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SSH, The Secure Shell: The Definitive Guide, 2nd Edition by Robert G. Byrnes, Richard E. Silverman, Daniel J. Barrett

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Unattended SSH: Batch or cron Jobs

SSH isn't only a great interactive tool, but also a resource for automation. Batch scripts, cron jobs, and other automated tasks can benefit from the security provided by SSH, but only if implemented properly. The major challenge is authentication: how can a client prove its identity when no human is available to type a password or passphrase? (We'll just write "password" from now on to mean both.) You must carefully select an authentication method, and then equally carefully make it work. Once this infrastructure is established, you must invoke ssh properly to avoid prompting the user. In this case study, we discuss the pros and cons of different authentication methods for operating an SSH client unattended.

Note that any kind of unattended authentication presents a security problem and requires compromise, and SSH is no exception. Without a human present when needed to provide credentials (type a password, provide a thumbprint, etc.), those credentials must be stored persistently somewhere on the host system. Therefore, an attacker who compromises the system badly enough can use those credentials to impersonate the program and gain whatever access it has. Selecting a technique is a matter of understanding the pros and cons of the available methods, and picking your preferred poison.

11.1.1 Password Authentication

Rule number 1: forget password authentication if you care about the security of your batch jobs. As we mentioned, authentication for any ...

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