Using Public Keys for Authentication

The SSH server in Example 10-1 used usernames and passwords for authentication. But heavy SSH users will tell you that one of the nicest features of SSH is its support for key-based authentication. With key-based authentication, the server is given a copy of a user's private key. When the user tries to log in, the server asks her to prove her identity by signing some data with her private key. The server then checks the signed data against its copy of the user's public key.

In practice, using public keys for authentication is nice, because it saves the user from having to manage a lot of passwords. A user can use the same key for multiple servers. She can choose to password-protect her key for extra security, or she can use a key with no password for a completely transparent login process.

This lab shows you how to set up a Twisted SSH server to use public key authentication. It uses the same server code as Example 10-1, but with a new authentication backend.

10.2.1. How Do I Do That?

Store a public key for each user. Write a credentials checker that accepts credentials implementing twisted.conch.credentials.ISSHPrivateKey. Verify the user's credentials by checking to make sure that his public key matches the key you have stored, and that his signature proves that the user possesses the matching private key. Example 10-2 shows how to do this.

Example 10-2.

from sshserver import SSHDemoRealm, getRSAKeys

from twisted.conch import credentials, error

from twisted.conch.ssh import keys, factory

from twisted.cred import checkers, portal

from twisted.python import failure

from zope.interface import implements

import base64

class PublicKeyCredentialsChecker:


 credentialInterfaces = (credentials.ISSHPrivateKey,)

 def _ _init_ _(self, authorizedKeys):

 self.authorizedKeys = authorizedKeys

 def requestAvatarId(self, credentials):

 if self.authorizedKeys.has_key(credentials.username):

 userKey = self.authorizedKeys[credentials.username]

 if not credentials.blob == base64.decodestring(userKey):

 raise failure.failure(

 error.ConchError("I don't recognize that key"))

 if not credentials.signature:

 return failure.Failure(error.ValidPublicKey( ))

 pubKey = keys.getPublicKeyObject(data=credentials.blob)

 if keys.verifySignature(pubKey, credentials.signature,


 return credentials.username


 return failure.Failure(

 error.ConchError("Incorrect signature"))


 return failure.Failure(error.ConchError("No such user"))

if __name__ == "_ _main_ _":

 sshFactory = factory.SSHFactory( )

 sshFactory.portal = portal.Portal(SSHDemoRealm( ))

 authorizedKeys = {








 pubKeyString, privKeyString = getRSAKeys( )

 sshFactory.publicKeys = {

 'ssh-rsa': keys.getPublicKeyString(data=pubKeyString)}

 sshFactory.privateKeys = {

 'ssh-rsa': keys.getPrivateKeyObject(data=privKeyString)}

 from twisted.internet import reactor

 reactor.listenTCP(2222, sshFactory) )

To test this example, you'll need to generate a public key, if you don't have one already. The OpenSSH SSH implementation that comes with most Linux distributions (and also with Mac OS X) includes a command-line utility named ssh-keygen that you can use to generate a new private/public key pair:

 $ ssh-keygen -t rsa

 Generating public/private rsa key pair.

 Enter file in which to save the key (/home/abe/.ssh/id_rsa):

 Enter passphrase (empty for no passphrase):

 Enter same passphrase again:

 Your identification has been saved in /home/abe/.ssh/id_rsa.

 Your public key has been saved in /home/abe/.ssh/

 The key fingerprint is:

 6b:13:3a:6e:c3:76:50:c7:39:c2:e0:8b:06:68:b4:11 abe@sparky

Windows users can generate keys with PuTTYgen, which is distributed along with the popular free PuTTY SSH client (

Once you've generated a key, you can get the public key from the file ~/.ssh/ Edit Example 10-2 to use your public key for the admin user in the authorizedKeys dictionary. Then run to start the server on port 2222. You should log right in without being prompted for a password:

 $ ssh admin@localhost -p 2222

 >>> Welcome to my test SSH server.

 Commands: clear echo help quit whoami


If you try to log in as a user who doesn't possess the matching private key, you'll be denied access:

 $ ssh admin@localhost -p 2222

 Permission denied (publickey).


10.2.2. How Does That Work?

Example 10-2 reuses most of the SSH server classes from Example 10-1. To support public key authentication, it uses a new credentials checker class named PublicKeyCredentialsChecker . PublicKeyCredentialsChecker accepts credentials implementing ISSHPrivateKey, which have the attributes username, blob, signature, and sigData. To verify the key, PublicKeyCredentialsChecker goes through three tests. First, it makes sure it has a public key on file for the user username. Next, it verifies that the public key provided in blob matches the public key it has on file for that user.

It's possible that the user may have provided just the public key at this point, but not a signed token. If the public key was valid, but no signature was provided, PublicKeyCredentialsChecker.requestAvatar raises the special exception twisted.conch.error.ValidPublicKey. The SSH server will understand the meaning of this exception and ask the client for the missing signature.

Finally, the PublicKeyCredentialsChecker uses the function twisted.conch.ssh.keys.verifySignature to check whether the data in signature really is the data in sigData signed with the user's private key. If verifySignature returns a true value, authentication is successful, and requestAvatarId returns username as the avatar ID.

You can support both username/password and key-based authentication in an SSH server. Just register both credentials checkers with your portal.

Getting Started

Building Simple Clients and Servers

Web Clients

Web Servers

Web Services and RPC


Mail Clients

Mail Servers

NNTP Clients and Servers


Services, Processes, and Logging

Twisted Network Programming Essentials
Twisted Network Programming Essentials
ISBN: 0596100329
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2004
Pages: 107
Authors: Abe Fettig

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