ssh certificates

When you only keep around 1 server, setting up certificates seem like quite a bit of overhead. But if you're constantly resetting your server and/or creating new test VMs, certs become a little more attractive.


A SSH CA is just any standard keypair. You probably want to keep it saf(er) than usual. Here I'm using a yubikey/fido2 token to make it a bit more "offline".

# where you store it doesn't matter
$ ssh-keygen -t ecdsa-sk -f ~/.ssh/ca/ca_ecdsa_sk

host keys

Signing host keys with a certificate means less managing of your known_hosts file and less "the keys for this server has changed!!!".

# generate your host key(s)
$ ssh-keygen -t ed25519 -f /etc/ssh/ssh_host_ed25519_key

# sign the pubkey
# you may want to generate the key on the server and copy the pubkey locally to sign,
# the send the cert back.
# an identity (-I) is mandatory and used for revoking
$ ssh-keygen -s ~/.ssh/ca/ca_ecdsa_sk -I some-host -h /etc/ssh/ssh_host_ed25519_key

The new certificates have to be used on the server

# sshd_config

HostKey /etc/ssh/ssh_host_ed25519_key
HostCertificate /etc/ssh/

# only if you need/want to limit this

And also trusted by the client, in known_hosts. This allows the cert to sign any server (*), but can be used to limit by hostname/IP.

@cert-authority * AAAA.......==

user keys

Signing user keys with a certificate means your hosts only need a single authorized_keys setup. No more adding/removing when you get new keys.

# generate user keys
$ ssh-keygen -t ed25519 -f ~/.ssh/id_ed25519

# sign the pubkey
# -I is a key id for revoking
# -n is the list of usernames you're going to use
#       while you can sign without it, sshd will refuse to accept such certs by default.
$ ssh-keygen -s ~/.ssh/ca/ca_ecdsa_sk -I user1 -n username1,root,username2 ~/.ssh/

On the server side, trust the CA, in sshd_config:

TrustedUserCAKeys /etc/ssh/user_ca_keys

and the actual ca pubkey in /etc/ssh/user_ca_keys: AAAA.......==

And finally, get the client side ssh to use it in ~/.ssh/config:

Host medea
    IdentityFile ~/.ssh/id/id_ed25519
    CertificateFile ~/.ssh/id/

server all in one

So now to setup a server, in sshd_config:

HostKey /etc/ssh/ssh_host_ed25519_key
HostCertificate /etc/ssh/
TrustedUserCAKeys /etc/ssh/user_ca_keys

and locally:

$ ssh-keygen -t ed25519 -f ssh_host_ed25519_key
$ ssh-keygen -s ~/.ssh/ca/ca_ecdsa_sk -I hostx -h
$ echo ' AAAA.......==' > user_ca_keys
# untested
$ rsync . root@host1:/etc/ssh