Server authentication is done during Diffie-Hellman key exchange through a single public-key operation. When public-key authentication is used to authenticate the server, the first connection is very important. During the first connection the client will display a message similar to the following:
Host key not found from database.
You can get a public key's fingerprint by running
% ssh-keygen -F publickey.pub
on the keyfile.
Are you sure you want to continue connecting (yes/no)?
At this point, you should verify the validity of the fingerprint, for example by contacting the administrator of the remote host computer (preferably by telephone) and asking the administrator to verify that the key fingerprint is correct. If the fingerprint is not verified, it is possible that the server you are connecting to is not the intended one (this is known as a man-in-the-middle attack).
After verifying the fingerprint, it is safe to continue connecting. The server public key will then be stored on the client machine. The location depends on the client implementation (on z/OS USS it is the user's
When the host key is received during the first connection to a remote host (or when the host key has changed) and you choose to save the key, its filename is stored in hashed format. The hashed host key format is a security feature to make address harvesting on the hosts difficult.
If you are adding the keys manually, the keys should be named with the
key_<port>_<host>.pub pattern, where
<port> is the port the Secure Shell server is running on and
<host> is the hostname you use when connecting to the server (for example,
If both the hashed and clear-text format keys exist, the hashed format takes precedence.
Note that the identification is different based on the host and port the client is connecting to. For example, the short hostname
alpha is considered different from the fully qualified domain name
alpha.example.com. Also a connection with an IP, for example
10.1.54.1, is considered a different host, as is a connection to the same host but different port, for example
After the first connection, the local copy of the server public key will be used in server authentication.
Using the System-Wide Host Key Storage
If a host key is not found in the user-specific host key directory, it is next searched from the
/etc/ssh2/hostkeys directory. Host key files are not automatically put in these directories but they have to be updated manually by the system administrator.
To obtain and store hashed remote host keys in the system-wide storage:
- Select a client-side user whose
$HOME/.ssh2/hostkeys will be the basis for the system-wide
/etc/ssh2/hostkeys. The user should have administrative privileges, as placing the keys to the system-wide location requires them.
This user must also be used to maintain the system-wide
/etc/ssh2/hostkeys later on if the host key on some server changes or new servers are added. The process is to maintain the user's host keys in the
$HOME/.ssh2/hostkeys directory and then replicate the changes to the system-wide
- Make sure that the
$HOME/.ssh2/hostkeys directory is empty when obtaining the keys for the first time, or that the saved host keys are intentional.
If you need to obtain new keys later, the same
$HOME/.ssh2/hostkeys/salt file has to be used.
- Connect with SSH Tectia Client to the remote server, verify the fingerprint, and save the key.
Repeat this step as many times as there are remote servers. Note that you do not have to complete the user authentication, only key exchange part of the Secure Shell connection.
- Once all host keys you wish to maintain in the system-wide location have been obtained, place the keys to the system-wide location, for example by running the following commands:
> mkdir /etc/ssh2/hostkeys
> cp -p $HOME/.ssh2/hostkeys/* /etc/ssh2/hostkeys
Note that also the
$HOME/.ssh2/hostkeys/salt file has to be copied so that SSH Tectia Client is able to identify the hashed host keys. Also if multiple users contribute to the system-wide
/etc/ssh2/hostkeys, they have to share the same salt file.
For examples on storing multiple host keys using the hostkey tool, see Appendix Example of Distributing Keys.
To obtain and store traditional remote host keys in the system-wide storage:
- As a server-side user, copy the
/etc/ssh2/hostkey.pub file from the server as
key_<port>_<host>.pub to the
/etc/ssh2/hostkeys directory on the client.
You can do this as a non-privileged user on the server but you must be privileged user, for example root, on the client.
- Use secure means to transfer the file or verify the fingerprint matches after the transfer with the
-F, for example on the server:
$ ssh-keygen2 -F /etc/ssh2/hostkey.pub
On the client:
# ssh-keygen2 -F /etc/ssh2/hostkeys/key_<port>_<host>.pub
Note that the identification is different based on the host and port the client is connecting to. Also connection with IP is considered a different host as well as connection to same host but different port. You can copy the same traditional
key_<port>_<host>.pub to all these different names.