Chapter 32. Using secure communications between two systems with OpenSSH
SSH (Secure Shell) is a protocol which provides secure communications between two systems using a client-server architecture and allows users to log in to server host systems remotely. Unlike other remote communication protocols, such as FTP or Telnet, SSH encrypts the login session, which prevents intruders to collect unencrypted passwords from the connection.
Red Hat Enterprise Linux includes the basic
OpenSSH packages: the general
openssh package, the
openssh-server package and the
openssh-clients package. Note that the
OpenSSH packages require the
openssl-libs, which installs several important cryptographic libraries that enable
OpenSSH to provide encrypted communications.
32.1. SSH and OpenSSH
SSH (Secure Shell) is a program for logging into a remote machine and executing commands on that machine. The SSH protocol provides secure encrypted communications between two untrusted hosts over an insecure network. You can also forward X11 connections and arbitrary TCP/IP ports over the secure channel.
The SSH protocol mitigates security threats, such as interception of communication between two systems and impersonation of a particular host, when you use it for remote shell login or file copying. This is because the SSH client and server use digital signatures to verify their identities. Additionally, all communication between the client and server systems is encrypted.
A host key authenticates hosts in the SSH protocol. Host keys are cryptographic keys that are generated automatically when
OpenSSH is first installed, or when the host boots for the first time.
OpenSSH is an implementation of the SSH protocol supported by a number of Linux, UNIX, and similar operating systems. It includes the core files necessary for both the OpenSSH client and server. The OpenSSH suite consists of the following user-space tools:
sshis a remote login program (SSH client)
scpis a secure remote file copy program
sftpis a secure file transfer program
ssh-agentis an authentication agent for caching private keys
ssh-addadds private key identities to
ssh-keygengenerates, manages, and converts authentication keys for
ssh-copy-idis a script that adds local public keys to the
authorized_keysfile on a remote SSH server
ssh-keyscan- gathers SSH public host keys
Two versions of SSH currently exist: version 1, and the newer version 2. The
OpenSSH suite in RHEL supports only SSH version 2, which has an enhanced key-exchange algorithm not vulnerable to known exploits in version 1.
OpenSSH, as one of the RHEL core cryptographic subsystems uses system-wide crypto policies. This ensures that weak cipher suites and cryptographic algorithms are disabled in the default configuration. To adjust the policy, the administrator must either use the
update-crypto-policies command to make settings stricter or looser or manually opt-out of the system-wide crypto policies.
OpenSSH suite uses two different sets of configuration files: those for client programs (that is,
sftp), and those for the server (the
sshd daemon). System-wide SSH configuration information is stored in the
/etc/ssh/ directory. User-specific SSH configuration information is stored in
~/.ssh/ in the user’s home directory. For a detailed list of OpenSSH configuration files, see the
FILES section in the
sshd(8) man page.
Man pages listed by using the
man -k sshcommand.
- Using system-wide cryptographic policies.
32.2. Configuring and starting an OpenSSH server
Use the following procedure for a basic configuration that might be required for your environment and for starting an
OpenSSH server. Note that after the default RHEL installation, the
sshd daemon is already started and server host keys are automatically created.
openssh-serverpackage is installed.
sshddaemon in the current session and set it to start automatically at boot time:
# systemctl start sshd # systemctl enable sshd
To specify different addresses than the default
::(IPv6) for the
ListenAddressdirective in the
/etc/ssh/sshd_configconfiguration file and to use a slower dynamic network configuration, add the dependency on the
network-online.targettarget unit to the
sshd.serviceunit file. To achieve this, create the
/etc/systemd/system/sshd.service.d/local.conffile with the following content:
[Unit] Wants=network-online.target After=network-online.target
OpenSSHserver settings in the
/etc/ssh/sshd_configconfiguration file meet the requirements of your scenario.
Optionally, change the welcome message that your
OpenSSHserver displays before a client authenticates by editing the
/etc/issuefile, for example:
Welcome to ssh-server.example.com Warning: By accessing this server, you agree to the referenced terms and conditions.
Ensure that the
Banneroption is not commented out in
/etc/ssh/sshd_configand its value contains
# less /etc/ssh/sshd_config | grep Banner Banner /etc/issue
Note that to change the message displayed after a successful login you have to edit the
/etc/motdfile on the server. See the
pam_motdman page for more information.
systemdconfiguration and restart
sshdto apply the changes:
# systemctl daemon-reload # systemctl restart sshd
Check that the
sshddaemon is running:
# systemctl status sshd ● sshd.service - OpenSSH server daemon Loaded: loaded (/usr/lib/systemd/system/sshd.service; enabled; vendor preset: enabled) Active: active (running) since Mon 2019-11-18 14:59:58 CET; 6min ago Docs: man:sshd(8) man:sshd_config(5) Main PID: 1149 (sshd) Tasks: 1 (limit: 11491) Memory: 1.9M CGroup: /system.slice/sshd.service └─1149 /usr/sbin/sshd -D -oCiphers=aes128-ctr,aes256-ctr,aes128-cbc,aes256-cbc -oMACs=hmac-sha2-256,> Nov 18 14:59:58 ssh-server-example.com systemd: Starting OpenSSH server daemon... Nov 18 14:59:58 ssh-server-example.com sshd: Server listening on 0.0.0.0 port 22. Nov 18 14:59:58 ssh-server-example.com sshd: Server listening on :: port 22. Nov 18 14:59:58 ssh-server-example.com systemd: Started OpenSSH server daemon.
Connect to the SSH server with an SSH client.
# ssh firstname.lastname@example.org ECDSA key fingerprint is SHA256:dXbaS0RG/UzlTTku8GtXSz0S1++lPegSy31v3L/FAEc. Are you sure you want to continue connecting (yes/no/[fingerprint])? yes Warning: Permanently added 'ssh-server-example.com' (ECDSA) to the list of known hosts. email@example.com's password:
32.3. Setting an OpenSSH server for key-based authentication
To improve system security, enforce key-based authentication by disabling password authentication on your OpenSSH server.
openssh-serverpackage is installed.
sshddaemon is running on the server.
/etc/ssh/sshd_configconfiguration in a text editor, for example:
# vi /etc/ssh/sshd_config
On a system other than a new default installation, check that
PubkeyAuthentication nohas not been set and the
ChallengeResponseAuthenticationdirective is set to
no. If you are connected remotely, not using console or out-of-band access, test the key-based login process before disabling password authentication.
To use key-based authentication with NFS-mounted home directories, enable the
# setsebool -P use_nfs_home_dirs 1
sshddaemon to apply the changes:
# systemctl reload sshd
32.4. Generating SSH key pairs
Use this procedure to generate an SSH key pair on a local system and to copy the generated public key to an
OpenSSH server. If the server is configured accordingly, you can log in to the
OpenSSH server without providing any password.
If you complete the following steps as
root is able to use the keys.
To generate an ECDSA key pair for version 2 of the SSH protocol:
$ ssh-keygen -t ecdsa Generating public/private ecdsa key pair. Enter file in which to save the key (/home/joesec/.ssh/id_ecdsa): Enter passphrase (empty for no passphrase): Enter same passphrase again: Your identification has been saved in /home/joesec/.ssh/id_ecdsa. Your public key has been saved in /home/joesec/.ssh/id_ecdsa.pub. The key fingerprint is: SHA256:Q/x+qms4j7PCQ0qFd09iZEFHA+SqwBKRNaU72oZfaCI firstname.lastname@example.org The key's randomart image is: +---[ECDSA 256]---+ |.oo..o=++ | |.. o .oo . | |. .. o. o | |....o.+... | |o.oo.o +S . | |.=.+. .o | |E.*+. . . . | |.=..+ +.. o | | . oo*+o. | +----[SHA256]-----+
You can also generate an RSA key pair by using the
-t rsaoption with the
ssh-keygencommand or an Ed25519 key pair by entering the
ssh-keygen -t ed25519command.
To copy the public key to a remote machine:
$ ssh-copy-id email@example.com /usr/bin/ssh-copy-id: INFO: attempting to log in with the new key(s), to filter out any that are already installed firstname.lastname@example.org's password: ... Number of key(s) added: 1 Now try logging into the machine, with: "ssh 'email@example.com'" and check to make sure that only the key(s) you wanted were added.
If you do not use the
ssh-agentprogram in your session, the previous command copies the most recently modified
~/.ssh/id*.pubpublic key if it is not yet installed. To specify another public-key file or to prioritize keys in files over keys cached in memory by
ssh-agent, use the
ssh-copy-idcommand with the
If you reinstall your system and want to keep previously generated key pairs, back up the
~/.ssh/ directory. After reinstalling, copy it back to your home directory. You can do this for all users on your system, including
Log in to the OpenSSH server without providing any password:
$ ssh firstname.lastname@example.org Welcome message. ... Last login: Mon Nov 18 18:28:42 2019 from ::1
32.5. Using SSH keys stored on a smart card
Red Hat Enterprise Linux enables you to use RSA and ECDSA keys stored on a smart card on OpenSSH clients. Use this procedure to enable authentication using a smart card instead of using a password.
On the client side, the
openscpackage is installed and the
pcscdservice is running.
List all keys provided by the OpenSC PKCS #11 module including their PKCS #11 URIs and save the output to the keys.pub file:
$ ssh-keygen -D pkcs11: > keys.pub $ ssh-keygen -D pkcs11: ssh-rsa AAAAB3NzaC1yc2E...KKZMzcQZzx pkcs11:id=%02;object=SIGN%20pubkey;token=SSH%20key;manufacturer=piv_II?module-path=/usr/lib64/pkcs11/opensc-pkcs11.so ecdsa-sha2-nistp256 AAA...J0hkYnnsM= pkcs11:id=%01;object=PIV%20AUTH%20pubkey;token=SSH%20key;manufacturer=piv_II?module-path=/usr/lib64/pkcs11/opensc-pkcs11.so
To enable authentication using a smart card on a remote server (example.com), transfer the public key to the remote server. Use the
ssh-copy-idcommand with keys.pub created in the previous step:
$ ssh-copy-id -f -i keys.pub email@example.com
To connect to example.com using the ECDSA key from the output of the
ssh-keygen -Dcommand in step 1, you can use just a subset of the URI, which uniquely references your key, for example:
$ ssh -i "pkcs11:id=%01?module-path=/usr/lib64/pkcs11/opensc-pkcs11.so" example.com Enter PIN for 'SSH key': [example.com] $
You can use the same URI string in the
~/.ssh/configfile to make the configuration permanent:
$ cat ~/.ssh/config IdentityFile "pkcs11:id=%01?module-path=/usr/lib64/pkcs11/opensc-pkcs11.so" $ ssh example.com Enter PIN for 'SSH key': [example.com] $
Because OpenSSH uses the
p11-kit-proxywrapper and the OpenSC PKCS #11 module is registered to PKCS#11 Kit, you can simplify the previous commands:
$ ssh -i "pkcs11:id=%01" example.com Enter PIN for 'SSH key': [example.com] $
If you skip the
id= part of a PKCS #11 URI, OpenSSH loads all keys that are available in the proxy module. This can reduce the amount of typing required:
$ ssh -i pkcs11: example.com Enter PIN for 'SSH key': [example.com] $
- Fedora 28: Better smart card support in OpenSSH.
32.6. Making OpenSSH more secure
The following tips help you to increase security when using OpenSSH. Note that changes in the
/etc/ssh/sshd_config OpenSSH configuration file require reloading the
sshd daemon to take effect:
# systemctl reload sshd
The majority of security hardening configuration changes reduce compatibility with clients that do not support up-to-date algorithms or cipher suites.
Disabling insecure connection protocols
To make SSH truly effective, prevent the use of insecure connection protocols that are replaced by the
OpenSSHsuite. Otherwise, a user’s password might be protected using SSH for one session only to be captured later when logging in using Telnet. For this reason, consider disabling insecure protocols, such as telnet, rsh, rlogin, and ftp.
Enabling key-based authentication and disabling password-based authentication
Disabling passwords for authentication and allowing only key pairs reduces the attack surface and it also might save users’ time. On clients, generate key pairs using the
ssh-keygentool and use the
ssh-copy-idutility to copy public keys from clients on the
OpenSSHserver. To disable password-based authentication on your OpenSSH server, edit
/etc/ssh/sshd_configand change the
ssh-keygencommand generates a pair of RSA keys by default, you can instruct it to generate ECDSA or Ed25519 keys by using the
-toption. The ECDSA (Elliptic Curve Digital Signature Algorithm) offers better performance than RSA at the equivalent symmetric key strength. It also generates shorter keys. The Ed25519 public-key algorithm is an implementation of twisted Edwards curves that is more secure and also faster than RSA, DSA, and ECDSA.
OpenSSH creates RSA, ECDSA, and Ed25519 server host keys automatically if they are missing. To configure the host key creation in RHEL, use the
sshd-keygen@.serviceinstantiated service. For example, to disable the automatic creation of the RSA key type:
# systemctl mask firstname.lastname@example.org
To exclude particular key types for SSH connections, comment out the relevant lines in
/etc/ssh/sshd_config, and reload the
sshdservice. For example, to allow only Ed25519 host keys:
# HostKey /etc/ssh/ssh_host_rsa_key # HostKey /etc/ssh/ssh_host_ecdsa_key HostKey /etc/ssh/ssh_host_ed25519_key
By default, the
sshddaemon listens on TCP port 22. Changing the port reduces the exposure of the system to attacks based on automated network scanning and thus increase security through obscurity. You can specify the port using the
Portdirective in the
You also have to update the default SELinux policy to allow the use of a non-default port. To do so, use the
semanagetool from the
# semanage port -a -t ssh_port_t -p tcp port_number
# firewall-cmd --add-port port_number/tcp # firewall-cmd --runtime-to-permanent
In the previous commands, replace port_number with the new port number specified using the
No root login
If your particular use case does not require the possibility of logging in as the root user, you should consider setting the
PermitRootLoginconfiguration directive to
/etc/ssh/sshd_configfile. By disabling the possibility of logging in as the root user, the administrator can audit which users run what privileged commands after they log in as regular users and then gain root rights.
This enforces the use of key-based authentication instead of the use of passwords for logging in as root and reduces risks by preventing brute-force attacks.
Using the X Security extension
The X server in Red Hat Enterprise Linux clients does not provide the X Security extension. Therefore, clients cannot request another security layer when connecting to untrusted SSH servers with X11 forwarding. Most applications are not able to run with this extension enabled anyway.
By default, the
ForwardX11Trustedoption in the
/etc/ssh/ssh_config.d/05-redhat.conffile is set to
yes, and there is no difference between the
ssh -X remote_machine(untrusted host) and
ssh -Y remote_machine(trusted host) command.
If your scenario does not require the X11 forwarding feature at all, set the
X11Forwardingdirective in the
/etc/ssh/sshd_configconfiguration file to
Restricting access to specific users, groups, or domains
AllowGroupsdirectives in the
/etc/ssh/sshd_configconfiguration file server enable you to permit only certain users, domains, or groups to connect to your OpenSSH server. You can combine
AllowGroupsto restrict access more precisely, for example:
AllowUsers *@192.168.1.*,*@10.0.0.*,!*@192.168.1.2 AllowGroups example-group
The previous configuration lines accept connections from all users from systems in 192.168.1.* and 10.0.0.* subnets except from the system with the 192.168.1.2 address. All users must be in the
example-groupgroup. The OpenSSH server denies all other connections.
Note that using allowlists (directives starting with Allow) is more secure than using blocklists (options starting with Deny) because allowlists block also new unauthorized users or groups.
Changing system-wide cryptographic policies
OpenSSHuses RHEL system-wide cryptographic policies, and the default system-wide cryptographic policy level offers secure settings for current threat models. To make your cryptographic settings more strict, change the current policy level:
# update-crypto-policies --set FUTURE Setting system policy to FUTURE
To opt-out of the system-wide crypto policies for your
OpenSSHserver, uncomment the line with the
CRYPTO_POLICY=variable in the
/etc/sysconfig/sshdfile. After this change, values that you specify in the
GSSAPIKexAlgorithmssections in the
/etc/ssh/sshd_configfile are not overridden. Note that this task requires deep expertise in configuring cryptographic options.
- See Using system-wide cryptographic policies in the RHEL Security hardening title for more information.
32.7. Connecting to a remote server using an SSH jump host
Use this procedure for connecting your local system to a remote server through an intermediary server, also called jump host.
- A jump host accepts SSH connections from your local system.
- A remote server accepts SSH connections only from the jump host.
Define the jump host by editing the
~/.ssh/configfile on your local system, for example:
Host jump-server1 HostName jump1.example.com
Hostparameter defines a name or alias for the host you can use in
sshcommands. The value can match the real host name, but can also be any string.
HostNameparameter sets the actual host name or IP address of the jump host.
Add the remote server jump configuration with the
~/.ssh/configfile on your local system, for example:
Host remote-server HostName remote1.example.com ProxyJump jump-server1
Use your local system to connect to the remote server through the jump server:
$ ssh remote-server
The previous command is equivalent to the
ssh -J jump-server1 remote-servercommand if you omit the configuration steps 1 and 2.
You can specify more jump servers and you can also skip adding host definitions to the configurations file when you provide their complete host names, for example:
$ ssh -J jump1.example.com,jump2.example.com,jump3.example.com remote1.example.com
Change the host name-only notation in the previous command if the user names or SSH ports on the jump servers differ from the names and ports on the remote server, for example:
$ ssh -J email@example.com:75,firstname.lastname@example.org:75,email@example.com:75 firstname.lastname@example.org:220
32.8. Connecting to remote machines with SSH keys using ssh-agent
To avoid entering a passphrase each time you initiate an SSH connection, you can use the
ssh-agent utility to cache the private SSH key. The private key and the passphrase remain secure.
- You have a remote host with SSH daemon running and reachable through the network.
- You know the IP address or hostname and credentials to log in to the remote host.
- You have generated an SSH key pair with a passphrase and transferred the public key to the remote machine.
For more information, see Generating SSH key pairs.
Optional: Verify you can use the key to authenticate to the remote host:
Connect to the remote host using SSH:
$ ssh email@example.com hostname
Enter the passphrase you set while creating the key to grant access to the private key.
$ ssh firstname.lastname@example.org hostname host.example.com
$ eval $(ssh-agent) Agent pid 20062
Add the key to
$ ssh-add ~/.ssh/id_rsa Enter passphrase for ~/.ssh/id_rsa: Identity added: ~/.ssh/id_rsa (email@example.com)
Optional: Log in to the host machine using SSH.
$ ssh firstname.lastname@example.org Last login: Mon Sep 14 12:56:37 2020
Note that you did not have to enter the passphrase.
32.9. Additional resources
- OpenSSH Home Page.
- Configuring SELinux for applications and services with non-standard configurations.
- Controlling network traffic using firewalld.