicitly allowed policy


Right now, nothing has changed with the server because no new rules have been applied; to do so, run the block-china.sh script:


This should show some output as it pulls a fresh list of Chinese based IPs and then, after a few seconds or so, it will complete and drop you back to a command prompt.

To test if it worked, run:

iptables -L

You should now see a new rule blocking China – the output ought to look like this:

Chain INPUT (policy ACCEPT)
target     prot opt source               destination
ACCEPT     all  --  anywhere             anywhere
REJECT     all  --  anywhere             loopback/8           reject-with icmp-port-unreachable
ACCEPT     all  --  anywhere             anywhere             state RELATED,ESTABLISHED
DROP       tcp  --  anywhere             anywhere             match-set china src
ACCEPT     tcp  --  anywhere             anywhere             tcp dpt:http
ACCEPT     tcp  --  anywhere             anywhere             tcp dpt:https
ACCEPT     tcp  --  anywhere             anywhere             state NEW tcp dpt:ssh
ACCEPT     icmp --  anywhere             anywhere
LOG        all  --  anywhere             anywhere             limit: avg 5/min burst 5 LOG level debug prefix "iptables denied: "
DROP       all  --  anywhere             anywhere

Chain FORWARD (policy ACCEPT)
target     prot opt source               destination
DROP       all  --  anywhere             anywhere

Chain OUTPUT (policy ACCEPT)
target     prot opt source               destination
ACCEPT     all  --  anywhere             anywhere

Almost done! This works, and will continue to work on re-boots. But, IP addresses change and that list will grow stale over time. If you want to pull and apply an updated list of IPs you can just run the block-china.sh script again.

We can also set the machine to do that automatically via a cron job:

crontab -e

Add a line such as this:

0 5 * * * /etc/block-china.sh

This will run /etc/block-china.sh at 5am every day. To enable it upon reboot add another line such as this:

@reboot /etc/block-china.sh

The user running the script will need to be root or have root privileges.


  • Why limit it to only tcp protocol? It seems to work without specifying protocol. Suggest to use the newer aggregated lists, as they are much shorter: wget http://www.ipdeny.com/ipblocks/data/aggregated/cn-aggregated.zone Dec 20, 2018 at 0:40
  • There is nothing here that restores the ipset after re-boot. Dec 21, 2018 at 19:59
  • I'm trying to implement this, I hope someone can help me here: unix.stackexchange.com/questions/596215/…
    – Pikk
    Jul 2, 2020 at 10:44
  • the cronjob should read 0 5 * * * /etc/block-china.sh. NB nice stuff!!
    – mistige
    Jun 22, 2021 at 14:24
  • 1
    this didnt work for me on ubuntu22.04, the script ends with iptables-restore: line 1 failed and iptables -L shows nothing - i had to add a *filter at the start of the file and a COMMIT at the end, as for my my iptables.firewall.rules file was empty by default Aug 12, 2022 at 7:08

Using iptables to automatically identify, and thereafter block, bad guys for ssh can be done using the recent module. The following segment must come after your generic ESTABLISHED,RELATED line:


# Secure Shell on port 22.
# Sometimes I uncomment the next line to simply disable external SSH access.
# Particulalry useful when I am rebooting often, thereby losing my current BADGUY table.
# $IPTABLES -A INPUT -i $EXTIF -m state --state NEW -p tcp -s $UNIVERSE -d $EXTIP --dport 22 -j DROP

# Dynamic Badguy List. Detect and DROP Bad IPs that do password attacks on SSH.
# Once they are on the BADGUY list then DROP all packets from them.
# Sometimes make the lock time very long. Typically to try to get rid of coordinated attacks from China.
$IPTABLES -A INPUT -i $EXTIF -m recent --update --hitcount 3 --seconds 90000 --name BADGUY_SSH -j LOG --log-prefix "SSH BAD:" --log-level info
$IPTABLES -A INPUT -i $EXTIF -m recent --update --hitcount 3 --seconds 90000 --name BADGUY_SSH -j DROP
$IPTABLES -A INPUT -i $EXTIF -p tcp -m tcp --dport 22 -m recent --set --name BADGUY_SSH -j ACCEPT

Now, the recent (the last year or two) problem with China is that they have become very clever and very often once they get blocked from one IP address they simply switch to another on the same sub-net and continue. This runs the risk of running out of default recent table entries (I think the default is 200). I monitor this and then look up the actual IP segment, and permanently block the entire segment. In my case, I do not care about collateral damage, i.e. blocking someone innocent:

# After a coordinated attack involving several sub-nets from China, they are now banned forever.
# List includes sub-nets from unknown origin, and perhaps Hong Kong

Where in the above:

# The location of the iptables program

#Setting the EXTERNAL and INTERNAL interfaces and addresses for the network

You can get the entire list of IP addresses for China, or any country, in iptables, or other, format here. However the list is both surprisingly long and rather dynamic. Myself, I decided not to block the entire list.

  • This ^ ! Might be the best answer I've ever received. It might be a dumb question, but i guess all these rules go into a bash script, right? I still have some problems understanding iptables but I find it fascinating. Jan 6, 2017 at 10:13
  • Yes, I use a bash script. Some, and I used too also, use a direct iptables restore method, which is faster to load. I changed because I include some non-iptables commands in the same script. Jan 6, 2017 at 14:56

You may want to install something like fail2ban so that it blocks ips that attempt to log into your server and fail.

  • i could also use csf firewall and block every country i want from the config files. The thing is that i really want to use iptables so i can learn more about it. Jan 5, 2017 at 14:07
  • You would have to see what countries have what ip address blocks assigned to them to figure out who to block. Not sure if it would be super accurate or not though. You can use iptables -L to show current iptables rules, iptables-save to show what commands were run to create said rules, then design your own rules and test using test machines to learn about it. That is how I learned it.
    – Kyle H
    Jan 5, 2017 at 14:39

You can use the geoip-module for iptables: https://linoxide.com/linux-how-to/block-ips-countries-geoip-addons/

Once our system is upgraded and dependencies are installed, we'll now install the xtables-addons in our machine. To do so, we'll download the latest tarball from the official xtables-addons project site using wget. Once it's downloaded, we'll extract the tarball, then compile and install it in our machine.

wget http://downloads.sourceforge.net/project/xtables-addons/Xtables-addons/xtables-addons-2.13.tar.xz
tar xf xtables-addons-2.13.tar.xz
cd xtables-addons-2.13
make install [...]

Next, we'll run a module called xt_geoip that comes with the xtables-addons extension which downloads the GeoIP database from MaxMind and converts it into a binary form recognized by xt_geoip. Once it's downloaded, we'll build it and move them to the required xt_geoip path ie /usr/share/xt_geoip.

cd geoip
./xt_geoip_build GeoIPCountryWhois.csv
mkdir -p /usr/share/xt_geoip/
cp -r {BE,LE} /usr/share/xt_geoip/

Here's the basic syntax for using iptables with geoip module in order to block traffic originating from or destined to a country. Here, we need to use two-letter ISO3166 code in place of country , for eg., US for United States, IE for Ireland, IN for India, CN for China and so on.

iptables -m geoip --src-cc country[,country...] --dst-cc country[,country...]

You use to IP2Location Firewall List to generate iptables for China.

The file is in the following format. Run it in the shell and you should be blocking all China IP addresses.

iptables -A INPUT -s -j DROP

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