Passphrase-less SSH keys allows one to automate remote tasks by not requiring user intervention to enter a passphrase to decrypt the key. While this is convenient, is posses a security risk as the plain key can be used by anyone who gets hold of it to access the remote server. To this end, the developers of SSH allowed to restrict via the
.ssh/authorized_keys the commands that can be executed of specific keys. This works great for simple commands, but as using
rsync requires executing remote commands withe different arguments on the remote end, depending on the invocation on the local machine, it gets quite complicated to properly restrict it via
Luckily, the developers of rsync foresaw this problem and wrote a script called
rrsync (for restricted
rsync) specifically to ease the restricting keys to be used only for
.ssh/authorized_keys. If you have
rrsync should have been distributed along side it. In Debian/Ubuntu machines it can be found under
/usr/share/doc/rsync/scripts/rrsync.gz. If you can find it there, you can download the script directly from here. On the remote machine, copy the script, unpacking if needed, and make it executable:
user@remote:~$ gunzip /usr/share/doc/rsync/scripts/rrsync.gz -c > ~/bin/rrsync
user@remote:~$ chmod +x ~/bin/rrsync
On the local machine, create a new SSH key and leave the passphrase empty (this will allow you to automate the
rsync via cron). Copy the public key to the remote server.
user@local:~$ ssh-keygen -f ~/.ssh/id_remote_backup -C "Automated remote backup"
user@local:~$ scp ~/.ssh/id_remote_backup.pub user@remote:~/
Once the public key is on the remote server edit
~/.ssh/authorized_keys and append the public key.
user@remote:~$ vim ~/.ssh/authorized_keys
(Vim tip: Use
:r! id_remote_backup.pub to directly insert the contents of id_remote_backup.pub into a new line). Now prepend to the newly added line
command="$HOME/bin/rrsync -ro ~/backups/",no-agent-forwarding,no-port-forwarding,no-pty,no-user-rc,no-X11-forwarding
command="..." restricts access of that public key by executing the given command and disallowing others. All the other
no-* stuff further restrict what can be done with that particular public key. As the SSH daemon will not start the default shell when accessing the server using this public key, the
$PATH environment variable will be pretty empty (similar to cron), hence you should specify the full path to the
rrsync script. The two arguments to
-ro which restricts modifying the directory (drop it if you want to upload stuff to the remote directory) and the path to the directory you want to enable remote access to (in my example
The result should look something like:
command="$HOME/bin/rrsync -ro ~/backups/",no-agent-forwarding,no-port-forwarding,no-pty,no-user-rc,no-X11-forwarding ssh-rsa AAA...vp Automated remote backup
After saving the file, you should be able to
rsync files from the remote server to the local machine, without being prompted to for a password.
user@local:~$ rsync -e "ssh -i $HOME/.ssh/id_remote_backup" -av user@remote: etc2/
To things are needed to be noted:
- You need to specify the passphrase-less key in the
rsync command (the
-e "ssh -i $HOME/.ssh/id_remote_backup" part).
- The remote directory is always relative to the directory given to
rrsync in the