OpenSSH configuration of an SSH server

Secure Shell, or SSH, is a cryptographic (encrypted) network protocol for initiating text-based shell sessions on remote machines in a secure way.

Due to the increased security issues in SSH remote login servers, we collect some information about OpenSSH configuration best practices.

For protecting your SSH server against attacks see the Linux firewall and SSH protection configuration page.

OpenSSH documentation

OpenSSH documentation:

OS-specific documentation:

OpenSSH security issues

OpenSSH configuration

Please note that configuration settings may differ between minor versions of OpenSSH.

SSH settings to be configured include:

  • Cipher algorithms.

  • HMAC: Hash-based message authentication codes.

  • KEX: Key exchange.

See also the Red Hat solution Steps to disable the diffie-hellman-group1-sha1 algorithm in SSH. List the supported algorithms of the server using the commands:

# sshd -T | grep kex
# sshd -T | grep Ciphers

On EL8 systems uncomment the line with the CRYPTO_POLICY= variable in /etc/sysconfig/sshd and restart the sshd service.

To verify, run ssh with the -vvv flag from a client to the relevant server:

# ssh -vvv user@server

OpenSSH 5.3

The version 5.3 is found in RHEL/CentOS 6.

In Security_Guidelines_OpenSSH is recommended in sshd_config:

HostKey /etc/ssh/ssh_host_rsa_key
HostKey /etc/ssh/ssh_host_ecdsa_key
KexAlgorithms diffie-hellman-group-exchange-sha256
MACs hmac-sha2-512,hmac-sha2-256
Ciphers aes256-ctr,aes192-ctr,aes128-ctr

To generate the missing ECDSA key file run:

ssh-keygen -t ecdsa -f /etc/ssh/ssh_host_ecdsa_key

You must configure the correct SELinux contexts, for example:

chcon --reference=ssh_host_rsa_key ssh_host_ecdsa_key*

Check the files:

# ls -Z ssh_host*key*
-rw-------. root root system_u:object_r:sshd_key_t:s0  ssh_host_dsa_key
-rw-r--r--. root root system_u:object_r:sshd_key_t:s0
-rw-------. root root system_u:object_r:sshd_key_t:s0  ssh_host_ecdsa_key
-rw-r--r--. root root system_u:object_r:sshd_key_t:s0
-rw-------. root root system_u:object_r:sshd_key_t:s0  ssh_host_key
-rw-r--r--. root root system_u:object_r:sshd_key_t:s0
-rw-------. root root system_u:object_r:sshd_key_t:s0  ssh_host_rsa_key
-rw-r--r--. root root system_u:object_r:sshd_key_t:s0

OpenSSH 6.6

The version 6.6 is found in RHEL/CentOS 7.

The Mozilla Wiki Security_Guidelines_OpenSSH recommends for OpenSSH 6.7+:

# Supported HostKey algorithms by order of preference.
HostKey /etc/ssh/ssh_host_ed25519_key
HostKey /etc/ssh/ssh_host_rsa_key
HostKey /etc/ssh/ssh_host_ecdsa_key




# Password based logins are disabled - only public key based logins are allowed.
AuthenticationMethods publickey

# LogLevel VERBOSE logs user's key fingerprint on login. Needed to have a clear audit track of which key was using to log in.

# Log sftp level file access (read/write/etc.) that would not be easily logged otherwise.
Subsystem sftp  /usr/lib/ssh/sftp-server -f AUTHPRIV -l INFO

# Root login is not allowed for auditing reasons. This is because it's difficult to track which process belongs to which root user:
# On Linux, user sessions are tracking using a kernel-side session id, however, this session id is not recorded by OpenSSH.
# Additionally, only tools such as systemd and auditd record the process session id.
# On other OSes, the user session id is not necessarily recorded at all kernel-side.
# Using regular users in combination with /bin/su or /usr/bin/sudo ensure a clear audit track.
PermitRootLogin No

# Use kernel sandbox mechanisms where possible in unprivileged processes
# Systrace on OpenBSD, Seccomp on Linux, seatbelt on MacOSX/Darwin, rlimit elsewhere.
UsePrivilegeSeparation sandbox

The paper Applied_Crypto_Hardening recommends:

Protocol 2
# HostKeys for protocol version 2
HostKey /etc/ssh/ssh_host_rsa_key
#HostKey /etc/ssh/ssh_host_dsa_key
#HostKey /etc/ssh/ssh_host_ecdsa_key
HostKey /etc/ssh/ssh_host_ed25519_key
PermitRootLogin no # or 'without-password' to allow SSH key based login
StrictModes yes
PermitEmptyPasswords no

The Secure_Secure_Shell_Wiki recommends for RHEL7.1/CentOS7.1:

HostKey /etc/ssh/ssh_host_ed25519_key
HostKey /etc/ssh/ssh_host_rsa_key

/etc/ssh/moduli file

You may want to check or even recreate the /etc/ssh/moduli file. From Blog Secure_Secure_Shell:

If you chose to enable 5 (diffie-hellman-group-exchange-sha256: Custom DH with SHA2), open /etc/ssh/moduli if exists, and delete lines where the 5th column is less than 2000:

awk '$5 > 2000' /etc/ssh/moduli > "${HOME}/moduli"
wc -l "${HOME}/moduli" # make sure there is something left
mv "${HOME}/moduli" /etc/ssh/moduli

If it does not exist, create it:

ssh-keygen -G /etc/ssh/moduli.all -b 4096
ssh-keygen -T /etc/ssh/ -f /etc/ssh/moduli.all
mv /etc/ssh/ /etc/ssh/moduli
rm /etc/ssh/moduli.all

This will take a while (maybe some hours).

Note added: If your system runs SELinux, set the SELinux security context:

chcon -v --type=etc_t /etc/ssh/moduli

Please verify the correct SELinux settings:

# ls -Z /etc/ssh/moduli
-rw-r--r--. root root system_u:object_r:etc_t:s0       /etc/ssh/moduli

Generating user keys

Normal users should generate SSH keys in their $HOME/.ssh/ directory by the following command:

/usr/bin/ssh-keygen -t ${keytype} -f id_${keytype} -N ""

where ${keytype} is rsa, dsa, ecdsa, respectively. The contents of the files .ssh/id_${keytype}.pub should be appended to the $HOME/.ssh/authorized_keys file.

Testing the SSH server

Connect a client with verbose logging enabled to the SSH server:

ssh -vvv

The various algorithms supported by a particular OpenSSH version can be listed with the following commands:

ssh -Q cipher
ssh -Q cipher-auth
ssh -Q mac
ssh -Q kex
ssh -Q key

as explained in the man ssh page:

-Q cipher | cipher-auth | mac | kex | key
   Queries ssh for the algorithms supported for the specified version 2.

The available features are:

  • cipher (supported symmetric ciphers),

  • cipher-auth (supported symmetric ciphers that support authenticated encryption),

  • mac (supported message integrity codes),

  • kex (key exchange algorithms),

  • key (key types).

OpenSSH bugs

WARNING: /etc/ssh/moduli does not exist, using fixed modulus

The SSH server in OpenSSH 6.6p1 on RHEL7/CentOS7 may log a warning message in the syslog upon successful SSH logins:

sshd[15880]: WARNING: /etc/ssh/moduli does not exist, using fixed modulus

even though the file /etc/ssh/moduli exists.

This error message can be traced to the source code in file dh.c up to and including OpenSSH 6.9p1:

if ((f = fopen(_PATH_DH_MODULI, "r")) == NULL &&
    (f = fopen(_PATH_DH_PRIMES, "r")) == NULL) {
        logit("WARNING: %s does not exist, using fixed modulus",
        return (dh_new_group14());

A patch that logs both file names has been proposed in

An incorrect SELinux security context may prevent the sshd daemon from reading the files, causing the above syslog message. Please verify the correct SELinux settings:

# ls -Z /etc/ssh/moduli
-rw-r--r--. root root system_u:object_r:etc_t:s0       /etc/ssh/moduli