Worm with Glasses

Coding • DevOps • Personal

Dec 8, 2017

Secure SSH Keys and Client Configurations

Red electronic lock symbol against a blue/black background.

SSH is the backbone to how I’m able to work remotely.

Periodically, it’s important to review both my SSH config settings and regenerate my SSH keys.

From my perspective, Mozilla has put together the best recommendations for both server and client configurations. For now, I’m concentrating on the client configuration (within ~/.ssh/config and my SSH keys.)

OpenSSH Client Configuration

Below is Mozilla’s Modern SSH client configuration recommendation:

# Ensure KnownHosts are unreadable if leaked - it is otherwise easier to know which hosts your keys have access to.
HashKnownHosts yes
# Host keys the client accepts - order here is honored by OpenSSH
HostKeyAlgorithms ssh-ed25519-cert-v01@openssh.com,ssh-rsa-cert-v01@openssh.com,ssh-ed25519,ssh-rsa,ecdsa-sha2-nistp521-cert-v01@openssh.com,ecdsa-sha2-nistp384-cert-v01@openssh.com,ecdsa-sha2-nistp256-cert-v01@openssh.com,ecdsa-sha2-nistp521,ecdsa-sha2-nistp384,ecdsa-sha2-nistp256

KexAlgorithms curve25519-sha256@libssh.org,ecdh-sha2-nistp521,ecdh-sha2-nistp384,ecdh-sha2-nistp256,diffie-hellman-group-exchange-sha256
MACs hmac-sha2-512-etm@openssh.com,hmac-sha2-256-etm@openssh.com,umac-128-etm@openssh.com,hmac-sha2-512,hmac-sha2-256,umac-128@openssh.com
Ciphers chacha20-poly1305@openssh.com,aes256-gcm@openssh.com,aes128-gcm@openssh.com,aes256-ctr,aes192-ctr,aes128-ctr

Note these are the “modern” recommendations which assumes the services you are connecting to have been updated recently. I’ve noticed I’ve had to modify these for services like Github with:

KexAlgorithms diffie-hellman-group-exchange-sha1,diffie-hellman-group14-sha1

OpenSSH Key Generation

ED25519 is recommended for all new keys, but not all services support it. For those services we need to fall back to RSA. Using Mozilla’s SSH key generation guidelines, I created a keygen script that defaults to ED25519:

#! /bin/bash
# Generate a new ED25519 or RSA SSH key using Mozilla's
# (https://wiki.mozilla.org/Security/Guidelines/OpenSSH#Key_generation)
# recommendations.
# Usage: keygen {service_name} [ed25519|rsa]
# Defaults to the more secure ED25519.

set -e
set -u


case $type in
        ssh-keygen -t ed25519 -f ~/.ssh/id_ed25519_${service}_$(date +%Y-%m-%d) -C "Key for ${service}"

        ssh-keygen -t rsa -b 4096 -f ~/.ssh/id_rsa_${service}_$(date +%Y-%m-%d) -C "Key for ${service}"

        echo "Usage: keygen {service_name} [ed25519|rsa]"
        exit 1

Now you’ll need to send your new key to the remote server. For example:

ssh-copy-id -i ~/.ssh/id_ed25519_wormbytes_2017-12-08 robert@server.wormbytes.ca

Finally update your ~/.ssh/config and modify your IdentityFile to reference the key that was generated. Something like:

IdentityFile ~/.ssh/id_ed25519_wormbytes_2017-12-08


My recommendation is to review your SSH keys and configuration once a year. While the above configuration is the recommendation today (December 2017) it might not be the recommendation next year. Be sure to check back with Mozilla to see if anything needs to be updated.