ssh

Creating 32768 bit RSA keys for fun and profit

Have you ever wondered how long it would take to create a 32768 bit RSA key with ssh-keygen? Well, I did.

   $ time ssh-keygen -t rsa -b 32768 -f ~/.ssh/tmp32768 -N foobar -q
   real    244m31.259s
   user    244m15.664s
   sys     0m4.736s

In other words, on my test system (AMD X2 CPU with 1.8 GHz per core) it took ca. 4 hours. This is likely very dependent on how much entropy you can get (and how fast), so take the numbers with a grain of salt. A second key with 32767 bits (one less) took 16 hours, for instance.

The resulting tmp32768 (private key) file is ca. 25 KB big, the tmp32768.pub (public key) file is 5 KB big.

There's likely no noticeable performance hit for ssh or scp AFAICS, as all data transfers are done with a symmetrical session key, not the RSA key itself. Only the initial connection "handshake" will take ca. 40 seconds longer...

And yes, 32768 is the maximum RSA key size you can currently create with OpenSSH, go file a bug report if that's not enough for you ;-) However, as I then noticed, this key will not actually work. When you put it in some authorized_keys file and try to login, the handshake will fail and the server-side will see the following error in /var/log/auth.log:

  sshd[xxxxxx]: error: RSA_public_decrypt failed: error:04067069:lib(4):func(103):reason(105)

I first thought I found an off-by-one error, but the 32767 bit key (one bit less) didn't work either. After looking through the OpenSSH and OpenSSL code as well as the RSA_private_decrypt(3SSL) manpage a bit, I saw that OpenSSH uses the RSA_PKCS1_PADDING parameter. My current theory is thus that some padding is making the key not work. I'm now creating a key with 11 bits less bits than 32768, let's see what happens. For the record, a key with 16384 bits does work just fine.

Anyway, I'll probably report this as "bug" (more a theoretical than a practical problem, though) as ssh-keygen let's you generate RSA keys which will never work in practice...

Updated DIY Dynamic DNS solution HOWTO

I've just updated my DIY secure pseudo-DDNS setup using ssh article/HOWTO a bit, in order to make it simpler to set up (no more extra scripts required) and a bit more secure (by using command= and no-port-forwarding,no-X11-forwarding,no-agent-forwarding in the /home/user/.ssh/authorized_keys file, for instance).

If you've considered employing such as solution please revisit the article for updated instructions.

DIY secure pseudo-DDNS setup using ssh

Here's a quick HOWTO for setting up your own secure pseudo-dynamic DNS (DDNS) server.

It's not a "real" DDNS service, i.e. you won't be able to use standard DNS tools or protocols to talk to the server, but it covers 98% of all functionality I expect from a service such as DynDNS or similar ones: It tells me the IP address of a certain box which doesn't have a static IP address (e.g. my home-server).

Requirements

You'll need:

  • A Linux box with dynamic IP address (dial-up modem/DSL), I'll call it homeserver from now on. This is the box whose public IP address I want to be able to find out.
  • A public Linux box with static IP address (or known DNS name) where you have a user account and ssh access. I'll call this box publicserver.

Setup

On the homeserver:

  • Add a non-root user account (e.g. user) just for the purpose of this mechanism: adduser user. The user doesn't need any special permissions.
  • Create an ssh key with an empty passphrase for the user: ssh-keygen -t rsa -b 4096. This is required as you'll want to run ssh commands via cronjob later.
  • Add a cronjob which runs a random command such as ls regularly (as user), e.g. once per 10 minutes:

    5,15,25,35,45,55 * * * * user ssh -x user@publicserver ls

    The command to run (e.g. ls) doesn't really matter at all, more on that later.

On the publicserver:

  • Add a non-root user account (e.g. also named user) just for the purpose of this mechanism: adduser user. The user doesn't need any special permissions.
  • Add the public ssh key (/home/user/.ssh/id_rsa.pub) of user@homeserver to the publicserver's /home/user/.ssh/authorized_keys, so that the homeserver user can login on the remote publicserver without password (i.e. non-interactively). We'll also limit which ssh commands this user can run using the command keyword in /home/user/.ssh/authorized_keys file:

    command="echo $SSH_CLIENT | cut -d \" \" -f 1 > /home/user/homeserverip.txt && chmod 644 /home/user/homeserverip.txt",no-port-forwarding,no-X11-forwarding,no-agent-forwarding ssh-rsa AAAAAAAAAA...AAAAAAA user@homeserver

    In the above example AAA...AAA is the public key, command specifies which command should be run if this user "logs in" via ssh, and we use some other options such as no-port-forwarding,no-X11-forwarding,no-agent-forwarding to minimize what this user can do via ssh.

So to summarize: the homeserver's user simply executes the above commands on the remote publicserver, which in turn abuses the $SSH_CLIENT environment variable which contains the public IP the ssh connection was coming from (which is exactly what we're looking for). We store that IP in the homeserverip.txt file, which will always contain the latest-known IP address of the homeserver (because of the cronjob).

Getting the current homeserver IP address

You can now retrieve the current IP address of your homeserver easily from anywhere (e.g. from your laptop when you're in another, possibly hostile network) in order to connect to your homeserver:

  $ ssh -x otheruser@publicserver cat /home/user/homeserverip.txt

To make this a bit more convenient you can add a shell alias (e.g. into ~/.bashrc):

  alias homeserverip='ssh -x otheruser@publicserver cat /home/user/homeserverip.txt'

Or, to conveniently login to your homeserver as johndoe:

  alias homeserverlogin='ssh -x johndoe@`ssh -x otheruser@publicserver cat /home/user/homeserverip.txt`'

Conclusion, advantages

This may not be the most elegant solution, and it has a number of drawbacks when compared to services such as DynDNS, but it's sufficient for me and it also has some advantages:

  • You're not dependent on the DDNS service provider. For instance DynDNS recently changed their policy to only allow one update per 28 days, which totally sucks. They then disabled the service completely until I updated my ddclient config and contacted them, i.e. I wasn't able to connect to my homeserver for quite a while, which also sucks.
  • The ssh-based solution is secure and encrypted, in contrast to some other DDNS services, which only allow unencrypted HTTP-based connections (yes, some do allow https/SSL connections).
  • This solution doesn't require in-depth DNS server config knowledge, neither does it require a DNS server you control. You only need a (non-root) ssh account on a public server (or virtual server).

Personally I'm currently using this mechanism for two things, more might follow:

  • Connect to my homeserver via ssh.
  • Get the homeserver's IP address so I can update my OpenVPN client config file on my laptop (I use my homeserver as OpenVPN server).

So far it works pretty nicely.

Update 2008-06-24: Various fixes and simplifications. SSH key must be password-less. Don't run cronjob once per minute, that's overkill.
Update 2008-07-02: Simplify setup by removing the need for extra scripts. Limit the commands the user can perform via ssh in the authorized_keys file. Make the RSA keys 4096 bits strong.

How to hijack an already running X11 application via ssh -X?

Dear Lazyweb,

I have always wondered whether it is possible to "hijack" an already running X11 application on a remote server...

Say I have a box at home which has a running X11 server with many applications, e.g. Firefox, xchat, xmms, whatever. Now, say I'm somewhere else with my laptop and login with "ssh -X" into my home box. I can now start X11 applications and they will be shown on my laptop screen. So far so good.

But... how can I get one of the applications that were already running before I logged in from remote to be displayed on my laptop screen? Is it possible? How?

Just curious.

A bunch of new releases

Some interesting Free Software releases:

Lots of stuff to try out...

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