Distributing and Using SSH Keys

by Hexagon, , Updated: 2 minutes read ssh security developer-tips guide-to-ssh

Explore the various methods for distributing and utilizing SSH keys, ensuring secure and seamless access to remote servers and GitHub.

Distributing your Public Key

To utilize key-based authentication, your public key must be placed on the servers you want to access. This can be done using the ssh-copy-id command or manually appending it to the ~/.ssh/authorized_keys file on the server.

Setting up the client

  1. Start the ssh-agent in the background


ssh-agent -s


eval $(ssh-agent -s)
  1. Add your SSH private key to the ssh-agent
ssh-add ~\.ssh\id_rsa

If you have distributed your key to a server, you should now be able to log in using your key.

Using SSH Keys for GitHub Authentication

GitHub supports SSH key authentication, making your interactions with repositories secure and convenient.

Here is how:

  1. Copy the public key content. Either do it manually by opening id_rsa.pub from the .ssh subfolder of your home directory, or use one of these cli methods:

    • Linux: cat ~/.ssh/id_rsa.pub | xclip -selection clipboard

    • Windows (Git Bash): clip < ~/.ssh/id_rsa.pub

    • Windows (Powershell): Get-Content ~/.ssh/id_rsa.pub | Set-Clipboard

Remember, never share or expose your private key. You're only sharing your public key with GitHub.

  1. Add your SSH key to your GitHub account

    • Navigate to your GitHub account settings.
    • Go to "SSH and GPG keys" and click on "New SSH key".
    • Paste your copied public key into the "Key" field.
    • Provide a descriptive title and click "Add SSH key".
  2. Test the SSH connection

ssh -T git@github.com

Disabling Password Authentication on a SSH Server

WARNING: Ensure you've successfully tested and can log in using your SSH key before proceeding. Disabling password authentication without setting up key-based access could lock you out of your server.

If you're administering your own SSH server and have set up SSH keys, you can improve security by disabling password authentication. This ensures that access is only possible through SSH keys.

  1. Edit the SSH daemon configuration

Use your favorite editor to open the sshd_config file:

sudo nano /etc/ssh/sshd_config

By default there is usually a commented out row saying #PasswordAuthentication yes, uncomment (or add) this row and set the value to no so that it looks like: Add the following row:

PasswordAuthentication no

  1. Restart the SSH service
sudo systemctl restart sshd

Handling a compromised Private Key

If you suspect or know that your private key has been compromised:

  • Generate a new SSH key pair immediately.
  • Replace the compromised public key on all remote systems with the new one.
  • Investigate any potential unauthorized access or actions taken on systems where the compromised key had access.

If using traditional key-based authentication:

  • Remove the old public key from any services/systems where you had installed it.

If using SSH CA:

  • Utilize your SSH CA to revoke the certificate associated with the compromised key. By doing this at the CA level, you can effectively deny access across all systems that trust the CA without manually touching each individual server.

Remember, it's always better to be safe than sorry. If you're unsure about the security of your private key, consider it compromised and take action.

Creating SSH Keys SSH Certificate Authority