I am trying to harden my ssh setup using this material. It works fine, but I've got a question which I'm struggling to find the answer to.

Does anyone know if there is a way to check the ssh host/user certificate signature against the SSH CA? I know that I can just try to ssh into host, that hold that host certificate, and if it connects than the signature is obviously ok... But I am writing an automation task and I need a programmatic way to make sure that the certificate file is signed by CA. Say some ssh-keygen command or anything else.


As @PKapp proposed:

I could compare two outputs: the Fingerprint of Signing CA from Server side certificate and the Fingerprint of the CA itself

sudo ssh-keygen -L -f /etc/ssh/ssh_host_ed25519_key-cert.pub | fgrep "Signing CA" | sed 's/^[ \t]*//' | cut -d ' ' -f 4

sudo ssh-keygen -l -f /etc/ssh/id_ed25519-HostCA.pub | cut -d ' ' -f 2

If the filtered outputs are identical, then the certificates match...


To remotely obtain ssh host certificate(s), you can use ssh-keyscan -c <hostname> (without the -c option, you will only get the host key(s)). To limit to a specific certificate type, you can include -t type, using ssh-rsa not ssh-rsa-cert-v01@openssh.com, if necessary.

Then, you can extract the certificate details, including the Signing CA's public key, with ssh-keygen -L -f <certfile>. If you use (lowercase) -l instead, then ssh-keygen only outputs the information about the underlying (public) host key embedded in the certificate, rather than all of the certificate elements.

  • Thank you. I will post the elaborate answer based on your suggestion. Wait till anyone suggest another solution. If there is no better option, I will mark your answer as a correct one. – Drew May 14 '18 at 22:28
  • One question, can I get remotely the host certificate's "Signing CA" fingerprint? Seems like ssh-keyscan -c <hostname> doesn't provide this info (only the cert content itself) – Drew May 14 '18 at 22:38
  • 1
    The remote server typically does not have the need to keep or use the Signing CA public key. It is the client side responsibility to obtain the Signing CA public key from a trusted source other than the server it is going to verify, and presumably add a known_hosts entry using @cert-authority to assert trust of the Signing CA, rather than trust of a single host key. So, ssh-keyscan does aid in getting the certificate from the remote host, but the content to compare to the "known" trusted Signing CA should already be present on the client side. – PKapp May 16 '18 at 11:35

I have not gone so far as setup a signed for my internal ssh. But when I was doing that for imap I learned a simple way to check things.

See https://www.feistyduck.com/library/openssl-cookbook/online/ch-testing-with-openssl.html for details.

Basically, using "openssl s_client ..." you can get a lot us useful data.

e.g., my unsigned (CA unsigned) ssh (note - No client CA names sent, and compare to the "self-signed" report obtained from my imaps test)

openssl s_client -connect x072:22
804401144:error:140770FC:SSL routines:SSL23_GET_SERVER_HELLO:unknown protocol:s23_clnt.c:825:
no peer certificate available
No client certificate CA names sent
SSL handshake has read 7 bytes and written 305 bytes
New, (NONE), Cipher is (NONE)
Secure Renegotiation IS NOT supported
Compression: NONE
Expansion: NONE
No ALPN negotiated
    Protocol  : TLSv1.2
    Cipher    : 0000
    Key-Arg   : None
    PSK identity: None
    PSK identity hint: None
    SRP username: None
    Start Time: 1526335517
    Timeout   : 300 (sec)
    Verify return code: 0 (ok)

Whereas when connecting to my imaps services - I see a (depth:0 self-signed) certificate chain.

root@x071:[/root]openssl s_client -connect x063:993
depth=0 C = NL, ST = N. Holland, L = Amsterdam, O = ROOTVG, OU = aixtools
verify error:num=18:self signed certificate
verify return:1
depth=0 C = NL, ST = N. Holland, L = Amsterdam, O = ROOTVG, OU = aixtools
verify error:num=26:unsupported certificate purpose
verify return:1
depth=0 C = NL, ST = N. Holland, L = Amsterdam, O = ROOTVG, OU = aixtools
verify return:1
Certificate chain
 0 s:/C=NL/ST=N. Holland/L=Amsterdam/O=ROOTVG/OU=aixtools
   i:/C=NL/ST=N. Holland/L=Amsterdam/O=ROOTVG/OU=aixtools
Server certificate

These differ from using ssh-keygen, which I must research more myself. But I think I shall stay with openssl s_client due to it's divisity.

  • Looks like the question was about signed SSH keys and not SSL. The philosophy is the same but different libraries. When you sign SSH keys, you can set up a trust chain so that you don't get prompted to add the server key to your known_hosts file while connecting over SSH. – Nabheet Mar 26 at 12:44

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