With sudo, you can either set it to ask for a password or not ask for a password.

Historically, everything was password-protected, which is the model that I am used to. However, encryption seems to be favoring public/private key authentication more and more nowadays.

This is evident in the fact that when I spin up a server on GCP, AWS, or DigitalOcean, I don't get a password. Instead I get a key that I use to log in.

Now, if I want to do sudo when I am logged in, it doesn't ask me for a password. This is obviously due to the fact that a password was never given to me, only a key was. And sudo doesn't ask for a password because of the following rule in /etc/sudoers.d/90-cloud-init-users:


This is fine for one user. But what happens if a server has 3-4 users, all of whom need sudo access, and all of whom are using keys to log in rather than a password. You want to make sure that one user can't do

sudo su - <someone else's username>
sudo <command>

Is the encouraged practice to not allow password authentication when connecting with sshd, but to give all the users a password that is used for sudo authentication? Or to use pam_ssh_agent_auth to allow sudo to authenticate with another set of private/public keys that have a passphrase? Or is there something else that should be done?

1 Answer 1


Password authentication for access to sudo doesn't restrict what commands can be run.


youruser ALL=(ALL) ALL

lets both users run exactly the same commands, just you need to enter your password, and I don't.

Instead the idea is to only grant users the privileged commands they need, rather than "ALL" commands. So if user1 only needs to reboot the server you might give them

user1 ALL=(root) NOPASSWD: /usr/sbin/reboot

Now all they can do is reboot the server.

This follows the principle of least privilege; only give people the commands they need.

Further reading: https://www.sweharris.org/post/2018-08-26-minimal-sudo/

  • 1
    I never said that Password authentication for access to sudo restricts what commands can be run, I said that Password authentication for access to sudo restricts who can run the sudo command when logged in as each user.
    – modernNeo
    Commented Dec 25, 2018 at 20:20
  • and I want to give my users the ability to run any command they want via sudo, I just want to also make sure that there is a reliable way to authenticate them when they run sudo.
    – modernNeo
    Commented Dec 25, 2018 at 21:20
  • @modernNeo Password authentication would not prevent a user from running sudo su - youruser. Commented Dec 25, 2018 at 21:40
  • @user2233709 I am not trying to prevent them from running sudo as themselves but rather running sudo as another user.
    – modernNeo
    Commented Dec 25, 2018 at 22:09
  • @user2233709 To put it another way, I want to know the best way to prevent someone from being able to run "sudo <command>" after switching to another user when sudo isnt using password authentication.
    – modernNeo
    Commented Dec 25, 2018 at 22:10

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