SSH auto-login with shared key fails

I recently had trouble when my SSH auto-login via shared key failed and it took a while to figure out what was wrong. I’ve made some notes for posterity. It turned out to be SSH not being happy with the directory/file ownership and permission on both the target and client.

Finding the problem

When running Centos it’s important to ensure that SSHD logging is on so you can discover what’s wrong and also track login attempts.

Enable logging for sshd by editing the config file

$ nano /etc/ssh/sshd_config

Locate the following and make the changes:

# Logging
 # obsoletes QuietMode and FascistLogging
 SyslogFacility AUTH
 #SyslogFacility AUTHPRIV
 LogLevel INFO

Don’t forget to restart the service to apply the changes

$ /etc/init.d/sshd restart

Check the logs

With logging enabled you can now watch the end of the messages log where you should find the error messages. I did this with 2 boxes open. Box 1 was logged into the target and watching the logs while Box 2 attempt to login.

$ tail -f -n 100 /var/log/messages

In my scenario this immediately presented the following message:

 Authentication refused: bad ownership or modes for directory /root

Fixing The Problem

It turns out something had changed the owner and permissions on my /root directory and SSH didn’t like it. I have yet to find out how & when this happened but I suspect a system wide update via ‘yum update’ did it.

Here’s the commands I ran on the target:

$ chown root:root /root

$ chmod 755 /root

This immediately produced a new error on the client side when attempting the SSH

Permissions 0755 for '/root/.ssh/id_rsa' are too open.
It is recommended that your private key files are NOT accessible by others.
This private key will be ignored.

This simple error was fixed on the client by issuing:

$ chmod 700 /root/.ssh/id_rsa

Fixing the above problems on the target and client enabled me to auto-login on SSH using shared RSA keys. Note: these fixes didn’t require any changes to the keys as they were purely down to permissions and ownership.


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