SSH-keys are the most common way to connect to a server securely and in an effortless way. A good practice is to protect the keys with a long-enough passphrase. Since it can be painful to type it every time one wants to login to a server, ssh-agent is often used to bypass this. But this can be a security caveat, since any malware or anybody who can access the laptop can then use the ssh-key to connect to servers.
A good way to prevent this from happening is to use KeePassXC to manage your ssh-keys. KeePassXC is a password manager, forked from KeepassX, itself a Linux port of KeePass. KeePassXC is well maintained, and we can take advantage of the new features built inside ! KeePassXC can now store ssh-keys and associated passphrase, and add them into ssh-agent, allowing SSH connection using public key authentication. It can also unload keys from ssh-agent when the lid is closed, the screen is locked, or in case of prolonged inactivity. And display a confirmation dialog whenever the key is acceded !
Generate a key pair
If you don’t already own a pair of keys, you can use
ssh-keygen to get new ones.
$ ssh-keygen -b 4096 Generating public/private rsa key pair. Enter file in which to save the key (/Users/valouille/.ssh/id_rsa): /Users/valouille/.ssh/id_rsa already exists. Overwrite (y/n)? y Enter passphrase (empty for no passphrase): Enter same passphrase again: Your identification has been saved in /Users/valouille/.ssh/id_rsa. Your public key has been saved in /Users/valouille/.ssh/id_rsa.pub. The key fingerprint is: SHA256:PGfu6mBVTSTXxMAHx0odNltC8Z0LU61N/xwa+GPgM/M valouille@Valintosh The key's randomart image is: +---[RSA 4096]----+ | .o*XX+o| | =ooB*=| | ..o=.=+| | . . o..+.+| | S + o ooo| | . = = = o| | o . * . | | . . . E | | .o.. | +----[SHA256]-----+
In this case, I create a 4096 bits RSA key. To be able to login as valouille to my server, I add the content of the public key
/Users/valouille/.ssh/id_rsa.pub inside the
For now, if I try to connect to my server, I’ll be prompted to write down my passphrase to unlock the key. Nothing really new here.
Enable ssh-agent integration within KeePassXC
In KeePassXC Settings, the checkbox
Enable SSH Agent from the
SSH Agent category must be selected. (A restart of KeePassXC is required)
Add the key to KeePassXC
After creating a database, we can then add a new entry for the ssh-key :
Repeat are to be filled with the passphrase. Then, we switch to the
SSH Agent category :
The first two checkboxes enable the ssh-agent integration functionality, and the third the dialog window that appears each time the key is used.
From now, ssh-agent should have the key loaded :
$ ssh-add -l 4096 SHA256:PGfu6mBVTSTXxMAHx0odNltC8Z0LU61N/xwa+GPgM/M (RSA)
I should be able to login without entering the passphrase, but since I want a dialog window to prompt me whenever my key is used, a few more steps are needed (at least with macOS)
Making the confirmation dialog window work !
By default, macOS’s SSH doesn’t ships with an askpass program (like ssh-askpass). This is a pre-requisite for this feature to work. Until then, we get the following error message :
$ ssh firstname.lastname@example.org sign_and_send_pubkey: signing failed: agent refused operation email@example.com: Permission denied (publickey).
You can use the following commands to install
git clone https://github.com/theseal/ssh-askpass.git sudo cp ssh-askpass /usr/local/bin/ cp ssh-askpass.plist ~/Library/LaunchAgents/
You’ll then need to logout and re-login to enable it.
Once done, when the KeePassXC password database is unlocked, you should be able to login effortlessly :
$ ssh server.valouille.fr
Linux server #1 SMP Debian The programs included with the Debian GNU/Linux system are free software; the exact distribution terms for each program are described in the individual files in /usr/share/doc/*/copyright. Debian GNU/Linux comes with ABSOLUTELY NO WARRANTY, to the extent permitted by applicable law. You have new mail. Last login: Tue Mar 27 14:59:43 2018 $
To make it easier to validate the dialog window, don’t forget to enable the keyboard control from System Preferences → Keyboard → Shortcuts → Full Keyboard Access… (at the bottom) → All Controls