More Secure SSH Connections
Passwords can be reasonably secure, but you don't have them written down on a Post-It by your computer, do you? However, if you use a not-too-complex password (so it can be determined by brute force or a dictionary attack), then your site will be compromised for so long as the attacker wishes. There's a safer way, by using public/private key logins, that has the extra advantage of requiring no passwords on the remote site. Rather, you'll have a part of the key (the "private" part) on your remote machine and the other part (the "public" part) on the remote server. Others won't be able to impersonate you unless they have your private key, and it's computationally unfeasible to calculate. Without going into how the key pair is created, let's move on to using it.
First, make sure your sshd configuration file allows for
private key logins. You should have
PubkeyAuthentication yes lines in it. (If not, add them, and restart
the service as described above.) Without those lines, nothing I explain
below will work. Then, use
ssh-keygen to create a public/private key
pair. By directly using it without any more parameters (Listing 4),
you'll be asked in which file to save the key (accept the standard),
whether to use a passphrase for extra security (more on this below, but
you'd better do so), and the key pair will be generated. Pay attention
to the name of the file in which the key was saved. You'll need it in
Listing 4. Generating a public/private key pair with
ssh-keygen is simple.
Opt for using a passphrase for extra security.
$ ssh-keygen Generating public/private rsa key pair. Enter file in which to save the key (/home/fkereki/.ssh/id_rsa): Created directory '/home/fkereki/.ssh'. Enter passphrase (empty for no passphrase): Enter same passphrase again: Your identification has been saved in /home/fkereki/.ssh/id_rsa. Your public key has been saved in /home/fkereki/.ssh/id_rsa.pub. The key fingerprint is: 84:13:e6:07:a3:b1:b4:c6:9f:29:b8:40:58:f5:23:26 fkereki@fedoraxfce The key's randomart image is: +--[ RSA 2048]----+ | ..+ = | |.. o O = | |..E O * o | |. = o B | |. . . + S | | . . . | | . | | | | | +-----------------+
Now, in order to be able to connect to the remote server, you need to
copy it over. If you search the Internet, many sites recommend
directly editing certain files in order to accomplish this, but using
ssh-copy-id is far easier. You just have to type
the.file.where.the.key.was.saved firstname.lastname@example.org specifying the
name of the file in which the public key was saved (as you saw above)
and the remote user and host to which you will be connecting (Listing 5).
And you're done.
Listing 5. After generating your public/private pair, you need to use
copy the public part to the remote server.
$ ssh-copy-id -i /home/fkereki/.ssh/id_rsa.pub email@example.com The authenticity of host '192.168.1.107 (192.168.1.107)' ↪can't be established. RSA key fingerprint is 16:a4:d8:6a:ee:e0:8d:f4:72:a8:af:42:75:1d:28:3b. Are you sure you want to continue connecting (yes/no)? yes Warning: Permanently added '192.168.1.107' (RSA) to the list ↪of known hosts. firstname.lastname@example.org's password:
In order to test your new passwordless connection, just do
email@example.com. If you used a passphrase, you'll be asked
for it now. In either case, the connection will be established, and you
to enter your password for the remote site (Listing 6).
Listing 6. After you've copied the public key over, you can log in to the remote server without a password. You will have to enter your passphrase though, if you used one when generating the public/private pair.
$ ssh firstname.lastname@example.org Enter passphrase for key '/home/fkereki/.ssh/id_rsa': Last login: Mon Jan 10 18:40:11 2011 6.0 Light Final built on March 31, 2009 on Linux 220.127.116.11 You are working as fkereki Frequently used programs: Configuration : vasm File manager : mc (press F2 for useful menu) Editor : mcedit, nano, vi Multimedia : alsamixer, play vector:/~ $ logout Connection to 192.168.1.107 closed.
Now, what about the passphrase? If you create a public/private key pair
without using a passphrase, anybody who gets access to your machine and
the private key immediately will have access to all the remote servers
to which you have access. Using the passphrase adds another level of security
to your log in process. However, having to enter it over and over again
is a bother. So, you would do better by using
ssh-agent, which can
"remember" your passphrase and enter it automatically whenever you try
to log in to a remote server. After running
to add your passphrase. (You could run it several times if you have
many passphrases.) After that, a remote connection won't need a
passphrase any more (Listing 7). If you want to end a session,
ssh-agent -k, and you'll have to re-enter the passphrase if you
want to do a remote login.
Listing 7. Using
ssh-agent frees you from having to
$ ssh-agent SSH_AUTH_SOCK=/tmp/ssh-Rvhhx30943/agent.30943; export SSH_AUTH_SOCK; SSH_AGENT_PID=30944; export SSH_AGENT_PID; echo Agent pid 30944; $ ssh-add Enter passphrase for /home/fkereki/.ssh/id_rsa: Identity added: /home/fkereki/.ssh/id_rsa (/home/fkereki/.ssh/id_rsa) $ ssh email@example.com Last login: Mon Jun 10 18:44:15 2013 from 192.168.1.108 6.0 Light Final built on March 31, 2009 on Linux 18.104.22.168 You are working as fkereki Frequently used programs: Configuration : vasm File manager : mc (press F2 for useful menu) Editor : mcedit, nano, vi Multimedia : alsamixer, play
You also may want to look at
keychain, which allows you to reuse
ssh-agent between logins. (Not all distributions include this
command; you may have to use your package manager to install it.) Just
keychain the.path.to.your.private.key, enter your passphrase
(Figure 1), and until you reboot the server or specifically run
keychain -k all to stop
keychain, your passphrase will be stored,
and you won't have to re-enter it. Note: you even could log out and
log in again, and your key still would be available. If you just want to
clear all cached keys, use
Figure 1. By entering your passphrase once with
keychain, it will be remembered even if you log out.
If you use a passphrase, you could take your private keys with you on a USB stick or the like and use it from any other machine in order to log in to your remote servers. Doing this without using passphrases would just be too dangerous. Losing your USB stick would mean automatically compromising all the remote servers you could log in to. Also, using a passphrase is an extra safety measure. If others got hold of your private key, they wouldn't be able to use it without first determining your passphrase.
Finally, if you are feeling quite confident that all needed users have
their passwordless logins set up, you could go the whole mile and disable
common passwords by editing the sshd configuration file and setting
PasswordAuthentication no and
no, but you'd better be quite
sure everything's working, because otherwise you'll have problems.
Using SSH and PuTTY
You can use SSH public/private pairs with the common
PuTTY program, but not directly, because it requires a
specific, different key file. In order to convert your SSH key,
you need to do
puttygen $HOME/.ssh/your.private.key -o
your.private.key.file.for.putty. Afterward, you simply can open
PuTTY, go to Connection, SSH, Auth and browse for your newly
generated "Private key file for authentication".
There's no definitive set of security measures that can 100% guarantee that no attacker ever will be able to get access to your server, but adding extra layers can harden your setup and make the attacks less likely to succeed. In this article, I described several methods, involving modifying SSH configuration, using PAM for access control and public/private key cryptography for passwordless logins, all of which will enhance your security. However, even if these methods do make your server harder to attack, remember you always need to be on the lookout and set up as many obstacles for attackers as you can manage.
The SSH protocol is defined over a host of RFC (Request for Comments) documents; check http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secure_Shell#Internet_standard_documentation for a list.
Port numbers are assigned by IANA (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority), and you can go to http://www.iana.org/assignments/port-numbers for a list.
Read http://www.funtoo.org/wiki/Keychain for more on
its author, Daniel Robbins.
You can see the RSA original patent at http://www.google.com/patents?vid=4405829 and the RSA Cryptography Standard at http://www.emc.com/emc-plus/rsa-labs/pkcs/files/h11300-wp-pkcs-1v2-2-rsa-cryptography-standard.pdf.
For extra security measures, read "Implement Port-Knocking Security with knockd", in the January 2010 issue of Linux Journal, or check it out on-line at http://www.linuxjournal.com/article/10600.
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