Key Authentication

Authentication keys provide a cryptographic strength that even extremely long passwords can not offer. Furthermore, they allow to automate access using password-less login in order to script interaction with the computing facilities.


It is required to use an SSH key in order to logon to a Submit Node of the Virgo cluster.


Password based athentication to the Compute Cluster is not supported!

An SSH authentication key pair is comprised by the following parts:

  • A public key that is copied to the Login Nodes.

  • A private key that remains with the user (aka. identity key).


Security policies require the use of a strong passphrase for the private key. The private key needs to be kept as secret and is not allowed to be shared with other individuals or co-workers (cf. Security Advice).

Key Self-Provisioning

Following files are involved in the configuration of public-private key based authentication:




Private key protected with passphrase.


Public key copied to the Login Nodes.


Stores the private key located on the Login Nodes.

User can self-provision a key pair with the ssh-keygen 1 command:

# generate a key pair in ~/.ssh
ssh-keygen -q -t ed25519 -f ~/.ssh/id_ed25519
  • During key generation you will be prompted to enter a strong passphrase.

  • The passphrase will be required when the private key is used.

Change the passphrase of a private key with the ssh-keygen command:

ssh-keygen -f ~/.ssh/id_ed25519 -p

Authorized Keys

Access to Login Nodes and Submit Nodes using an SSH keys is granted by storing the public key in the ~/.ssh/authorized_keys file on a login node. Copy your public key to the Login Nodes with the ssh-copy-id command:

ssh-copy-id $
# writes to ~/.ssh/authorized_keys

Alternatively use scp to copy a public key to a login node, and append it to the authorized keys file:

# copy your public key
scp ~/.ssh/ $
# login
ssh $
# append the key to the authorized keys files
cat ~/.ssh/ >> ~/.ssh/authorized_keys

The ~/.ssh/authorized_keys requires specific access permissions in order to be accepted by the ssh command. Use chmod to ensure correct access rights:

chmod 700 $HOME/.ssh
chmod 600 $HOME/.ssh/authorized_keys

Proxy Jump


Proxy jump is supported from OpenSSH 7.3 2 forward. Check the version of your local SSH client with option -V. Alternatives to the proxy jump option are described in the OpenSSH Cookbook - Proxies and Jump Hosts 3.

Use the Login Nodes as jump host to access the HPC infrastructure. The ssh command supports the proxy jump option -J to connect with a Submit Node using Login Nodes as intermediate network hop.

ssh -J $



-J <node>

Connect to the target host by first making a ssh connection to the jump host.

Following command will append a custom configuration for the Login Nodes to be used as jump hosts to your local SSH client configuration file ~/.ssh/config:

cat <<EOF >> ~/.ssh/config
Host lxpool
  User $USER
  CheckHostIP no
  ForwardX11 yes

This enables you to specify lxpool as a shorthand to connect:

# connect using the shorthand
ssh -J lxpool

Similar the scp command is able to copy files using a jump host:

# copy a file using a proxy jump
scp -o ProxyJump=lxpool  \
        /path/to/data* virgo-centos7.hpc:/lustre/...

Further extend you SSH configuration with login for a required Virtual Application Environment (VAE) available on the cluster:

cat <<EOF >> ~/.ssh/config
host lxpool-virgo-centos7
  ProxyJump lxpool
  User $USER
  CheckHostIP no

Note that tab-completion should work for SSH configurations.

Key Agent

ssh-agent 6 stores private keys used for SSH public key authentication. Through use of environment variables the agent can be located and automatically used for authentication when logging in to other machines using ssh. The SSH agent prints the required environment variables needed for connection to standard output when started. Executing it in conjunction with the eval command will load those variables into the current shell environment:

eval $(ssh-agent)

The ssh-add 7 command loads a private key into a running SSH agent and prompts the user for the passphrase protecting the private key:




Lists fingerprints of all identities currently represented by the agent.

# add an private key to the SSH agent
ssh-add ~/.ssh/id_ed25519
# list private keys known by the SSH agent
ssh-add -l

The ssh supports to forward the connection to SSH agent from a login on a remote computer. However avoid this option if possible as described in Security Advice:




Enables forwarding of the authentication agent connection.

# forward your SSH agent over a jump host
ssh -A -J lxpool virgo-centos7.hpc

Key Agent Session


Depending on you client platform you may already use a program providing functionality similar to the one described in this section.

Commonly used application to store private keys for SSH public key authentication are the GNOME Keyring 8 or KDE Wallet Manager 9 on Linux and Keychain 10 on Apple MacOS X. Windows users should follow instruction about OpenSSH key management 11 in the official documentation from Microsoft.

Typically users have multiple parallel shells. Therefore, it will be very convenient to be able to connect with a single ssh-agent from any shell instances. The ssh-agent-session 12 shell script provides this functionality.




Stores agent connection information.

# start the ssh-agent (if not running)
» source ssh-agent-session
ssh-agent started

If the ssh-agent is running already, then the connection information will automatically loaded into the current shell environment:

» source ssh-agent-session
ssh-agent running with process ID 19264

Source this script within the your shell profile to immediately use a shared SSH agent on all newly started shells:

echo "source ~/bin/ssh-agent-session"  >> ~/.bashrc


Manual page ssh-keygen, OpenBSD Foundation


OpenSSH 7.3 Release Notes


OpenSSH Cookbook - Proxies and Jump Hosts, Wikibooks


Manual page ssh_config, OpenBSD Foundation


Manual Page scp, OpenBSD Foundation


Manual page ssh-agent, OpenBSD Foundation


Manual page ssh-add, OpenBSD Foundation


GNOME Keyring, GNOME Project


KDE Wallet Manager, KDE Project


Keychain Access User Guide, Apple Support


OpenSSH key management, Microsoft User Documentation


Shell script ssh-agent-session, GitHub