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With a secure shell (SSH) key pair, you can create virtual machines (VMs) in Azure that use SSH keys for authentication. This article shows you how to quickly generate and use an SSH public-private key file pair for Linux VMs. You can complete these steps with the Azure Cloud Shell, a macOS or Linux host.

Note

Ssh-copy-id - use locally available keys to authorise logins on a remote machine. Use ssh-copy-id on Server 1, assuming you have the key pair (generated with ssh-keygen): ssh-copy-id -i /.ssh/idrsa [email protected] Now you should be able to ssh into Server 2 with ssh using the private key. Ssh -i /.ssh/idrsa [email protected] The key files are stored in the /.ssh directory unless specified otherwise with the -ssh-dest-key-path option. If an ssh key pair already exists and the -generate-ssh-keys option is used, a new key pair will not be generated but instead the existing key pair will be used.

VMs created using SSH keys are by default configured with passwords disabled, which greatly increases the difficulty of brute-force guessing attacks.

For more background and examples, see Detailed steps to create SSH key pairs.

For additional ways to generate and use SSH keys on a Windows computer, see How to use SSH keys with Windows on Azure.

Supported SSH key formats

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Azure currently supports SSH protocol 2 (SSH-2) RSA public-private key pairs with a minimum length of 2048 bits. Other key formats such as ED25519 and ECDSA are not supported.

Create an SSH key pair

Use the ssh-keygen command to generate SSH public and private key files. By default, these files are created in the ~/.ssh directory. You can specify a different location, and an optional password (passphrase) to access the private key file. If an SSH key pair with the same name exists in the given location, those files are overwritten.

The following command creates an SSH key pair using RSA encryption and a bit length of 4096:

If you use the Azure CLI to create your VM with the az vm create command, you can optionally generate SSH public and private key files using the --generate-ssh-keys option. The key files are stored in the ~/.ssh directory unless specified otherwise with the --ssh-dest-key-path option. If an ssh key pair already exists and the --generate-ssh-keys option is used, a new key pair will not be generated but instead the existing key pair will be used. In the following command, replace VMname and RGname with your own values:

Provide an SSH public key when deploying a VM

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To create a Linux VM that uses SSH keys for authentication, specify your SSH public key when creating the VM using the Azure portal, Azure CLI, Azure Resource Manager templates, or other methods:

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If you're not familiar with the format of an SSH public key, you can display your public key with the following cat command, replacing ~/.ssh/id_rsa.pub with the path and filename of your own public key file if needed:

A typical public key value looks like this example:

If you copy and paste the contents of the public key file to use in the Azure portal or a Resource Manager template, make sure you don't copy any trailing whitespace. To copy a public key in macOS, you can pipe the public key file to pbcopy. Similarly in Linux, you can pipe the public key file to programs such as xclip.

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The public key that you place on your Linux VM in Azure is by default stored in ~/.ssh/id_rsa.pub, unless you specified a different location when you created the key pair. To use the Azure CLI 2.0 to create your VM with an existing public key, specify the value and optionally the location of this public key using the az vm create command with the --ssh-key-values option. In the following command, replace myVM, myResourceGroup, UbuntuLTS, azureuser, and mysshkey.pub with your own values:

If you want to use multiple SSH keys with your VM, you can enter them in a space-separated list, like this --ssh-key-values sshkey-desktop.pub sshkey-laptop.pub.

SSH into your VM

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With the public key deployed on your Azure VM, and the private key on your local system, SSH into your VM using the IP address or DNS name of your VM. In the following command, replace azureuser and myvm.westus.cloudapp.azure.com with the administrator user name and the fully qualified domain name (or IP address):

If you specified a passphrase when you created your key pair, enter that passphrase when prompted during the login process. The VM is added to your ~/.ssh/known_hosts file, and you won't be asked to connect again until either the public key on your Azure VM changes or the server name is removed from ~/.ssh/known_hosts.

If the VM is using the just-in-time access policy, you need to request access before you can connect to the VM. For more information about the just-in-time policy, see Manage virtual machine access using the just in time policy.

Next steps

  • For more information on working with SSH key pairs, see Detailed steps to create and manage SSH key pairs.

  • If you have difficulties with SSH connections to Azure VMs, see Troubleshoot SSH connections to an Azure Linux VM.

Before you begin

Using SSH public key authentication to connect to a remote system is a robust, more secure alternative to logging in with an account password or passphrase. SSH public key authentication relies on asymmetric cryptographic algorithms that generate a pair of separate keys (a key pair), one 'private' and the other 'public'. You keep the private key a secret and store it on the computer you use to connect to the remote system. Conceivably, you can share the public key with anyone without compromising the private key; you store it on the remote system in a .ssh/authorized_keys directory.

To use SSH public key authentication:

  • The remote system must have a version of SSH installed. The information in this document assumes the remote system uses OpenSSH. If the remote system is using a different version of SSH (for example, Tectia SSH), the process outlined below may not be correct.
  • The computer you use to connect to the remote server must have a version of SSH installed. This document includes instructions for generating a key pair with command-line SSH on a Linux or macOS computer, and with PuTTY on a Windows computer.
  • You need to be able to transfer your public key to the remote system. Therefore, you must either be able to log into the remote system with an established account username and password/passphrase, or have an administrator on the remote system add the public key to the ~/.ssh/authorized_keys file in your account.
  • Two-factor authentication using Two-Step Login (Duo) is required for access to the login nodes on IU research supercomputers, and for SCP and SFTP file transfers to those systems. SSH public key authentication remains an option for researchers who submit the 'SSH public key authentication to HPS systems' agreement (log into HPC everywhere using your IU username and passphrase), in which you agree to set a passphrase on your private key when you generate your key pair. If you have questions about how two-factor authentication may impact your workflows, contact the UITS Research Applications and Deep Learning team. For help, see Get started with Two-Step Login (Duo) at IU and Help for Two-Step Login (Duo).

Set up public key authentication using SSH on a Linux or macOS computer

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To set up public key authentication using SSH on a Linux or macOS computer:

  1. Log into the computer you'll use to access the remote host, and then use command-line SSH to generate a key pair using the RSA algorithm.

    To generate RSA keys, on the command line, enter:

  2. You will be prompted to supply a filename (for saving the key pair) and a password (for protecting your private key):
    • Filename: To accept the default filename (and location) for your key pair, press Enter or Return without entering a filename.

      Alternatively, you can enter a filename (for example, my_ssh_key) at the prompt, and then press Enter or Return. However, many remote hosts are configured to accept private keys with the default filename and path (~/.ssh/id_rsa for RSA keys) by default. Consequently, to authenticate with a private key that has a different filename, or one that is not stored in the default location, you must explicitly invoke it either on the SSH command line or in an SSH client configuration file (~/.ssh/config); see below for instructions.

    • Password: Enter a password that contains at least five characters, and then press Enter or Return. If you press Enter or Return without entering a password, your private key will be generated without password-protection.
      If you don't password-protect your private key, anyone with access to your computer conceivably can SSH (without being prompted for a password) to your account on any remote system that has the corresponding public key.

    Your private key will be generated using the default filename (for example, id_rsa) or the filename you specified (for example, my_ssh_key), and stored on your computer in a .ssh directory off your home directory (for example, ~/.ssh/id_rsa or ~/.ssh/my_ssh_key).

    The corresponding public key will be generated using the same filename (but with a .pub extension added) and stored in the same location (for example, ~/.ssh/id_rsa.pub or ~/.ssh/my_ssh_key.pub).

  3. Use SFTP or SCP to copy the public key file (for example, ~/.ssh/id_rsa.pub) to your account on the remote system (for example, [email protected]); for example, using command-line SCP:

    You'll be prompted for your account password. Your public key will be copied to your home directory (and saved with the same filename) on the remote system.

  4. Log into the remote system using your account username and password.
    If the remote system is not configured to support password-based authentication, you will need to ask system administrators to add your public key to the ~/.ssh/authorized_keys file in your account (if your account doesn't have ~/.ssh/authorized_keys file, system administrators can create one for you). Once your public key is added to your ~/.ssh/authorized_keys file on the remote system, the setup process is complete, and you should now be able to SSH to your account from the computer that has your private key.
  5. If your account on the remote system doesn't already contain a ~/.ssh/authorized_keys file, create one; on the command line, enter the following commands:
    If your account on the remote system already has a ~/.ssh/authorized_keys file, executing these commands will not damage the existing directory or file.
  6. On the remote system, add the contents of your public key file (for example, ~/id_rsa.pub) to a new line in your ~/.ssh/authorized_keys file; on the command line, enter:

    You may want to check the contents of ~/.ssh/authorized_keys to make sure your public key was added properly; on the command line, enter:

  7. You may now safely delete the public key file (for example, ~/id_rsa.pub) from your account on the remote system; on the command line, enter:

    Alternatively, if you prefer to keep a copy of your public key on the remote system, move it to your .ssh directory; on the command line, enter:

  8. Optionally, repeat steps 3-7 to add your public key to other remote systems that you want to access from the computer that has your private key using SSH public key authentication.
  9. You now should be able to SSH to your account on the remote system (for example, [email protected]) from the computer (for example, host1) that has your private key (for example, ~/.ssh/id_rsa):
    • If your private key is password-protected, the remote system will prompt you for the password or passphrase (your private key password/passphrase is not transmitted to the remote system):
    • If your private key is not password-protected, the remote system will place you on the command line in your home directory without prompting you for a password or passphrase:

    If the private key you're using does not have the default name, or is not stored in the default path (not ~/.ssh/id_rsa), you must explicitly invoke it in one of two ways:

    • On the SSH command line: Add the -i flag and the path to your private key.

      For example, to invoke the private key host2_key, stored in the ~/.ssh/old_keys directory, when connecting to your account on a remote host (for example, [email protected]), enter:

    • In an SSH client configuration file: SSH gets configuration data from the following sources (in this order):
      1. From command-line options
      2. From the user's client configuration file (~/.ssh/config), if it exists
      3. From the system-wide client configuration file (/etc/ssh/ssh_config)

      The SSH client configuration file is a text file containing keywords and arguments. To specify which private key should be used for connections to a particular remote host, use a text editor to create a ~/.ssh/config that includes the Host and IdentityFile keywords.

      For example, for connections to host2.somewhere.edu, to make SSH automatically invoke the private key host2_key, stored in the ~/.ssh/old_keys directory, create a ~/.ssh/config file with these lines included:

      Once you save the file, SSH will use the specified private key for future connections to that host.

      You can add multiple Host and IdentityFile directives to specify a different private key for each host listed; for example:

      Alternatively, you can use a single asterisk ( * ) to provide global defaults for all hosts (specify one private key for several hosts); for example:

      For more about the SSH client configuration file, see the OpenSSH SSH client configuration file on the web or from the command line (man ssh_config).

Set up public key authentication using PuTTY on a Windows 10 or Windows 8.x computer

The PuTTY command-line SSH client, the PuTTYgen key generation utility, the Pageant SSH authentication agent, and the PuTTY SCP and SFTP utilities are packaged together in a Windows installer available under The MIT License for free download from the PuTTY development team.

After installing PuTTY:

  1. Launch PuTTYgen.
  2. In the 'PuTTY Key Generator' window, under 'Parameters':
    • For 'Type of key to generate', select RSA. (In older versions of PuTTYgen, select SSH2-RSA.)
    • For 'Number of bits in a generated key', leave the default value (2048).
  3. Under 'Actions', click Generate.
  4. When prompted, use your mouse (or trackpad) to move your cursor around the blank area under 'Key'; this generates randomness that PuTTYgen uses to generate your key pair.
  5. When your key pair is generated, PuTTYgen displays the public key in the area under 'Key'. In the 'Key passphrase' and 'Confirm passphrase' text boxes, enter a passphrase to passphrase-protect your private key.
    If you don't passphrase-protect your private key, anyone with access to your computer will be able to SSH (without being prompted for a passphrase) to your account on any remote system that has the corresponding public key.
  6. Save your public key:
    1. Under 'Actions', next to 'Save the generated key', click Save public key.
    2. Give the file a name (for example, putty_key), select a location on your computer to store it, and then click Save.
  7. Save your private key:
    1. Under 'Actions', next to 'Save the generated key', click Save private key.
      If you didn't passphrase-protect your private key, the utility will ask whether you're sure you want to save it without a passphrase. Click Yes to proceed or No to go back and create a passphrase for your private key.
    2. Keep 'Save as type' set to PuTTY Private Key Files (*.ppk), give the file a name (for example, putty_private_key), select a location on your computer to store it, and then click Save.
    3. If you wish to connect to a remote desktop system such as Research Desktop (RED), click Conversions > Export OpenSSH key, give the file a name (for example, putty_rsa), select a location on your computer to store it, and then click Save.
  8. Log into the remote system using your account username and password.

    If the remote system does not support password-based authentication, you will need to ask system administrators to add your public key to the ~/.ssh/authorized_keys file in your account (if your account doesn't have ~/.ssh/authorized_keys file, system administrators can create one for you). Once your public key is added to your account's ~/.ssh/authorized_keys file on the remote system...

  9. If your account on the remote system doesn't already contain a ~/.ssh/authorized_keys file, create one; on the command line, enter the following commands:

    If your account on the remote system already has ~/.ssh/authorized_keys, executing these commands will not damage the existing directory or file.

  10. On your computer, in the PuTTYgen utility, copy the contents of the public key (displayed in the area under 'Key') onto your Clipboard. Then, on the remote system, use your favorite text editor to paste it onto a new line in your ~/.ssh/authorized_keys file, and then save and close the file.
  11. On your computer, open the Pageant SSH authentication agent. This utility runs in the background, so when it opens, you should see its icon displayed in the Windows notification area.
  12. In the Windows notification area, right-click on the Pageant icon, select Add Key, navigate to the location where you saved your private key (for example, putty_private_key.ppk), select the file, and then click Open.
  13. If your private key is passphrase-protected, Pageant will prompt you to enter the passphrase; enter the passphrase for your private key, and then click OK.

    If your private key is not passphrase-protected, Pageant will add your private key without prompting you for a passphrase.

    Either way, Pageant stores the unencrypted private key in memory for use by PuTTY when you initiate an SSH session to the remote system that has your public key.

  14. On your computer, open the PuTTY SSH client:
    1. On the Session screen:
      • Under 'Host Name (or IP address)', enter your username coupled with the hostname of the remote server that has your public key; for example:
      • Under 'Connection type', make sure SSH is selected.
    2. In the 'Category' list on the left, navigate to the Auth screen (Connection > SSH > Auth). On the Auth screen, under 'Authentication methods', select Attempt authentication using Pageant.
    3. Return to the Session screen, and under 'Saved Sessions', enter a name (for example, Deathstar), and then click Save.
    4. Click Open to connect to your account on the remote system. With Pageant running in the background, PuTTY will retrieve the unencrypted private key automatically from Pageant and use it to authenticate. Because Pageant has your private key's passphrase saved (if applicable), the remote system will place you on the command line in your account without prompting you for the passphrase.
    Technically, at this point, the setup is complete. In the future, whenever you log into your Windows desktop, you can run Pageant, add the private key, and then use PuTTY to SSH to any remote resource that has your public key. Alternatively, you can create a shortcut in your Windows Startup folder to launch Pageant and load your private key automatically whenever you log into your desktop. For instructions, finish the rest of the following steps.
  15. Open your Startup folder. Press Win-r, and in the 'Open' field, type shell:startup, and then press Enter.
  16. Right-click inside the Startup folder, and then select New and Shortcut.
  17. In the 'Type the location of the item' text box, enter the path to the Pageant executable (pageant.exe) followed by the path to your private key file (for example, putty_private_key.ppk); enclose both paths in double quotes; for example:
  18. Click Next, and then, in the 'Type a name for this shortcut' text box, enter a name for the shortcut (for example, PAGEANT).
  19. Click Finish.

The next time you log into your Windows desktop, Pageant will start automatically, load your private key, and (if applicable) prompt you for the passphrase.