I would like to see what hosts are in my known_hosts file but it doesn't appear to be human readable. Is it possible to read it?

More specifically there is a host that I can connect to via several names and I want to find out what the fingerprint I expect for it from my known hosts file.

Update: I'm using OpenSSH_5.3p1 Debian-3ubuntu7, OpenSSL 0.9.8k 25 Mar 2009

A line from my known_hosts file looks something like this,

|1|guO7PbLLb5FWIpxNZHF03ESTTKg=|r002DA8L2JUYRVykUh7jcVUHeYE= ssh-rsa AAAAB3NzaC1yc2EAAFADAQABAAABAQDWp73ulfigmbbzif051okmDMh5yZt/DlZnsx3DEOYHu3Nu/+THJnUAfkfEc1XkOFiFgbUyK/08Ty0K6ExUaffb1ERfXXyyp63rpCTHOPonSrnK7adl7YoPDd4BcIUZd1Dk7HtuShMmuk4l83X623cr9exbfm+DRaeyFNMFSEkMzztBYIkhpA2DWlDkd90OfVAvyoOrJPxztmIZR82qu/5t2z58sJ6Jm2xdp2ckySgXulq6S4k+hnnGuz2p1klviYCWGJMZfyAB+V+MTjGGD/cj0SkL5v/sa/Fie1zcv1SLs466x3H0kMllz6gAk0/FMi7eULspwnIp65g45qUAL3Oj

5 Answers 5


You've got HashKnownHosts set to "yes" in your ssh_config file, so the hostnames aren't available in plaintext.

If you know the hostname you're looking for ahead of time, you can search for it with:

ssh-keygen -H -F hostname
# Or, if SSH runs on port other than 22. Use literal brackets [].
ssh-keygen -H -F '[hostname]:2222'

Here's the relevant section from the ssh-keygen(1) man page:

-F hostname

Search for the specified hostname in a known_hosts file, listing any occurrences found. This option is useful to find hashed host names or addresses and may also be used in conjunction with the -H option to print found keys in a hashed format.

  • 8
    Does hash known hosts essentially mean it's not possible? i.e. I need to know the name of the host in order to look at it's info? Feb 13, 2012 at 15:54
  • 15
    @ColinNewell That's right, you need to know the hostname(s). It's a security measure to keep an attacker from harvesting hostnames/IP addresses of other boxes you frequent if your machine is compromised.
    – pdo
    Feb 13, 2012 at 15:58
  • 6
    Not sshd_config, but ssh_config. Nov 21, 2013 at 10:31
  • 13
    @pdo - your command does not always work. If the host has SSH on port other than 22, then the format in known_hosts is different. Then you have to use the following command: ssh-keygen -H -F [host.example.com]:2222 Jul 13, 2014 at 15:56
  • 2
    I wanted to find the rsa key for a specific host, so I ran this: ssh-keygen -l -f ~/.ssh/known_hosts -F <hostname>
    – isaaclw
    Sep 22, 2015 at 21:31

For future searchers, this article (non-disclaimer: I'm not affilated) has a relatively simple Perl script to brute-force hashed IPs and hostnames in known_hosts.


It allows starting from a particular IP address. It could also easily be modified to use a dictionary.

Also, in June 2014, the John the Ripper project added support for known_hosts cracking, which can take advantage of multiple CPU cores, GPUs, dictionary mangling, etc.

Overall, it's an exercise similar to password cracking, with a somewhat more predictable (or at least constrained) target space.

For private IPs, you can use this nmap snippet to generate a dictionary of all RFC1918 IP addresses to use as a dictionary:

nmap -sL -Pn -n |\
    grep '^Nmap scan report for' | cut -d\  -f5 >ips.list

If public IPs are included, it may be more efficient to use rules. This hashcat ruleset may need additional work to adapt to work with JtR, but does most of the heavy lifting and should give you a starting point.

Hostnames are more idiosyncratic to the user and environment, but there are trends in host naming. Fully qualified hostnames can be correlated in DNS, /etc/hosts, shell history, etc. with any discovered IP addresses. Since destination systems can be entirely unrelated to the host system, public dumps of common domains and hostnames can be acquired from the DNS data from various Internet-wide scanning efforts (such as Censys).

Using John the Ripper is likely to be more efficient and scale better than the native SSH solution in the accepted answer for all but the most simple cases.


Does ssh-keygen -l -f ~/.ssh/known_hosts help? It shows the fingerprints for each host in that file. (Using -vyou also get nice little treasure maps, e.g.

+--[ RSA 2048]----+
|        .        |
|       + .       |
|      . B .      |
|     o * +       |
|    X * S        |
|   + O o . .     |
|    .   E . o    |
|       . . o     |
|        . .      |
  • 4
    Not in the strictest sense no, it's all still base64. pdo's explanation of it being hashed suggests it's a one way thing so I guess I'm stuck unless I know the hostname. Feb 13, 2012 at 15:57
  • That helped me. What I wanted specifically was a combination. To find the previously verified ssh fingerprint, you can run: ssh-keygen -l -f ~/.ssh/known_hosts -F <hostname>
    – isaaclw
    Sep 22, 2015 at 21:30
  • 3
    uh, ssh-keygen -l -F <hostname> is even simplier
    – isaaclw
    Sep 24, 2015 at 15:08

Use the -l option to ssh-keygen to list fingerprints, and the -F option to search for a hostname in your known_hosts file.

$ ssh-keygen -l -F sdf.org
# Host sdf.org found: line 835 type RSA
2048 6e:cd:53:4f:75:a1:e8:5b:63:74:32:4f:0c:85:05:17 |1|9J47PEllvWk/HJ6LPz5pOB2/7rc=|ld0BtQh5V3NdhBHBwR/ZqSv8bqY= (RSA)

You can use ssh-keyscan to compare the fingerprint in your known_hosts to the one from the server.

$ ssh-keyscan sdf.org | awk '{print $3}' | base64 -d | openssl md5 -c
# sdf.org SSH-2.0-OpenSSH_7.1
# sdf.org SSH-2.0-OpenSSH_7.1
no hostkey alg
(stdin)= 6e:cd:53:4f:75:a1:e8:5b:63:74:32:4f:0c:85:05:17

There is host string/ip at the beginning of each "known_hosts" line (before the "ssh-dss" or "ssh-rsa" string):

hostgn6 ssh-dss AAAB3NzaC1kc3MAAACBAIfGV4+/28Zr+dT/i+ifydUBS0dMRUjCtExIThOj3Yexynu+wSRGjMm4GfF+og2kAljZyUjhBFeM+WYbJzcDSDB [...] ==
yumyumn6.dik6.dir2g.some.net ssh-dss AAAAB3NzaC1kc3MAAACBAIfGV4+/28Zr+dT/i+ifydUBS0dMRUjCtExITh [...] ==
  • 2
    ...and thus awk '{print $1}' known_hosts does the trick. Be aware that servers listening on non-standard ports end up as, say, [some-server]:5555 in known_hosts.
    – sr_
    Feb 13, 2012 at 14:35
  • 4
    Unfortunately not in mine. Mine looks more like base64 encoded data. The data is also pipe delimited in my file. Feb 13, 2012 at 14:40
  • Which ssh software are you using then (we were assuming that you were using the almost-standart openssh software) ?
    – Ouki
    Feb 13, 2012 at 14:49
  • I've added more details to my question. Feb 13, 2012 at 15:11
  • 9
    As stated by @pdo, your sshd as "HashKnownHosts" set to on, which may appear a bit anal, but security concern it is. And of course there is no way to simply reverse the hashes and get the hostnames from your "known_hosts".
    – Ouki
    Feb 13, 2012 at 15:41

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .