Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6.10 in VMWare virtual machine. We have several user accounts defined. One user account (user3) is unable to log in, either through SSH or the VMWare Console. It has logged in in the past, but for the last two days it has not been able to login. Other user accounts can log in with no issues.

The user's account is listed in /etc/passwd and /etc/shadow, and is not locked out. We created a new user, and that user logged in with no issues. The /etc/passwd entry shows a valid shell path (/bin/bash).

We deleted user3 and recreated the account. It still cannot log in. New accounts with any other name (usr3, user33, etc.) can log on. An account named user3 cannot log on.

If a new account gets the UID that user3 had, it can log in. If a new account named user3 has a different UID, it still cannot log in. Somewhere the display name 'user3' is locked out.

Running 'passwd user3' as root gives the following entries in /var/log/secure:

passwd: pam_unix(passwd:chauthtok): password changed for user3
passwd: gkr-pam: couldn't update the 'login' keyring password: no old password was entered

When we SSH in as user3, /var/log/secure shows:

sshd[21420]: error: PAM: Authentication failure for user3 from computer1

That's it. No other errors. Interestingly, when we intentionally enter an incorrect password, we see a differnt set of errors:

unix_chkpwd[21903]: password check failed for user (user3)
sshs[21745]pam_unix(sshd:auth): authentication failure; logname= uid=0 euid=0 tty=ssh ruser= rhost=computer1 user=user3
sshd[21718]: error: PAM: Authentication failure for user3 from computer1
sshd[22121]: error: PAM: Authentication failure for illegal user user3 from computer3

It appears to me that PAM has a corrupt entry for 'user3' somewhere. I don't know PAM well enough to troubleshoot further.

I need to avoid any solutions that wipe/reset the entire PAM configuration, as I don't want to affect other user accounts. How to pinpoint the 'user3' name?

2 Answers 2


I ran into the same problem - one user unable to login via Putty or local ssh, but no new entries in pam_tally2 with either valid or invalid passwords.

Other symptoms:

  • su - (prompted for password and returned "su:Authentication failure")
  • Entries in /var/log/secure showed "sshd[] error: PAM: Authentication failure" without auth/account/session information
  • Resetting the password using "sudo passwd " clearly reset the password, indicated tokens were changed successfully, and timestamps in /etc/shadow were updated properly but authentication issues remained
  • User account not expired

All other users were able to login properly, so it wasn't a general PAM configuration issue.


faillock --user <username> (showed 5 valid failures)
faillock --user <username> --reset 
faillock --user <username> (now has 0 valid failures)

After this I was able to login via Putty and use "su - " successfully

  • Wow, you are a lifesaver. Thank you! I wish this was documented somewhere properly. Dec 16, 2022 at 4:15

The pam_tally2 module keeps a count of attempted accesses and can deny access if too many attempts fail. The manpages for this module have more information.

The specification of this module is in /etc/pam.d/login as, for example:

auth  required  pam_tally2.so deny=6 

You can determine the error count for a user with:

pam_tally2 --user=<username>

You can reset the count with:

pam_tally2 --user=<username> --reset
  • It's interesting that it shows 0 failures for user3. Even after intentionally entering the password incorrectly, pam_tally2 shows 0 failures.
    – Bagheera
    Sep 26, 2018 at 13:32

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