Improving the security of your SSH private key files

Improving the security of your SSH private key files by Martin Kleppmann.

From the post:

Ever wondered how those key files in ~/.ssh actually work? How secure are they actually?

As you probably do too, I use ssh many times every single day — every git fetch and git push, every deploy, every login to a server. And recently I realised that to me, ssh was just some crypto voodoo that I had become accustomed to using, but I didn’t really understand. That’s a shame — I like to know how stuff works. So I went on a little journey of discovery, and here are some of the things I found.

When you start reading about “crypto stuff”, you very quickly get buried in an avalanche of acronyms. I will briefly mention the acronyms as we go along; they don’t help you understand the concepts, but they are useful in case you want to Google for further details.

Quick recap: If you’ve ever used public key authentication, you probably have a file ~/.ssh/id_rsa or ~/.ssh/id_dsa in your home directory. This is your RSA/DSA private key, and ~/.ssh/ or ~/.ssh/ is its public key counterpart. Any machine you want to log in to needs to have your public key in ~/.ssh/authorized_keys on that machine. When you try to log in, your SSH client uses a digital signature to prove that you have the private key; the server checks that the signature is valid, and that the public key is authorized for your username; if all is well, you are granted access.

So what is actually inside this private key file?

If you like knowing the details of any sort, this is a post for you!

Or if you start doing topic maps work of interest to hostile others, security will be a concern.

Remember encryption is only one aspect of “security.” Realistic security has multiple layers.

I first saw this in Pete Warden’s Five short links.

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