What are SSH Keys?
By using SSH Keys (a public and private key to be precise), you can easily connect to a server, or multiple servers, without having to enter your password for each system.
It is possible to setup your keys without a passphrase, however that is unwise as if anyone gets hold of your key they can use it. This guide describes how to setup your system so that passphrases are remembered securely.
Generating SSH Keys
If you don't already have OpenSSH installed, install it now as it is not installed by default on Arch.
# pacman -S openssh
The keys can then be generated by running the ssh-keygen command as a user:
$ ssh-keygen -b 1024 -t dsa Generating public/private dsa key pair. Enter file in which to save the key (/home/mith/.ssh/id_dsa): Enter passphrase (empty for no passphrase): Enter same passphrase again: Your identification has been saved in /home/mith/.ssh/id_dsa. Your public key has been saved in /home/mith/.ssh/id_dsa.pub. The key fingerprint is: x6:68:xx:93:98:8x:87:95:7x:2x:4x:x9:81:xx:56:94 mith@middleearth
It will prompt you for a location (which you should leave as the default), however the passphrase is the important bit! I hopefully need not tell you the rules of a good passphrase?
If you want to create a RSA key pair instead of DSA just use Template:Codeline (do not specify key length "-b" as default key length for RSA is 2048 and is sufficient).
Copying the keys to the remote server
Now you have generated the keys you need to copy them to the remote server. By default, for OpenSSH, the public key needs to be concatenated into Template:Filename.
$ scp ~/.ssh/id_dsa.pub email@example.com:
This copies the public key (Template:Filename) to your remote server via Template:Codeline (note the Template:Codeline at the end of the server address). The file ends up in the home directory, but you can specify another path if you like.
$ ssh firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com's password: $ mkdir ~/.ssh $ cat ~/id_dsa.pub >> ~/.ssh/authorized_keys $ rm ~/id_dsa.pub $ chmod 600 ~/.ssh/authorized_keys
The last two commands remove the public key from the server (which isn't needed now), and sets the correct permissions on the authorized_keys file.
If you now disconnect from the server, and attempt to reconnect, you should be asked for the passphrase of the key:
$ ssh firstname.lastname@example.org Enter passphrase for key '/home/mith/.ssh/id_dsa':
If you are unable to login with the key, double check the permissions on the Template:Filename file.
Also check the permissions on the Template:Filename directory, which should have write permissions off for 'group' and 'other'. Run the following command to disable 'group' and 'other' write permissions for the Template:Filename directory:
$ chmod go-w ~/.ssh
Remember key passphrases
Now you can login to your servers by using a key instead of a password, but how is this any easier, as you still need to enter the key passphrase? The answer is to use a SSH agent, a program which remembers the passphrases of your keys! There a number of different tools available, so have a read through and choose the one which seems best for you.
ssh-agent is the default agent included with OpenSSH.
$ ssh-agent SSH_AUTH_SOCK=/tmp/ssh-vEGjCM2147/agent.2147; export SSH_AUTH_SOCK; SSH_AGENT_PID=2148; export SSH_AGENT_PID; echo Agent pid 2148;
$ eval `ssh-agent` Agent pid 2157
You can add this to Template:Filename so that it will be run whenever you open a session:
# echo 'eval `ssh-agent`' >> /etc/profile
Note the correct quotes, the first ones are single quotes, where as the second are backticks!
Now that the Template:Codeline is running, we need to tell it that we have a private key and where that is.
$ ssh-add ~/.ssh/id_dsa Enter passphrase for /home/user/.ssh/id_dsa: Identity added: /home/user/.ssh/id_dsa (/home/user/.ssh/id_dsa)
We were asked for our passphrase, entered it, that's all. Now you can login to your remote server without having to enter your password while your private key is password-protected. Sweet isn't it?
The only downside is that a new instance of Template:Codeline needs to be created for every new console (shell) you open, that means you have to run Template:Codeline every time again on each console. There is a workaround to that with a program or rather a script called keychain which is covered in the next section.
Using GnuPG Agent
The GnuPG agent, distributed with the Template:Package Official package, has OpenSSH agent emulation. If you use GPG you might consider using its agent to take care of all of your keys. Otherwise you might like the PIN entry dialog it provides and its passphrase management, which is different from keychain.
Once gpg-agent is running you can use ssh-add to approve keys, just like you did with plain ssh-agent. The list of approved keys is stored in the Template:Filename file. Once your key is approved you will get a PIN entry dialog every time your passphrase is needed. You can control passphrase caching in the Template:Filename file. The following example would have gpg-agent cache your keys for 3 hours:
# Cache settings default-cache-ttl 10800 default-cache-ttl-ssh 10800
Other useful settings for this file include the PIN entry program (GTK, QT or ncurses version), keyboard grabbing and so on...:
# Environment file write-env-file /home/username/.gnupg/gpg-agent.info # Keyboard control #no-grab # PIN entry program #pinentry-program /usr/bin/pinentry-curses #pinentry-program /usr/bin/pinentry-qt4 pinentry-program /usr/bin/pinentry-gtk-2
Keychain manages one or more specified private keys. When initialized it will ask for the passphrase for the private key(s) and store it. That way your private key is password protected but you won't have to enter your password over and over again.
Install keychain from the extra repo:
# pacman -S keychain
Create the following file and make it executable: Template:File
Close your shell and open it again. Keychain should come up and if it's your first run it will ask your for the passphrase of the specified private key.
Using ssh-agent and x11-ssh-askpass
You need to start the ssh-agent everytime you start a new Xsession. The ssh-agent will be closed when the X session ends.
Install x11-ssh-askpass which will ask your passphrase everytime you open a new Xsession:
# pacman -S x11-ssh-askpass
Prepend this into your Template:Filename:
eval `/usr/bin/ssh-agent` SSH_ASKPASS=/usr/lib/openssh/x11-ssh-askpass ssh-add < /dev/null # then the end of the file with for example "exec dwm"
The above procedure is a bit complicated when using PuTTY on Windows since PuTTY can't directly use keys generated by ssh-keygen. The private key needs to be converted using PuTTYgen which you can find here. The procedure is then as follows:
- Generate a 1024 bit RSA encrypted key pair with ssh-keygen on your Linux computer (you can log in with your usual username/password using PuTTY)
- Add the public key to the Template:Filename file
- Move the private key to the Windows machine
- Load the private key with PuTTYgen and click Save private key. This will convert the key so that PuTTY can use it.
- Start PuTTY, go to SSH→Auth and find the private key. Then simply connect to your Linux machine. You will be prompted for your username and passphrase (if you chose to enter one when you generated the keys).
Note that reversing the procedure, that is, generating the key pair with PuTTYgen and converting the public key with ssh-keygen, will NOT work.
Useful Links / Information
- SSH with Keys HOWTO
- HOWTO: set up ssh keys
- OpenSSH key management, Part 1
- OpenSSH key management, Part 2
- OpenSSH key management, Part 3
- Getting started with SSH
- Manual Pages: ssh-keygen(1)
- How to set up SSH keys: Frustration with "Server refused our key" [PuTTY]
- Securing your secure shell (SSH) service