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How To Set Up Authorized Keys

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Below is a quick how-to for implementing public / private key authentication for SSH. This is by no means an exhaustive examination of the subject.  *nix distributions vary slightly and further research may be needed.

Why use Public Key Authentication?
Public key authentication is considered a more secure methods of authenticating the Secure Shell than the simple password challenge routine, a method often broken by brute-force attacks. In addition, public key authentication allows for automated login routines between machines, thus enabling a range of scripted jobs (think rsync or port tunneling). It can also simplify the login process without compromising password security.

How does it work?
Public key authentication uses a pair of computer generated keys - one public and one private – to authenticate between a host and a client. The public key is derived from the private key. When authenticating, the host machine compares the public key to the private key in order to verify the veracity of the public key. If the two match, access is granted. Security of the system is predicated on the security of the private key.

Setup Procedures

  1. Generate the needed Public and Private keys on the host.
  2. Transfer / append the public key to the authorized_keys file on the client.
  3. Login via Public Key Authentication.

Step by Step Example
The below setup description assumes that you are able to run terminal or a terminal application like Putty, and that you are familiar with basic commands. It doesn't take much.

Let's setup SSH public key authentication between your home computer (hereafter referred to as the “Host”) and your QNAP device (hereafter referred to as the “Client").

1. Login to the Host via SSH using your preferred terminal application and generate the public / private key pair. In terminal type the following at the command prompt:

#    ssh-keygen -t rsa -C "server comment field"

Note: the -C switch is not required. It allows you to insert a comment that will appear in the authorized_keys file. It is helpful for identifying and managing keys within the authorized_keys file on the Client in the event that you have multiple key logins. Replace "server comment field" with a machine name, IP address, date, or task name so that you can easily identify where and why a given key was created.

2. Execute the command and you should see the following output:

#   Generating public/private rsa key pair. 
#   Enter file in which to save the key (/Users/UserName/.ssh/id_rsa):

Note: “UserName” is the user account that you have logged into via SSH. Also note that the actual suggested path may vary slightly depending your system. You should accept the suggested location unless you have reason to do otherwise.

You will then be prompted for a passphrase that will be associated with this key.

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

The passphrase can be thought of as a password for the private key - it serves as an extra layer of protection as described below. If you leave this field blank you will generate keys that do not prompt for a passphrase. In other words, you will be logged in automatically via the secure public / private key handshake that you are in the process of setting up. It is highly recommended that you enter a passphrase unless you are setting up automated routines that require automatic login. See more detail below in “Security Notes.”

The keys have now been generated and are stored in the .ssh folder associated with the user account on the Host machine.

3.  The final steps are to copy the public key to the Client and append it to the authorization_keys file. There are a number of ways to do this – you can copy the file to the Client and then append it (I like this method being the relative noob that I am. It involves more steps but is the easiest to complete without error. Those proficient with terminal commands will do it all in one step from the Host). Alternatively, you can open the id_rsa.pub file via a text editor like iv and copy the key text - then open  the authorized_keys file on the Client and paste the text directly into the file.  I will walk you through the noob method.

In the terminal navigate to the folder that contains the newly created keys – cd /User/UserName/.ssh and use the "ls" list comand to see what is in that directory. You should see the following files:

  • id_rsa
  • id_rsa.pub
  • known_hosts.

Type the following at the command prompt:

#   scp id_rsa.pub admin@ClientIPAddress /etc/config/ssh/

admin@ClientIPAddress is the address of your QNAP NAS (the Client) followed by the path on the Client where the public key needs to reside. You will be ask you for the password of the "admin" account to login to the Client.

#   password:

Enter the password to complete secure copy.

4. On the Client (QNAP NAS) navigate to the /etc/config/ssh folder and "ls" to reveal the contents of the directory. You should see your id_rsa.pub file.

5. Now let's append this file to the authorized_keys file which needs to reside in this directory. Do not worry if authorized_keys file is not present. We will create it.

Type the following at the command prompt:

#   cat id_rsa.pub >> authorized_keys

Note: You have to cut the key in the file to one line, and add ssh-rsa in at the very beginning.

Example

ssh-rsa AAAAB3NzaC1kc3MAAACBAPY8ZOHY2yFSJA6XYC9HRwNHxaehvx5wOJ0rzZdzoSOXxbETW6ToHv8D1UJ/z+zHo9Fiko5XybZnDIaBDHtblQ+Yp7Stx...4loWgV=

That's it. You should now be able to login using key authentication. Logout of the Client and attempt to login. If you created a passphrase for your id_rsa private key then you will be prompted for the passphrase. If you left the passphrase field blank when generating the keys then you will be logged in automatically.
The first time you login you may encounter a promoted message like below.

The authenticity of host 'xxx.xxx.xxx.xxx' can't be established.
RSA key fingerprint is XX:XX:XX:XX:XX:XX:XX:XX:XX:XX:XX:XX:XX:XX:XX:XX.
Are you sure you want to continue connecting (yes/no) ?

Type "yes" to continue. After you accept the authenticity of the RSA key, the Client information is saved in the /Users/UserName/.ssh/known_hosts file. You will not be prompted again unless you remove this file.

Important
If the destination Client is a x86 series model, please execute the following command on the destination Client (TS-509) to make sure the folder permission has been set correctly. Because there might be a permission problem in earlier firmware versions in x86 model (e.g. TS-509)

#   chown admin.administrators /mnt/HDA_ROOT/.config

Note
The procedure is the same when setting up key authentication between two NAS boxes. Simply follow the steps above substituting a NAS device for the Host and Client as per the above example.

Trouble Shooting
O'Reilly provides an excellent reasource for troubleshooting. See: http://hell.org.ua/Docs/oreilly/tcpip2/ssh/ch12_02.htm

Security Notes
You must keep your private key secure! Security of public key authentication is dependent on your ability to secure the private key. You should avoid generating a key without a passphrase. If you have an unencrypted private key (no passphrase) stored on your workstation and if your workstation is compromised, your Client machines have been compromised too! If a hacker can obtain the private key they will have access to any client machines accessible with the public key. Further, in the event that your machine is compromised you should consider strongly the possibility that your keystrokes are being logged and therefore any private keys that ar protected by passphrases have likely been compromised.

In addition, you should never allow root-to-root trust between systems. Unfortunately, the firmware version of the QNAP NAS series is hardwired with a variant of OpenSSH that only permits ssh login by the root (admin) user. You are strongly encourage to update the SSH Daemon With OpenSSH as per http://wiki.qnap.com/wiki/How_To_Replace_SSH_Daemon_With_OpenSSH. You can then setup named accounts for users or roles, granting as little root access as possible via sudo. You should also limit the "from" access of the public keys, and if possible only allow specific public keys to run specific commands.

Original Example
Here is an example which tells you how to set up authorized_keys between two QNAP NAS units. For example, we have one TS-209 (10.8.12.209) & a TS-509 (10.8.12.33), and now I want to make it possible to SSH login to TS-509 from TS-209 without password.

1. SSH login to TS-209 with a console application (e.g. Putty)

2. Execute the following command, secure copy the id_rsa.pub from TS-209 to TS-509, and save it as "authorized_keys".

# scp ~/.ssh/id_rsa.pub .ssh/authorized_keys

3. You might see a promoted message like below if this is the first time you are trying to access one NAS from another. Simply type "yes" and go to the next step.

The authenticity of host '10.8.12.33'(10.8.12.33) can't be established.
RSA key fingerprint is XX:XX:XX:XX:XX:XX:XX:XX:XX:XX:XX:XX:XX:XX:XX:XX.
Are you sure you want to continue connecting (yes/no) ?

4. And it will ask you for the password of the "admin" account to login the destination host (10.8.12.33), just enter it and finish the secure copy command.

#  password:

5. That's it! Now you should be able to SSH login to the TS-509 from TS-209 without password, the authorized_keys has been saved in the destination host (TS-509) under /etc/config/ssh/authorized_keys

Note
If the destination host is a x86 series model, please execute the following command in the destination host (TS-509) to make sure the folder permission has been set correctly. Because there might be a permission problem in earlier firmware versions in x86 model (e.g. TS-509)

# chown admin.administrators /mnt/HDA_ROOT/.config