Mastering SSH Key-Based Authentication: Tips, Tricks, and Best Practices

Mastering SSH Key-Based Authentication: Tips, Tricks, and Best Practices

SSH key-based authentication provides a sophisticated way to secure remote access to servers and systems, commonly used in Unix-like operating systems. It boasts numerous advantages over traditional password-based methods, including heightened security, ease of use, and automation capabilities. Let's delve into the essentials of SSH key-based authentication

Generating Key Pairs:

This authentication method relies on asymmetric cryptography. Users create a pair of cryptographic keys: a public key and a private key. The public key is placed on the server(s) the user intends to access, while the private key remains safely stored on the user's local system.

Placing Public Keys:

Users typically append their public key to the ~/.ssh/authorized_keys file on the server they wish to access. This file serves as a repository of authorized public keys allowed to log in to the associated account.

Safeguarding Private Keys:

The private key is a critical piece kept secure on the user's local machine. It's imperative to protect it with robust encryption and permissions. Users can bolster security by using passphrase-protected private keys, adding an extra layer of defense.

Authentication Process:

When a user tries to log in to the server, the SSH client sends a challenge encrypted with the user's public key. The server decrypts this challenge using the authorized public key stored in the authorized_keys file. If the decrypted challenge matches the one sent by the client, access is granted.

Security Benefits:

  • Resistance to Brute Force Attacks: Since the private key isn't transmitted over the network, SSH key-based authentication is resilient against brute-force attacks.

  • Elimination of Passwords: This method eradicates the need for password-based logins, mitigating risks associated with password-related attacks like dictionary attacks or phishing.

  • Logging and Accountability: Each user's access is tied to their unique key pair, providing a clear audit trail that enhances accountability and simplifies forensic analysis in case of security incidents.

Convenience and Automation:

  • Single Sign-On (SSO): Once set up, SSH key-based authentication enables seamless access to multiple servers without the hassle of entering passwords repeatedly.

  • Automated Processes: SSH keys are commonly used in automated scripts and processes, facilitating secure, passwordless interactions between systems.

Key Management:

  • Rotation: Regularly rotating keys is recommended to reduce the risk of compromised keys.

  • Revocation: If a private key is compromised or an employee leaves an organization, the associated public key should be removed from the authorized_keys file to revoke access.


SSH key-based authentication enjoys broad support across various SSH implementations and is compatible with SSH clients and servers on different platforms.

SSH key-based authentication is widely utilized across diverse environments to bolster security, simplify access, and streamline operations. Here's a look at some everyday scenarios where SSH key-based authentication plays a crucial role:

1. Managing Servers:

System administrators rely on SSH key-based authentication to securely access remote servers for tasks like maintenance, configuration, and troubleshooting. This method mitigates the risks associated with password-based logins, ensuring the protection of critical systems.

2. Cloud Infrastructure Control:

Organizations managing cloud infrastructure, such as AWS, Google Cloud Platform, or Azure, use SSH key-based authentication to securely connect to virtual machines and cloud instances. This practice limits access to authorized personnel, minimizing the chance of unauthorized entry or data breaches.

3. Development Environments:

Developers utilize SSH key-based authentication to access development servers, version control systems (e.g., GitHub or Bitbucket), and other development tools. This enables secure and seamless access to development environments, fostering collaborative software development processes.

4. Continuous Integration/Continuous Deployment (CI/CD):

In CI/CD pipelines, SSH key-based authentication is employed to authenticate between various stages of the pipeline (e.g., build, test, deploy). Automation tools like Jenkins or GitLab CI/CD use SSH keys to securely access servers, deploy code, and execute deployment scripts without manual intervention.

5. Database Management:

Database administrators (DBAs) employ SSH key-based authentication to securely access databases hosted on remote servers. By configuring SSH key-based authentication, DBAs establish secure connections for tasks such as database backups, migrations, and performance tuning.

6. Secure File Transfers:

Organizations rely on SSH key-based authentication for secure file transfers between systems using protocols like SCP or SFTP. SSH keys ensure secure authentication and encryption of file transfers, preserving the confidentiality and integrity of transmitted data.

7. Access Control Systems:

SSH key-based authentication integrates with access control systems to regulate user access to sensitive resources like financial data or proprietary software. Centralized management of SSH keys and access policies helps enforce least privilege access, enhancing overall security.

8. Remote IoT Device Management:

In IoT deployments, SSH key-based authentication enables secure access and management of IoT devices from remote locations. Manufacturers and administrators use SSH keys to authenticate and securely communicate with IoT devices for tasks such as monitoring, configuration, and software updates.

These scenarios underscore the versatility and significance of SSH key-based authentication in ensuring secure and authenticated access to a variety of systems and resources across different industries and use cases.

How can we use it?!

Suppose I have 2 servers that I named it Ubuntu-SRV1( ip: & Ubuntu-SRV2(ip: I want to connect to Ubuntu-SRV2 from the Ubuntu-SRV1 server with an SSH key.

on Ubuntu-SRV1, I typed this Command:

root@ubuntu-SRV1:/home/ubuntu# ssh-keygen -t rsa

as you can see from the picture, after this command You can change the path to save .ssh directory files or press enter to save them in the default path.

also, ssh-key requires a passphrase from you to create another security level for you when using this key, but it is optional.

after we create, The access level for the .ssh folder should be 600 like picture.

in the .ssh folder, we Have a public key and a Private key.
What we did on the first server, we also do for the second server

root@ubuntusrv2:/home/ubuntu# ssh-key

now, I should copy the ubuntu-SRV1 public key to ubuntu-SRV2

To do this, use this Command:

root@ubuntu-SRV1:/home/ubuntu# ssh-copy-id ubuntu@

after this Command, we copied ubuntu-SRV1 public key into ubuntu-SRV2 server.

Now, we can use SSH from the ubuntu-SRV1 server to access the ubuntu-SRV2 server without using the Password.

In summary, SSH key-based authentication offers a robust and secure means of remote access, particularly suitable for environments prioritizing security, convenience, and automation. Adhering to best practices in key management and security is vital for maintaining its efficacy.