Tuesday, April 12, 2016

A Better Way to Setup SSH Keys

This is a guide on setting up SSH Keys for a Linux based user account. Why set up SSH keys, why not just use your password? SSH Keys are considered more secure than using passwords to access systems, because user accounts are authenticated by the server without ever having to send your password over the network. If the passwords are not transmitted then they can't be intercepted. This works by identifying yourself to an SSH server using public-key cryptography and challenge-response authentication. Not to mention if you set up a SSH agent then the agent will handle the challenge-response authentication for you.

This guide is not for installing or setting up a SSH server. You must have sshd service running on your servers in order to get your SSH to work. All the examples are take from a Red Hat or Suse servers. The ssh-copy-id command will not work on Solaris servers but all other commands should work file.

Create you key pair
The ssh-keygen command will generate a public and private keypair. The keys will be stored at ~/.ssh.The basic command looks like this: ssh-keygen -t [dsa|rsa]  The -t sets the type of keys used. In the example below I create a rsa key pair.
man@earth> ssh-keygen -t rsa
Enter file in which to save the key (/home/man/.ssh/id_rsa): Press [Enter] key
Enter passphrase (empty for no passphrase):
Enter same passphrase again:
Your identification has been saved in /home/man/.ssh/id_rsa.
Your public key has been saved in /home/man/.ssh/id_rsa.pub.
The key fingerprint is:dfhjodfnk

Make sure you don't use a blank passphrase. Doing this is very insecure. Having a blank passphrase defeats the purpose of having having the extra security of a key exchange setup. It is also import to never give out your private key, which also compromises security of your account.

The old way of transferring the public key to the remote sytem.
man@earth> scp ~/.ssh/id_rsa.pub moon:~/.ssh/authorized_keys

New way
man@earth> ssh-copy-id user@moon
Now try logging into the machine, with "ssh 'remote-host'", and check in:


to make sure we haven't added extra keys that you weren't expecting.
The reason the new way is better then the old way is that the ssh-copy-id appends the public key to the authorized_keys file. Where as the old way overwrites the authorized_keys file. This allows the account to use keys from more than one server.

Note- This method will not work on Solaris 10

If your home directory automounts across a lot of servers. You can copy it over with the cat command.
man@earth> cat ~/.ssh/id_rsa.pub >> ~/.ssh/authorized_keys

You can also use this method if the ssh-copy-id command is not available to you.
man@earth> cat ~/.ssh/id_rsa.pub | ssh man@moon "mkdir -p ~/.ssh  &&  cat   >>  ~/.ssh/authorized_keys"

Setting up the SSH Agent.

man@earth> eval `ssh-agent`
man@earth> ssh-add
Enter passphrase for /home/man/.ssh/id_rsa:
Identity added: /home/man/.ssh/id_dsa (/home/man/.ssh/id_rsa)

Note- Add these commands to the .bashrc file to start an agent automatically when you login to a server. 

There are other ways to set up the agent, such as using the gnome GUI for example. If you use VNC, just start your VNC server session in the same terminal you used to starting your agent. This way all your terminals launched in your VNC session, will use the same agent.

SSH Agent Management
One issue with agents is that sometimes you end up running a lot of agents. Run the command below and kill any agents that you are not using.

man@earth> ps aux | grep agent
If there is more than one agent running then you should kill the additional ssh-agent.

man@earth> pkill ssh-agent
This will only kill agents owned by the user running the command in.

One way to kill your ssh-agents is to add a kill statement to the .bash_logout file.

Reference Section
Manpage ssh-copy-id

Related posts on this site.
How to setup SSH Keys

If you have any questions or comments please post below.