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I was trying to debug an ssh problem Too many authentication failures, and find with ssh -vv that ssh is presenting lots of keys before falling back to try a password.

On investigation I find that these keys are added somehow with ssh-agent running from startx when X11 is started.

I have a lot of keys in my ~/.ssh directory for different machines, transferred through many system updates over the years. I had not even realized that ssh-agent was running.

I thought that ssh-add, per the manpage, would add by default just id_dsa, id_rsa and identity. But somehow it is adding,,,, DanlWhiddon,, as well, and presenting the whole lot on every login session when I expect to give a password. So sshd on the server decides that enough is enough and disconnects.

How can I control this behaviour ? Apart from removing my extra public keys from my .ssh directory and just keeping the private ones I need, but that's always been a convenient place to keep them in the past.

For that matter, how can I stop ssh-agent running if I want to ?

Is this a security issue ( sending keys to servers that are not supposed to get them) ?

I realize that I can override it on a per-session basis with -o PreferredAuthentications=password but I'd prefer a systemic fix.

  • more strangeness: I tried using ssh-add -D to remove all identities, or ssh-add -d *.pub, but when I use ssh-add -l, they are all still there.

CentOS release 6.5, OpenSSH_5.3p1, openssh-clients-5.3p1

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1 Answer 1

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Well first off, keys are supposed to identify the client, not the remote server. Thus you should only have a very small number of keys (such as 1).

The official ssh-agent utility itself will only look for a few predefined names when looking for your keys (~/.ssh/id_rsa ~/.ssh/id_dsa ~/.ssh/id_ecdsa and ~/.ssh/identity).
However there are other ssh key agents other than ssh-agent. You likely have a keyring daemon running (such as gnome-keyring-daemon). The keyring daemon is likely started by your desktop environment by default. Go poking around in your desktop environment session settings to turn it off.

You can also put IdentitiesOnly=yes in your ~/.ssh/config file, but I wouldn't consider this the "right" answer.

In regards to sending extra keys to the server. No, this is not any sort of security risk.

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Just found q72644 and thence dtek blog. –  Andrew Daviel Apr 7 '14 at 5:33
Thanks @Patrick. Can't keep editing the above comment it seems. Yes, gnome-keyring is running and seems to add all keys without asking. Killing it fixes my problem. –  Andrew Daviel Apr 7 '14 at 5:43

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