Nov 192012

Over the years, whenever I’ve run into problems getting SSH key authentication to work, there’s always been the problem of a certain lack of information (partially because much of the information is held within the server logs which aren’t always accessible). This post is running through some of the issues I’ve encountered.

  1. The file server-to-login-to:~user/.ssh/authorized_keys has the key in, but the values are stored on multiple lines (as can happen when the contents are pasted in). Simply join the lines together, removing any extra spaces added by the editor, and it should work. Usually caused by pasting the key.
  2. Naming the file server-to-login-to:~user/.ssh/authorized_keys incorrectly – my fingers seem to prefer authorised_hosts – which whilst the authorised bit is the correct spelling, the code expects the Americanised spelling. Although you can set AuthorizedKeysFile to a space separated list of files, it’s usually best to assume it hasn’t been done.
  3. Getting confused over public/private keys. Not that I’m ever going to admit to being as dumb as to put the private key into the authorized_keys file, but it’s worth reminding myself that the private key belongs on the workstation I’m trying to connect from.
  4. Trying to login to a server where key authentication has been disabled (why would anyone do this?). Check PubkeyAuthentication in /etc/ssh/sshd_config.
  5. Not one of my mistakes (I’m on the side who disabled root logins), but logging in as root directly is often turned off.
  6. The permissions on the server-to-login-to:~user/.ssh directory and the file server-to-login-to:~user/.ssh/authorized_keys need to be very restricted. Basically no permissions for anyone other than the owner.

I am sure there are plenty of other possible mistakes, but running through this checklist seems to work for me.

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