14.3. Using OpenSSH Certificate Authentication

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14.3.1. Introduction to SSH Certificates

Using public key cryptography for authentication requires copying the public key from every client to every server that the client intends to log into. This system does not scale well and can be an administrative burden. Using a public key from a certificate authority (CA) to authenticate client certificates removes the need to copy keys between multiple systems. While the X.509 Public Key Infrastructure Certificate system provides a solution to this issue, there is a submission and validation process, with associated fees, to go through in order to get a certificate signed. As an alternative, OpenSSH supports the creation of simple certificates and associated CA infrastructure.
OpenSSH certificates contain a public key, identity information, and validity constraints. They are signed with a standard SSH public key using the ssh-keygen utility. The format of the certificate is described in /usr/share/doc/openssh-version/PROTOCOL.certkeys.
The ssh-keygen utility supports two types of certificates: user and host. User certificates authenticate users to servers, whereas host certificates authenticate server hosts to users. For certificates to be used for user or host authentication, sshd must be configured to trust the CA public key.
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