ubuntu server add ssh key

admin3 April 2024Last Update :

Mastering SSH Key Management in Ubuntu Server

ubuntu server add ssh key

Welcome to the comprehensive guide on adding SSH keys to your Ubuntu server. In this digital era, where security breaches are rampant, safeguarding your server’s access is paramount. SSH keys offer a robust mechanism for secure remote login, making them an essential tool for any system administrator or developer working with Linux servers. This article will delve into the intricacies of SSH key management, providing you with a step-by-step approach to enhance your server’s security.

Understanding SSH Keys and Their Importance

Before we dive into the technicalities of adding SSH keys to your Ubuntu server, let’s first understand what SSH keys are and why they are crucial for server security. SSH, or Secure Shell, is a protocol that allows secure remote login from one computer to another. SSH keys are a pair of cryptographic keys that can be used to authenticate as an alternative to password-based logins.

  • Public Key: The key that you share with others or add to your server.
  • Private Key: The key that remains securely with you and should never be shared.

Using SSH keys not only strengthens security but also streamlines the login process, eliminating the need to enter passwords manually. Now, let’s explore how to implement this powerful security measure on your Ubuntu server.

Generating Your SSH Key Pair

The first step in setting up SSH keys is to generate your key pair on your local machine. Here’s how you can do it:

ssh-keygen -t rsa -b 4096 -C "your_email@example.com"

This command creates a new SSH key, using the provided email as a label. You’ll be prompted to enter a file in which to save the key and an optional passphrase for added security.

Choosing the Right Algorithm and Key Size

While RSA is widely used, there are other algorithms like ECDSA and Ed25519. Each has its advantages, and choosing the right one depends on compatibility and security requirements.

Adding Your SSH Key to the Ubuntu Server

Once you have generated your SSH key pair, the next step is to add the public key to your Ubuntu server. There are several methods to accomplish this, and we’ll cover the most common ones.

Method 1: Using ssh-copy-id

For systems that support it, ssh-copy-id is a script that installs your public key in the remote user’s home directory. Execute the following command:

ssh-copy-id user@hostname

Replace ‘user’ with your username and ‘hostname’ with your server’s IP address or domain name.

Method 2: Manually Adding the Key

If ssh-copy-id isn’t available, you can manually add the key by appending it to the ~/.ssh/authorized_keys file on the server. Use this command to copy the key:

cat ~/.ssh/id_rsa.pub | ssh user@hostname "mkdir -p ~/.ssh && chmod 700 ~/.ssh && cat >>  ~/.ssh/authorized_keys && chmod 600 ~/.ssh/authorized_keys"

Securing Your SSH Configuration

With your SSH key added, it’s time to tighten the server’s SSH configuration to prevent unauthorized access.

Disabling Password Authentication

To ensure that only users with an SSH key can log in, disable password authentication by editing the /etc/ssh/sshd_config file:

PasswordAuthentication no

After making changes, restart the SSH service to apply the new settings.

Changing the Default SSH Port

Changing the default SSH port (22) to a non-standard port can help reduce the number of automated attacks.

Port 2222

Remember to update firewall rules accordingly to allow traffic on the new port.

Managing Multiple SSH Keys

For those managing multiple servers or services, handling various SSH keys can become complex. Utilize the ~/.ssh/config file to define aliases for each host, specifying which key to use for each connection.

Best Practices for SSH Key Management

Maintaining good SSH key hygiene is critical. Regularly rotate keys, use strong passphrases, and employ agents like ssh-agent to keep private keys encrypted in memory when not in use.

FAQ Section

How do I check if my SSH key is added to the server?

You can verify by attempting to log in to the server. If you don’t get prompted for a password, your SSH key was successfully added.

What should I do if I lose my private key?

If you lose your private key, you’ll need to generate a new SSH key pair and add the new public key to the server.

Is it safe to use SSH keys without passphrases?

While it’s more convenient, it’s less secure. Anyone who gains access to your private key can log in to your server. Always use a strong passphrase for added security.


Incorporating SSH keys into your Ubuntu server setup is a smart move towards fortifying your system’s defenses. By following the steps outlined in this guide, you’re well on your way to achieving a more secure and efficient server environment. Remember, vigilance and adherence to best practices are the cornerstones of cybersecurity.


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