Generate SSH keys on Linux

In this post we are going to generate SSH keys in order to access other machines/services remotely. The main focus will be on ed25519, which is a cryptography solution (signature scheme) implementing Edwards-curve Digital Signature Algorithm (EdDSA).

Why ed25519?

There are a bunch of reasons why nowadays this signature scheme is the way to go:

  • It is more modern.
  • It is more secure.
  • It is faster to generate and verify.
  • It is more collision resilience: against hash-function collision attacks where large numbers of keys are generated with the hope of getting two different keys have matching hashes.
  • It has a smaller footprint favoring key transfer/copy/paste.

If for some reason, you bump into issues, please continue reading or go directly to the RSA section below.

The process

Linux makes it relatively easy to generate keys (any type). We can just get started with this command and follow the process step by step (The email address could be anything, althoug it is recommended to use one in order to both avoid inconsistency and know whom this key belongs to).

$ ssh-keygen -t ed25519 -C "[email protected]"

Here we have to pick a filename. As a rule of thumb, we should store our keys in your .ssh directory in order to be consistent and facilitate access to them.

Generating public/private ed25519 key pair.
Enter file in which to save the key (/home/fernando/.ssh/id_ed25519): my_id_ed25519
Enter passphrase (empty for no passphrase): 

We have to pick a password (passphrase) which will add an extra layer of security when accessing our SSH keys. RECOMMENDED.

Enter passphrase (empty for no passphrase): 
Enter same passphrase again: 

Our keys have been successfully generated:

Your identification has been saved in my_id_ed25519
Your public key has been saved in my_id_ed25519.pub
The key fingerprint is:
SHA256:bYLfGZANw8y5u136l+KFdvOwfMI8aLduHM011YckkRU [email protected]
The key's randomart image is:
+--[ED25519 256]--+
|       +o.  o=Eo.|
|        ==  ... +|
|        o..     o|
|       ..o     ..|
|      . S.+    oo|
|       ..+ o... o|
|        .oooo==o |
|        . [email protected]=.|
|           +o*==.|
+----[SHA256]-----+

Now our keypair is ready to be deployed to SSH servers or any other service that can use them.

We can also check how short our public key is:

$ cat my_id_ed25519.pub
ssh-ed25519 AAAAC3NzaC1lZDI1NTE5AAAAICVBFoN0z95nHtJCV3uKe7qunIFEZKzTMvJEvpNK+Y5P [email protected]

What about RSA?

RSA is still a well known player and widely used, mostly because we are creature of habits. Many platforms are already migrating and discouraging this signature schema usage and I’m pretty sure, it will be deprecated at some point.

Even though the point above, it is around and valid, and in case of compatbility issues, we can generate rsa keys the same way as ed25519 keys by only changing the -t argument in the generation command (the process is exatly the same as above):

$ ssh-keygen -t rsa -C "[email protected]"

References