Config Automatic Security Updates for Debian 12

26 Apr 2024

So I have a few Debian servers running with some docker containers. But I usually forgot to update them, so I finally looked into Debian’s unattended-upgrades package.


For installing it’s just as simple as any other package

sudo apt install -y unattended-upgrades


After you have installed the package you can edit the /etc/apt/apt.conf.d/50unattended-upgrades

By default the config looked like this: (for me on Debian 12.5)

// Unattended-Upgrade::Origins-Pattern controls which packages are
// upgraded.
// Lines below have the format "keyword=value,...".  A
// package will be upgraded only if the values in its metadata match
// all the supplied keywords in a line.  (In other words, omitted
// keywords are wild cards.) The keywords originate from the Release
// file, but several aliases are accepted.  The accepted keywords are:
//   a,archive,suite (eg, "stable")
//   c,component     (eg, "main", "contrib", "non-free")
//   l,label         (eg, "Debian", "Debian-Security")
//   o,origin        (eg, "Debian", "Unofficial Multimedia Packages")
//   n,codename      (eg, "jessie", "jessie-updates")
//     site          (eg, "")
// The available values on the system are printed by the command
// "apt-cache policy", and can be debugged by running
// "unattended-upgrades -d" and looking at the log file.
// Within lines unattended-upgrades allows 2 macros whose values are
// derived from /etc/debian_version:
//   ${distro_id}            Installed origin.
//   ${distro_codename}      Installed codename (eg, "buster")
Unattended-Upgrade::Origins-Pattern {
        // Codename based matching:
        // This will follow the migration of a release through different
        // archives (e.g. from testing to stable and later oldstable).
        // Software will be the latest available for the named release,
        // but the Debian release itself will not be automatically upgraded.
//      "origin=Debian,codename=${distro_codename}-updates";
//      "origin=Debian,codename=${distro_codename}-proposed-updates";

        // Archive or Suite based matching:
        // Note that this will silently match a different release after
        // migration to the specified archive (e.g. testing becomes the
        // new stable).
//      "o=Debian,a=stable";
//      "o=Debian,a=stable-updates";
//      "o=Debian,a=proposed-updates";
//      "o=Debian Backports,a=${distro_codename}-backports,l=Debian Backports";

// Python regular expressions, matching packages to exclude from upgrading
Unattended-Upgrade::Package-Blacklist {
    // The following matches all packages starting with linux-
//  "linux-";

    // Use $ to explicitely define the end of a package name. Without
    // the $, "libc6" would match all of them.
//  "libc6$";
//  "libc6-dev$";
//  "libc6-i686$";

    // Special characters need escaping
//  "libstdc\+\+6$";

    // The following matches packages like xen-system-amd64, xen-utils-4.1,
    // xenstore-utils and libxenstore3.0
//  "(lib)?xen(store)?";

    // For more information about Python regular expressions, see

// This option allows you to control if on a unclean dpkg exit
// unattended-upgrades will automatically run 
//   dpkg --force-confold --configure -a
// The default is true, to ensure updates keep getting installed
//Unattended-Upgrade::AutoFixInterruptedDpkg "true";

// Split the upgrade into the smallest possible chunks so that
// they can be interrupted with SIGTERM. This makes the upgrade
// a bit slower but it has the benefit that shutdown while a upgrade
// is running is possible (with a small delay)
//Unattended-Upgrade::MinimalSteps "true";

// Install all updates when the machine is shutting down
// instead of doing it in the background while the machine is running.
// This will (obviously) make shutdown slower.
// Unattended-upgrades increases logind's InhibitDelayMaxSec to 30s.
// This allows more time for unattended-upgrades to shut down gracefully
// or even install a few packages in InstallOnShutdown mode, but is still a
// big step back from the 30 minutes allowed for InstallOnShutdown previously.
// Users enabling InstallOnShutdown mode are advised to increase
// InhibitDelayMaxSec even further, possibly to 30 minutes.
//Unattended-Upgrade::InstallOnShutdown "false";

// Send email to this address for problems or packages upgrades
// If empty or unset then no email is sent, make sure that you
// have a working mail setup on your system. A package that provides
// 'mailx' must be installed. E.g. ""
//Unattended-Upgrade::Mail "";

// Set this value to one of:
//    "always", "only-on-error" or "on-change"
// If this is not set, then any legacy MailOnlyOnError (boolean) value
// is used to chose between "only-on-error" and "on-change"
//Unattended-Upgrade::MailReport "on-change";

// Remove unused automatically installed kernel-related packages
// (kernel images, kernel headers and kernel version locked tools).
//Unattended-Upgrade::Remove-Unused-Kernel-Packages "true";

// Do automatic removal of newly unused dependencies after the upgrade
//Unattended-Upgrade::Remove-New-Unused-Dependencies "true";

// Do automatic removal of unused packages after the upgrade
// (equivalent to apt-get autoremove)
//Unattended-Upgrade::Remove-Unused-Dependencies "false";

// Automatically reboot *WITHOUT CONFIRMATION* if
//  the file /var/run/reboot-required is found after the upgrade
//Unattended-Upgrade::Automatic-Reboot "false";

// Automatically reboot even if there are users currently logged in
// when Unattended-Upgrade::Automatic-Reboot is set to true
//Unattended-Upgrade::Automatic-Reboot-WithUsers "true";

// If automatic reboot is enabled and needed, reboot at the specific
// time instead of immediately
//  Default: "now"
//Unattended-Upgrade::Automatic-Reboot-Time "02:00";

// Use apt bandwidth limit feature, this example limits the download
// speed to 70kb/sec
//Acquire::http::Dl-Limit "70";

// Enable logging to syslog. Default is False
// Unattended-Upgrade::SyslogEnable "false";

// Specify syslog facility. Default is daemon
// Unattended-Upgrade::SyslogFacility "daemon";

// Download and install upgrades only on AC power
// (i.e. skip or gracefully stop updates on battery)
// Unattended-Upgrade::OnlyOnACPower "true";

// Download and install upgrades only on non-metered connection
// (i.e. skip or gracefully stop updates on a metered connection)
// Unattended-Upgrade::Skip-Updates-On-Metered-Connections "true";

// Verbose logging
// Unattended-Upgrade::Verbose "false";

// Print debugging information both in unattended-upgrades and
// in unattended-upgrade-shutdown
// Unattended-Upgrade::Debug "false";

// Allow package downgrade if Pin-Priority exceeds 1000
// Unattended-Upgrade::Allow-downgrade "false";

// When APT fails to mark a package to be upgraded or installed try adjusting
// candidates of related packages to help APT's resolver in finding a solution
// where the package can be upgraded or installed.
// This is a workaround until APT's resolver is fixed to always find a
// solution if it exists. (See Debian bug #711128.)
// The fallback is enabled by default, except on Debian's sid release because
// uninstallable packages are frequent there.
// Disabling the fallback speeds up unattended-upgrades when there are
// uninstallable packages at the expense of rarely keeping back packages which
// could be upgraded or installed.
// Unattended-Upgrade::Allow-APT-Mark-Fallback "true";

Adding a third-party repo

In the section Unattended-Upgrade::Origins-Pattern you can add the repo you want to include when auto updates are running.

I just added the Docker repo, just to keep my docker install up to date.

Unattended-Upgrade::Origins-Pattern {

You can use apt-cache policy to find the repo identifiers of the repo you want to add.

apt-cache policy

apt auto-upgrades config

Running the sudo dpkg-reconfigure -plow unattended-upgrades will generate the /etc/apt/apt.conf.d/20auto-upgrades file

dpkg-reconfigure unattended-upgrades

The defult config I received:

APT::Periodic::Update-Package-Lists "1";
APT::Periodic::Unattended-Upgrade "1";

Apt timers

The unattended upgrades is using the apt timers to run the updates. To view the timers

$ systemctl cat apt-daily.timer
# /lib/systemd/system/apt-daily.timer
Description=Daily apt download activities

OnCalendar=*-*-* 6,18:00



$ systemctl cat apt-daily-upgrade.timer
# /lib/systemd/system/apt-daily-upgrade.timer
Description=Daily apt upgrade and clean activities

OnCalendar=*-*-* 6:00