13.2.4. Using a Key-Based Authentication

To improve the system security even further, you can enforce the key-based authentication by disabling the standard password authentication. To do so, open the /etc/ssh/sshd_config configuration file in a text editor such as vi or nano, and change the PasswordAuthentication option as follows:
PasswordAuthentication no
To be able to use ssh, scp, or sftp to connect to the server from a client machine, generate an authorization key pair by following the steps below. Note that keys must be generated for each user separately.
Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6 uses SSH Protocol 2 and RSA keys by default (see Section 13.1.3, “Protocol Versions” for more information).

Do not generate key pairs as root

If you complete the steps as root, only root will be able to use the keys.

Backup your ~/.ssh/ directory

If you reinstall your system and want to keep previously generated key pair, backup the ~/.ssh/ directory. After reinstalling, copy it back to your home directory. This process can be done for all users on your system, including root.

13.2.4.1. Generating Key Pairs

To generate an RSA key pair for version 2 of the SSH protocol, follow these steps:
  1. Generate an RSA key pair by typing the following at a shell prompt:
    ~]$ ssh-keygen -t rsa
    Generating public/private rsa key pair.
    Enter file in which to save the key (/home/john/.ssh/id_rsa):
  2. Press Enter to confirm the default location (that is, ~/.ssh/id_rsa) for the newly created key.
  3. Enter a passphrase, and confirm it by entering it again when prompted to do so. For security reasons, avoid using the same password as you use to log in to your account.
    After this, you will be presented with a message similar to this:
    Your identification has been saved in /home/john/.ssh/id_rsa.
    Your public key has been saved in /home/john/.ssh/id_rsa.pub.
    The key fingerprint is:
    e7:97:c7:e2:0e:f9:0e:fc:c4:d7:cb:e5:31:11:92:14 john@penguin.example.com
    The key's randomart image is:
    +--[ RSA 2048]----+
    |             E.  |
    |            . .  |
    |             o . |
    |              . .|
    |        S .    . |
    |         + o o ..|
    |          * * +oo|
    |           O +..=|
    |           o*  o.|
    +-----------------+
  4. Change the permissions of the ~/.ssh/ directory:
    ~]$ chmod 700 ~/.ssh
  5. Copy the content of ~/.ssh/id_rsa.pub into the ~/.ssh/authorized_keys on the machine to which you want to connect, appending it to its end if the file already exists.
  6. Change the permissions of the ~/.ssh/authorized_keys file using the following command:
    ~]$ chmod 600 ~/.ssh/authorized_keys
To generate a DSA key pair for version 2 of the SSH protocol, follow these steps:
  1. Generate a DSA key pair by typing the following at a shell prompt:
    ~]$ ssh-keygen -t dsa
    Generating public/private dsa key pair.
    Enter file in which to save the key (/home/john/.ssh/id_dsa):
  2. Press Enter to confirm the default location (that is, ~/.ssh/id_dsa) for the newly created key.
  3. Enter a passphrase, and confirm it by entering it again when prompted to do so. For security reasons, avoid using the same password as you use to log in to your account.
    After this, you will be presented with a message similar to this:
    Your identification has been saved in /home/john/.ssh/id_dsa.
    Your public key has been saved in /home/john/.ssh/id_dsa.pub.
    The key fingerprint is:
    81:a1:91:a8:9f:e8:c5:66:0d:54:f5:90:cc:bc:cc:27 john@penguin.example.com
    The key's randomart image is:
    +--[ DSA 1024]----+
    |   .oo*o.        |
    |  ...o Bo        |
    | .. . + o.       |
    |.  .   E o       |
    | o..o   S        |
    |. o= .           |
    |. +              |
    | .               |
    |                 |
    +-----------------+
  4. Change the permissions of the ~/.ssh/ directory:
    ~]$ chmod 700 ~/.ssh
  5. Copy the content of ~/.ssh/id_dsa.pub into the ~/.ssh/authorized_keys on the machine to which you want to connect, appending it to its end if the file already exists.
  6. Change the permissions of the ~/.ssh/authorized_keys file using the following command:
    ~]$ chmod 600 ~/.ssh/authorized_keys
To generate an RSA key pair for version 1 of the SSH protocol, follow these steps:
  1. Generate an RSA key pair by typing the following at a shell prompt:
    ~]$ ssh-keygen -t rsa1
    Generating public/private rsa1 key pair.
    Enter file in which to save the key (/home/john/.ssh/identity):
  2. Press Enter to confirm the default location (that is, ~/.ssh/identity) for the newly created key.
  3. Enter a passphrase, and confirm it by entering it again when prompted to do so. For security reasons, avoid using the same password as you use to log into your account.
    After this, you will be presented with a message similar to this:
    Your identification has been saved in /home/john/.ssh/identity.
    Your public key has been saved in /home/john/.ssh/identity.pub.
    The key fingerprint is:
    cb:f6:d5:cb:6e:5f:2b:28:ac:17:0c:e4:62:e4:6f:59 john@penguin.example.com
    The key's randomart image is:
    +--[RSA1 2048]----+
    |                 |
    |     . .         |
    |    o o          |
    |     + o E       |
    |    . o S        |
    |       = +   .   |
    |      . = . o . .|
    |       . = o o..o|
    |       .o o  o=o.|
    +-----------------+
  4. Change the permissions of the ~/.ssh/ directory:
    ~]$ chmod 700 ~/.ssh
  5. Copy the content of ~/.ssh/identity.pub into the ~/.ssh/authorized_keys on the machine to which you want to connect, appending it to its end if the file already exists.
  6. Change the permissions of the ~/.ssh/authorized_keys file using the following command:
    ~]$ chmod 600 ~/.ssh/authorized_keys
Refer to Section 13.2.4.2, “Configuring ssh-agent” for information on how to set up your system to remember the passphrase.

Never share your private key

The private key is for your personal use only, and it is important that you never give it to anyone.

13.2.4.2. Configuring ssh-agent

To store your passphrase so that you do not have to enter it each time you initiate a connection with a remote machine, you can use the ssh-agent authentication agent. If you are running GNOME, you can configure it to prompt you for your passphrase whenever you log in and remember it during the whole session. Otherwise you can store the passphrase for a certain shell prompt.
To save your passphrase during your GNOME session, follow these steps:
  1. Make sure you have the openssh-askpass package installed. If not, refer to Section 6.2.4, “Installing Packages” for more information on how to install new packages in Red Hat Enterprise Linux.
  2. Select SystemPreferencesStartup Applications from the panel. The Startup Applications Preferences will be started, and the tab containing a list of available startup programs will be shown by default.
    Startup Applications Preferences

    Figure 13.1. Startup Applications Preferences


  3. Click the Add button on the right, and enter /usr/bin/ssh-add in the Command field.
    Adding new application

    Figure 13.2. Adding new application


  4. Click Add and make sure the checkbox next to the newly added item is selected.
    Enabling the application

    Figure 13.3. Enabling the application


  5. Log out and then log back in. A dialog box will appear prompting you for your passphrase. From this point on, you should not be prompted for a password by ssh, scp, or sftp.
    Entering a passphrase

    Figure 13.4. Entering a passphrase


To save your passphrase for a certain shell prompt, use the following command:
~]$ ssh-add
Enter passphrase for /home/john/.ssh/id_rsa:
Note that when you log out, your passphrase will be forgotten. You must execute the command each time you log in to a virtual console or a terminal window.