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Changing SSH Host keys

The inspiration for this post comes from Kees Cook’s tweet about having

VisualHostKey yes

on his ~/.ssh/config file.

I’ve played with this option in the past, but having some scripts running over ssh, I was afraid about parsing the “wrong” things on the output.

I’ve enabled this option again this evening, so the head of my ~/.ssh/config looks like:

Host *
    VisualHostKey yes
    Compression yes

I started to ssh login in to a few machines, just to see the output.

A sample output, looks like this:

+---[RSA 2048]----+
|.E       . . o   |
|= . .   . . o o  |
| +   o .  ..o. . |
|  o . o . .*.    |
|   .   +S...*. o |
|      . ...+o.+oo|
|        . +o  +.B|
|       . + oo+ +=|
|        . o.=o. .|

RSA 2048 is the size of the servers public key and you can check the size of the servers key -as of course yours too- with this command:

# ssh-keygen -l -f /etc/ssh/

on your local machine:

> ssh-keygen -l -f ~/.ssh/

I have changed a few times my ssh key pair (you must remember to append your new public key to your server authorized_keys, before removing your old key) but I never changed the servers key pairs.

After searching online for a few minutes to educate my self on the matter, seems that when your (in this case) centos machine is starting ssh daemon for the first time, it creates new ssh key pairs.

The procedure is really easy, but before doing anything, we need to edit

/etc/init.d/sshd to add a 4096 bit keysize for SSHv2 RSA:

echo -n $"Generating SSH2 RSA host key: "
rm -f $RSA_KEY
if test ! -f $RSA_KEY && $KEYGEN -q -b 4096 -t rsa -f $RSA_KEY -C '' -N '' >&/dev/null; then

The final steps are these:

> ssh linuxbox
> sudo -s
# cd /etc/
# tar cf ssh.tar ssh
# cd ssh
# rm -f ssh_host_*
# service sshd restart

If you test your ssh connection, you will get an ugly message:


BUT you have to see this error msg.

If you dont, then you have a very serious problem !

Edit your ~/.ssh/known_hosts to get rid of this message and delete the previous record about the old server ssh public key.

Try again, now it should show you something like:

Are you sure you want to continue connecting (yes/no)? yes

Type yes and memorize your new VisualHostKey !

Tag(s): ssh, centos