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How To Set Up SSH Keys

Generating RSA Keys

The first step involves creating a set of RSA keys for use in authentication.

This should be done on the client.

To create your public and private SSH keys on the command-line:

mkdir ~/.ssh
chmod 700 ~/.ssh
ssh-keygen -t rsa

You will be prompted for a location to save the keys, and a passphrase for the keys. This passphrase will protect your private key while it’s stored on the hard drive:

Generating public/private rsa key pair.
Enter file in which to save the key (/home/b/.ssh/id_rsa):
Enter passphrase (empty for no passphrase):
Enter same passphrase again:
Your identification has been saved in /home/b/.ssh/id_rsa.
Your public key has been saved in /home/b/.ssh/

Your public key is now available as .ssh/ in your home folder.

Congratulations! You now have a set of keys. Now it’s time to make your systems allow you to login with them

Key Encryption Level

Note: The default is a 2048 bit key. You can increase this to 4096 bits with the -b flag (Increasing the bits makes it harder to crack the key by brute force methods).

ssh-keygen -t rsa -b 4096

Transfer Client Key to Host

The key you need to transfer to the host is the public one. If you can log in to a computer over SSH using a password, you can transfer your RSA key by doing the following from your own computer:

ssh-copy-id <username>@<host>

Where <username> and <host> should be replaced by your username and the name of the computer you’re transferring your key to.

(i) You can specify a port other than the standard port 22.

ssh-copy-id "<username>@<host> -p <port_nr>". If you are using the standard port 22, you can ignore this tip.

Alternatively, you can paste in the keys using SSH:

cat ~/.ssh/ | ssh <username>@<host> "mkdir -p ~/.ssh && cat >> ~/.ssh/authorized_keys"


Encrypted Home Directory

If you have an encrypted home directory, SSH cannot access your authorized_keys file because it is inside your encrypted home directory and won’t be available until after you are authenticated. Therefore, SSH will default to password authentication.

To solve this, create a folder outside your home named /etc/ssh/<username> (replace “<username>” with your actual username). This directory should have 755 permissions and be owned by the user. Move the authorized_keys file into it. The authorized_keys file should have 644 permissions and be owned by the user.

Then edit your /etc/ssh/sshd_config and add:

AuthorizedKeysFile    /etc/ssh/%u/authorized_keys

Finally, restart ssh with:

sudo service ssh restart

The next time you connect with SSH you should not have to enter your password.

username@host’s password:

If you are not prompted for the passphrase, and instead get just the

username@host’s password:

prompt as usual with password logins, then read on. There are a few things which could prevent this from working as easily as demonstrated above. On default Ubuntu installs however, the above examples should work. If not, then check the following condition, as it is the most frequent cause:

On the host computer, ensure that the /etc/ssh/sshd_config contains the following lines, and that they are uncommented;

PubkeyAuthentication yes
RSAAuthentication yes

If not, add them, or uncomment them, restart OpenSSH, and try logging in again. If you get the passphrase prompt now, then congratulations, you’re logging in with a key!

Permission denied (publickey)

If you’re sure you’ve correctly configured sshd_config, copied your ID, and have your private key in the .ssh directory, and still getting this error:

Permission denied (publickey).

Chances are, your /home/<user> or ~/.ssh/authorized_keys permissions are too open by OpenSSH standards. You can get rid of this problem by issuing the following commands:

chmod go-w ~/
chmod 700 ~/.ssh
chmod 600 ~/.ssh/authorized_keys

Error: Agent admitted failure to sign using the key.

This error occurs when the ssh-agent on the client is not yet managing the key. Issue the following commands to fix:


This command should be entered after you have copied your public key to the host computer.

Debugging and sorting out further problems

The permissions of files and folders is crucial to this working. You can get debugging information from both the client and server.

if you think you have set it up correctly , yet still get asked for the password, try starting the server with debugging output to the terminal.

sudo /usr/sbin/sshd -d

To connect and send information to the client terminal

ssh -v ( or -vv) username@host's

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