Tuesday, December 24, 2013

CCIE Rants Christmas Special: SSH Keys with IOS Routers

Hi Guys

Recently got myself a Mac Book Pro Retina, Most things I like, some things annoy me. The things I like are normally related to the underlying Unix in the OS, including SSH.

If your anything like me 99 percent of the time you log into routers etc you use a username and password, but Linux guru's (like my friend at www.sysadminblog.net)  have long been using SSH keys to create secure connections to there linux servers without having to enter a password every time.

We can do the exact same thing on IOS routers and it's relatively straightforward.

First, I will show you how to generate a ssh key in Mac OS X, I am sure that this process can be done with Putty, and in fact I think there is a putty program specifically geared for this exact reason called puttygen.

I will show the Mac-OS X commands, should be easy enough to figure it out for windows as i mentioned above.

OK, so first of all you need to generate the key, this is quite straightforward:

On your mac terminal, simply enter ssh-keygen and you can then accept most of the defaults, you will want to make sure you back up the private key somewhere (you can always regenerate the public key)

The Passphase is highly recommended: This means that if someone gets a copy of your private key they will still need this password, it also means that you will run a special bit of software called a "SSH Agent" that, when you first use the private key will prompt you for the pass phase to use it, it will only do this once per desktop login session (so if you shut your mac down or log out, next time you SSH in to a host your using SSH key authentication you will need to enter this key phase, but after that you won't have to enter that pass phase again. So pick something secure!

So, as per below enter the ssh-keygen command, choose a path to store the key, enter a pass phase.

Peters-MacBook-Pro:~ peterrevill$ ssh-keygen

Generating public/private rsa key pair.
Enter file in which to save the key (/Users/peterrevill/.ssh/id_rsa)
Created directory '/Users/peterrevill/.ssh'.
Enter passphrase (empty for no passphrase): 
Enter same passphrase again: 
Your identification has been saved in /Users/peterrevill/.ssh/id_rsa.
Your public key has been saved in /Users/peterrevill/.ssh/id_rsa.pub.
The key fingerprint is:

5b:11:d1:1d:2f:a6:2a:13:b3:09:6c:cd:f8:60:34:0c peterrevill@Peters-MacBook-Pro.local

OK next, cd to the directory and look at your new public key.

Peters-MacBook-Pro:.ssh peterrevill$ cd /Users/peterrevill/.ssh
Peters-MacBook-Pro:.ssh peterrevill$ cat id_rsa.pub 
ssh-rsa AAAAB3NzaC1yc2EAAAADAQABAAABAQDrjoyJeKI/zqt446ntMihqzuHJV9F1Nh9pE+NiZS4khlWl2epnrxGvPIHEfF/P12OsCRMmHUggY1AmKxiQH/styVIGn+FC5y/GWlPwZe7ZDPMUDeoJJCOP5TZWQoIBnF2S+07rKTxlBxtm2BTlJzx+IteQHwA+G/hWLtQL24nWO3/g/urrttD5mTgncHPtTNkc4CiVrr3Av64eO3QlU8ZuGYYFBTrL4nuYHIIywtHT91UAFokB/oddk7vFwwbIpjddkmAvnkUlxHR0719CfxAXjFRVQmCqiVy9ewosUhDZiBXm/NJWvi0CXl/ZVWlsYAqg0CpZ4s5u+V5E0R6/MnKv peterrevill@Peters-MacBook-Pro.local

We need to paste the output of our cat command into the router, so at this point it's time to login to the router. It should be obvious you need SSH enabled, and you will want SSH version 2.

Now, the thing about this process that I have found, is that if you have a user who already has a password, even if your using SSH keys it prompts you for the password, there may be a way to resolve this but not that your humble friend (Me!) could find. So if anyone does know a way to stop this behaviour and allow people to login with EITHER SSH key OR password but not both please post it in the comments :). 

So, to account for this we make a new user and we don't assign them a password, we do assign them privilege 15 though so that the enable password does not have to be entered. Once you have entered the final command key-string come back to this page before continuing.

Issue the following commands:

HomeRouter2921(config)#username test privilege 15
HomeRouter2921(config)#ip ssh pubkey-chain 
HomeRouter2921(conf-ssh-pubkey)#username test

At this point your ready to enter the key, now unfortunately IOS has a limit per line of 250 characters, so you will need to copy 250 characters at a time and go from one line to the next, being careful not to miss any characters whatsoever. (Why they can't make this like the certificate enrolment process where you paste everything in in one go i have no idea!)

It will probably look a little something like this:


The start of the key will show: ssh-rsa, you have to copy this in and copy the plaintext bit at the end as this is the description.

Once this is done, you are ready to test it out! That easy hey?

Go to a terminal in Mac OS X and issue the ssh command, we will put the -v flag this time so you can see the process but afterwards you can do away with the -v and just use ssh test@ 

If you assigned a pass-phase to your private key (which you should have done), you will now be prompted by Mac-OS-X itself to enter the pass phase for the private key, after that you should not have to enter this pass phase again until turn off your mac, even subsequent SSH sessions with OTHER routers will be fine.

Peters-MacBook-Pro:.ssh peterrevill$ ssh -v test@
OpenSSH_6.2p2, OSSLShim 0.9.8r 8 Dec 2011
debug1: Reading configuration data /etc/ssh_config
debug1: /etc/ssh_config line 20: Applying options for *
debug1: Connecting to [] port 22.
debug1: Connection established.
debug1: identity file /Users/peterrevill/.ssh/id_rsa type 1
debug1: identity file /Users/peterrevill/.ssh/id_rsa-cert type -1
debug1: identity file /Users/peterrevill/.ssh/id_dsa type -1
debug1: identity file /Users/peterrevill/.ssh/id_dsa-cert type -1
debug1: Enabling compatibility mode for protocol 2.0
debug1: Local version string SSH-2.0-OpenSSH_6.2
debug1: Remote protocol version 2.0, remote software version Cisco-1.25
debug1: no match: Cisco-1.25
debug1: SSH2_MSG_KEXINIT sent
debug1: SSH2_MSG_KEXINIT received
debug1: kex: server->client aes128-cbc hmac-md5 none
debug1: kex: client->server aes128-cbc hmac-md5 none
debug1: SSH2_MSG_KEX_DH_GEX_REQUEST(1024<1024 p="" sent="">
debug1: expecting SSH2_MSG_KEX_DH_GEX_GROUP
debug1: SSH2_MSG_KEX_DH_GEX_INIT sent
debug1: expecting SSH2_MSG_KEX_DH_GEX_REPLY
debug1: Server host key: RSA 32:a3:4b:36:88:94:fc:c0:b4:17:06:b1:21:c4:c1:2f
debug1: Host '' is known and matches the RSA host key.
debug1: Found key in /Users/peterrevill/.ssh/known_hosts:1
debug1: ssh_rsa_verify: signature correct
debug1: SSH2_MSG_NEWKEYS sent
debug1: expecting SSH2_MSG_NEWKEYS
debug1: SSH2_MSG_NEWKEYS received
debug1: Roaming not allowed by server
debug1: SSH2_MSG_SERVICE_ACCEPT received

The above output shows you that we sent a key to the router and it accepted it, and then we get on with the rest of the process...

debug1: Authentications that can continue: publickey,keyboard-interactive,password
debug1: Next authentication method: publickey
debug1: Offering RSA public key: /Users/peterrevill/.ssh/id_rsa
debug1: Server accepts key: pkalg ssh-rsa blen 279
debug1: Authentication succeeded (public key).

Authenticated to ([]:22).

We have successfully authenticated!


We are now logged into the router and ready to start configuring!

That about wraps it up for me until the end of the year I believe, and I also reckon i won't be doing any blog posts until some time in February as I am about to go on my Holiday/Snowboarding Trip to Japan! If your going to be in Myoko Kogen between 11th of Jan to 15th of Feb or you will be at Hakuba for some of Feb Send me an email! :) Peter@peterrevill.com

I want to thank everyone for there continued support, my friends and family and everyone who has been really positive about this blog, I have found it very rewarding to be able to help people and quite a few people whom i have not met have told me hey I know you i read your blog. Really nice Feeling!

Enjoy your Christmas Holidays!


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.