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MemberManual / ShellAccess / PasswordlessLogin

This page explains how to log in to our servers without having to type in a password. We use MitKerberos for this rather than RSA/DSA public keys. The main reason for doing so is MemberManual/DistributedSecurity; please see that page if you feel that the procedures described below are unduly cumbersome.

An extra benefit is that passwordless logins using kerberos are noticably faster than passwordless logins using public key authentication. This is because kerberos uses symmetric cryptography (which is faster) and requires fewer round-trips during the authentication process.

These instructions have been tested with the major unix variants (Debian, RedHat, Fedora, Ubuntu, MacOSX, etc). There are reports that the ssh client in certain minor distributions does not support this.


Installation instructions for various platforms are given below:

On a Macintosh

For OS X 10.5 and later, no additional software is required for the instructions below to work; earlier versions of Mac OS X might work if you install the MacPorts version of kerberos+ssh (but no guarantees!). For further details, check out MemberManual/TransferringFiles/OpenAFS, and follow just the Kerberos instructions.

On Ubuntu or Debian GNU/Linux

You need the openssh-client and krb5-user packages:

sudo apt-get install openssh-client krb5-user

On Fedora GNU/Linux

You will need the krb5-workstation package:

dnf -y install krb5-workstation

On GNU Guix

You will need the mit-krb5 package:

guix install mit-krb5


Once a Kerberos client has been installed, you must obtain Kerberos tickets. If your username is "fred", you would do this by typing:

kinit -f fred@HCOOP.NET

Then type your password when prompted.

Next, make sure you have your tickets. To do this, type


You should see your tickets and their expiration dates.

Last, type

ssh -oGSSAPIAuthentication=yes -oGSSAPIDelegateCredentials=yes fred@ssh.hcoop.net

GSSAPI is the "generic name" for Kerberos-like authentication protocols. The first option tells your ssh client to use your Kerberos tickets to prove your identity to the hcoop servers. The second option tells your ssh client that it is safe to entrust the hcoop servers with a copy of your tickets once you have authenticated. If it still asks you for a password, you might have to add the -oGSSAPITrustDNS=yes option.

Upon first invocation you might be asked to add the RSA public key of ssh.hcoop.net to the list of known hosts. This message looks something like this:

The authenticity of host 'ssh.hcoop.net (' can't be established.
RSA key fingerprint is 52:5c:8c:f7:d7:bc:1b:f9:ef:39:5a:27:ac:72:8a:e1.
Are you sure you want to continue connecting (yes/no)?

Type yes to permanently store the fingerprint in ~/.ssh/known_hosts .

Automating things

If you do this a lot, you can include the GSSAPIAuthentication and GSSAPIDelegateCredentials options in your ~/.ssh/config file. But you should not turn on GSSAPIDelegateCredentials for arbitrary hosts. Make sure you only enable it for HCoop hosts! You should never, ever use GSSAPIDelegateCredentials on a machine which is operated by somebody other than yourself and HCoop.

Here is an example entry for ~/.ssh/config:

Host hcoop
  HostName ssh.hcoop.net
  GSSAPIAuthentication yes
  GSSAPIDelegateCredentials yes
  GSSAPITrustDNS yes
  User fred

This will allow you to type the following, instead of the longer command above.

ssh hcoop


Adding "-vvv" to the ssh command line makes it spit out lots of useful debugging information.

If you see something like the following in the output:

debug1: Unspecified GSS failure.  Minor code may provide more information
Server not found in Kerberos database

check to see if you have an /etc/hosts file with the host that you're trying to reach in it. If there is an entry for this host, make sure that the fully-qualified domain name is listed first, before any aliases that you may be using.

Session freezes after ~5 min of inactivity

The likely cause is that you are trying to exchange Kerberos tickets and have none.

If it still doesn't work

See the Troubleshooting Kerberos page for more diagnostics. You may also send the output of your ssh command with the "'-vvv'" to hcoop-help and we'll try to figure things out from there.

CategoryMemberManual CategoryNeedsWork

MemberManual/ShellAccess/PasswordlessLogin (last edited 2021-10-17 03:04:21 by RobinTempleton)