Running ELK-stack on FreeBSD

This article describes how to install  and run ELK-stack (Elasticsearch, Logstash and Kibana) on FreeBSD.


The ELK-stack (now called Elastc Stack) is a powerful software stack consisting of Elasticsearch, Logstash and Kibana that can be used to store and search data (Elasticsearch), harvest log files and other metrics (Logstash) and visualise the data (Kibana).  The stack is optimized for running on Linux but ports to FreeBSD have existed for a long time. This article describes the basic steps to get ELK-stack running on FreeBSD.

Install and configure Elasticsearch

Elasticsearch is a distributed search and analytics engine that stores all actual data in the ELK-stack. The most basic configuration is very simple, we just need to install the package: pkg install elasticsearch7

and configure what ports to listen to and where to store the data in generic node1 /usr/elasticsearch
path.logs: /var/log/elasticsearch
http.port: 9200

Install and configure Logstash

Logstash will be doing the “heavy lifting” in our setup. Logstash is used to parse all our logs and feed them into elasticsearch i a searchable format. You can think of every record in elasticsearch as a set of key-values and Logstash is used to extract the key/values from plain text logs (this is of course much easier if your application already logs in json format for example) or other input data. The basic configuation is simple, just install logstash: pkg install logstash7

and configure where to find your pipeline configuration

path.config: /usr/local/etc/logstash/conf.d/
Basic pipeline

This is an example of a very basic pipeline that reads a log file and outputs the data to Elasticsearch

input {
    file {
        path => "/var/log/messages"

output {
    elasticsearch { 
        hosts => [ "localhost:9200" ]
Minimal actual pipeline

This example will parse actual logs from the pkg(8) tool in FreeBSD. There is plenty of resources online on how to parse other types of logs.

input {
    file {
        path => "/var/log/messages"
filter {
    # Parse standard syslog format. Match timestamp and remove it from message
    grok {
        match => { "message" => "%{SYSLOGBASE} %{GREEDYDATA:message}"}
        overwrite => "message"
    # Parse standard syslog date
    date {
        match => [ "timestamp","MMM  d HH:mm:ss", "MMM dd HH:mm:ss", "ISO8601" ]
        remove_field => [ "timestamp" ]
    # If basic syslog parser found the logging program to be "pkg" then parse out package and action
    # Mar 16 20:58:17 torus pkg[37129]: kibana7-7.6.1 installed
    if [program] == "pkg" {
        grok {
            match => [
                "message", "%{NOTSPACE:pkg_package} %{WORD:pkg_action}"
output {
    elasticsearch {
        hosts => [ "localhost:9200" ]

Install and configure Kibana

Kibana is the visualisation tool bundled in the ELK-stack. With Kibana you can build visualisations and dashboards for your data making it easier to search and understand. Install kibana: pkg install kibana7

and configure it "localhost"
server.port: 5601

Running your ELK-stack

When all components are configured you can start your them by:

# sysrc elasticsearch_enable=YES
# sysrc logstash_enable=YES
# sysrc kibana_enable=YES
# service elasticsearch start
# service logstash start
# service kibana start

Now you should have a logstash instance running that reads /var/log/messages and send each log row as a record to elasticsearch for indexing. You can then view the data using Kibana by visiting

Please note that you will need to configure index patterns in kibana before you can actually search and visualise data in kibana. This is outside the scope of this article but there is plenty of resources online on this.

Quick note on beats

When you need to ship data/logs from one machine to another the state of the art way to do this is to use the filebeat component in beats, which is now included in the Elastic stack.

Beats can also be used to collect other types of metrics like network performance data, netflow and it can also parse many different log file types out of the box. This makes the tool very powerful for collection logs and/or metrics and ship them to elasticsearch.

Inspecting NetFlow data with nfdump

This article describes how to inspect NetFlow which has been collected using nfcapd(1) from the nfdump toolkit with nfdump(1)


In the article Collect and save NetFlow data with FreeBSD I describe what NetFlow is and how to collect and store NetFlow using FreeBSD. But without an efficient way to inspect the data it is practically useless.

Using nfdump

nfdump uses a filtering syntax that is similar to bpf-syntax (the one tcpdump uses). This means that everyone familiar with tcpdump could get started rather quickly. For example:

$ nfdump -R netflow/ -o tstart -o extended 'host and port 53'

Often you want to sort on a specific metric, for example “which hosts have the most traffic on port 53”, this can be done using the statistics option -s

$ nfdump -R netflow/ -s ip/bytes 'port 53'

Another really useful feature is aggregation. This can be used to aggregate all flow records over a specific set of parameters. The below example uses option -A to aggregate all flows where srcip and dstip are the same and then filters out a specific host of interest. In other words “Who has been talking to host x”

$ nfdump -R netflow/ -A srcip,dstip -n 20 'host x'

If you want to see flows for a specific timeframe you can use the -t option like this

$ nfdump -R netflow/ -s ip/bytes -n 20 -t 2019/01/21-2019/01/22

You can also change the output format to suit your needs. The formatting syntax are a little bit unintuitive (at least I haven’t seen it before) so you may have to reference the manual

$ nfdump -R /data/netflow/ -o tstart -o 'fmt:%ts %pr %sap %dap'

Flow records by them self have no sense of sessions and are unidirectional. If you want to see data for bidirectional flows you can tell nfdump to aggregate on bidirectional flows using -b or -B

$ nfdump -R netflow/ -A srcip,dstip -n 20 -B 'host x'

But please note that it is a guess.

This was a short introduction on how to inspect netflow data with nfdump. Please leave a comment if you have any questions or suggestions.

Collect and save NetFlow data with FreeBSD

This article describes how to export and collect and save NetFlow data with FreeBSD. In this article I will use the term NetFlow as a general description of NetFlow and similar protocols like sFlow and IPFIX.


NetFlow was introduced in Cisco routers 1996 and is a convenient and cheap way of storing traffic metadata centrally. In its most basic form it stores information about: src ip, src port, dst ip, dst port, number of bytes and packets. Exactly what information that is captured depends on the specific version and implementation of Netflow.

Often NetFlow is collected on routers and switches in your environment. They are then exported to a central point for later use. These devices are called exporters. Exactly where you perform this operation depends on where you need visibility and on device capability. The flow records are then sent to a flow collector for later use.

Flow records can be used for a number of things such as network monitoring, billing, troubleshooting and digital forensics.

Flow exporter with FreeBSD

If a FreeBSD machine performs a network function such as a filtering bridge or router in your network you may want to also use it as a flow exporter in order to gain network visibility. The good news is that there is already support for this in the kernel together with the netgraph framework. I have honestly tried my best to understand what netgraph really is. My best description so far is that it is a framework for connecting different network functions in a arbitrary way (a graph).

To allow for generation of netflow records you need to load a few kernel modules: netgraph.ko, ng_netflow.ko, ng_ether.ko, ng_ksocket.ko.

# kldload netgraph ng_netflow ng_ether ng_ksocket

This is a basic example from the ng_netflow(4) manual. It creates a netflow node and routes all traffic to interface igb0 through it and then routes it back to igb0. The export side of the netflow node is connected to a ksocket node which is configured to send the netflow data to on port 4444.

# /usr/sbin/ngctl -f- <<EOF
    mkpeer igb0: netflow lower iface0
    name igb0:lower netflow
    connect igb0: netflow: upper out0
    mkpeer netflow: ksocket export9 inet/dgram/udp
    name netflow:export9 exporter
    msg netflow: setconfig {iface=0 conf=7}
    msg netflow:export9 connect inet/

I have made a few changes from whats in the manual. Set conf=7 for the netflow node which tells it to export flows for both incoming and outgoing packets, by default it only captures incoming packets. Also I have also used the export9 hook in order to export NetFlow V9 data.

To visualize this graph you can use the command “ngctl dot”. This is how my resulting graph looks like:

ngctl dot

Flow collection with FreeBSD

There is several softwares that can be used to collect flows on a FreeBSD machine. In the past I have used rwflowpack which is part of the “SiLK stack” from CERT NetSA. While it is very powerful it can be a little bit overkill for smaller networks. So these days I have moved over to nfcapd which is part of the nfdump toolkit. You can install it from the package collection:

# pkg install nfdump

Running nfcapd is very straight forward. This example accepts flow records on port 4444 and stores them in /usr/netflow/. -S -w and -t has to do with the rotation of saved capture-files.

# /usr/local/bin/nfcapd -S 1 -w -t 3600 -D -l /usr/netflow/ -p 4444

Inspect the flow data

Reading flow data can be done using the tool nfdump. You can find my article about it here: Inspecting NetFlow data with nfdump

Make these changes permanet

How to make these changes permanent or applied at boot is beyond the scope of this article but there is several good descriptions on how to write rc-scripts for FreeBSD out there, for example the official docs

How to configure 802.1X client and server in FreeBSD

This article describes the steps required to configure 802.1X client and server using EAP-TLS both client and server side in FreeBSD.


I recently bought a new switch of ebay capable of 802.1X PNAC (Port based Network Access Control). I wanted to have this set up for a long time, but it wasn’t unil now I had a switch thats actually supported it. This article describes how I got it up and running.


Since I already have EAP-TLS set up for my wifi (authentication using X.509 client certificates) I will also use EAP-TLS for wired access. So I configured a private CA in order to issue both server certificates for the radius server and also client certificates for all clients that will use my network.  I have a more general post about how set up the CA here.

Radius server (Authentication server)

You will need to configure a Radius server to handle the authentication requests. I already have EAP-TLS configured using hostpad and its internal radius server for my wifi. But that server is very limited, so I decided to give FreeRADIUS a go. This also means that my wifi clients will be authenticated using the FreeRADIUS server from now on.

I understand that FreeRADIUS is very flexible and “easy” to customize, but I really think that the configuration is very hard do grasp. It would be virtually impossible to configure it without some guide to follow. The two big problems are that the configuration is split up into MANY files and that all the documentation is inside the config files, which makes them really hard to read. Luckily I found this guide online that did exactly what I wanted. So please have a look at that guide under “Configuration” to see how I configured FreeRADIUS. Its basically just a few minor changes in four files.

The switch (Authenticator)

This article will not cover the switch configuration needed for this setup. The configuration you will have to do is very depended on what brand of switch you have and what software it is running.  I have a Juniper EX2200-C and there is good online documentation on how to set up 802.1X.

The Supplicant (802.1X client)

In 802.1X the client is called the supplicant. To authenticate against the radius server you will basically need a small supplicant software installed on the client that will handle the authentication. This is done using EAPOL-packages that are sent out on the network and then handled by the switch (The Authenticator). The switch then talks to the raidus server (The Authentication server) to verify the client.

In Linux and FreeBSD the most commonly used supplicant software is called wpa_supplicant. Most of you who know of wpa_supplicant have used it for wifi authentication in differents forms. It can handle alot of different security types like WPA2 Enterprise, WPA2 or even WEP. But it can also work with wired network authentication. The configuration is actually very straight forward and similar to the wifi configs.


This is all you will need to have wpa_supplicant authenticate using client certificates over ethernet.

To have the wpa_supplicant automatically started when you FreeBSD machine boots you can just add the WPA keyword to your interface declaration in /etc/rc.conf like this:

ifconfig_ue0="DHCP WPA"

Smart Card/HSM backed OpenSSL CA

This article describes how to set up a Smart Card/HSM backed OpenSSL CA using a Smart Card HSM or any PKCS11 enabled device.


Since some years back I use WPA2 Enterprise with EAP-TLS (Certificate authentication) for my wifi at home. Historically I have used certificates from a public CA for this purpose. This is not best practice since you don’t have control over the certificates that are issued.

Also, I recently bought a new switch capable of 802.1X authentication on all ports. For this purpose I want all my machines (even those without wifi) to have certificates. So I decided to go through the hassle of setting up my own private CA.

Setting up CA

For the basic setup of the CA I followed Jamies excellent guide on setting up a CA. So in this post you can assume that all the basic stuff like folders structure and basic commands are the same. I will only show you the differences needed to have the Root CA key stored on a PKCS11 device like a HSM, Smart Card HSM or a Yubikey. I will even try to follow his topic names so you can follow along.

Configure PKCS11 Engine

I will not discuss the operating system part of getting PKCS11 devices to work in this article. But basically you just need to install some packages, you can read about it here.

First of all we need to configure OpenSSL to talk to your PKCS11 device. This can be done from configuration or interactively on the command line.

From conf:

# At beginning of conf (before everything else)
openssl_conf            = openssl_def

# At end of conf (after everything else)
engines = engine_section

pkcs11 = pkcs11_section

engine_id = pkcs11
dynamic_path = /usr/local/lib/engines/
MODULE_PATH = /usr/local/lib/
init = 0

From cli:

OpenSSL> engine -t dynamic -pre SO_PATH:/usr/local/lib/engines/ -pre ID:pkcs11 -pre LIST_ADD:1 -pre LOAD -pre MODULE_PATH:/usr/local/lib/opensc-

Create the root pair

First of all we need to have a RSA key pair on the PKCS11 device:

# pkcs11-tool --module /usr/local/lib/ -l --keypairgen --key-type rsa:2048 --label "SSL Root CA"
Using slot 0 with a present token (0x0)
Logging in to "HSM 2 (UserPIN)".
Please enter User PIN:
Key pair generated:
Private Key Object; RSA
  label:      SSL Root CA
  ID:         d15c3e9578a612a658bb14e0e147db4f2279cf19
  Usage:      decrypt, sign, unwrap
Public Key Object; RSA 2048 bits
  label:      SSL Root CA
  ID:         d15c3e9578a612a658bb14e0e147db4f2279cf19
  Usage:      encrypt, verify, wrap

Create the root certificate

I will assume that you have configured pkcs11 in openssl.cnf (otherwise you will have to first run the engine command in openssl interactively before any other command).

# openssl req -config openssl.cnf -new -x509 -days 7300 -sha256 -extensions v3_ca -engine pkcs11 -keyform engine -key 0:d15c3e9578a612a658bb14e0e147db4f2279cf19 -out certs/ca.cert.pem
engine "pkcs11" set.
Enter PKCS#11 token PIN for HSM 2 (UserPIN):
0x8018b6000 07:41:35.523 cannot lock memory, sensitive data may be paged to disk
You are about to be asked to enter information that will be incorporated
into your certificate request.
What you are about to enter is what is called a Distinguished Name or a DN.
There are quite a few fields but you can leave some blank
For some fields there will be a default value,
If you enter '.', the field will be left blank.
Country Name (2 letter code) [SE]:
State or Province Name []:
Locality Name []:
Organization Name [PeanOrg]:
Organizational Unit Name []:PeanOrg Certificate Authority
Common Name []:PeanOrg Root CA
Email Address []:

Create the intermediate pair

For the intermediate key pair I followed jamies guide. I need frequent access to this CA so I have decided to have the intermediate pair on file instead of HSM.

Create the intermediate certificate

I changed one thing in jamies intermediate/openssl.cnf because I dont see the point of having province set in the CAs

stateOrProvinceName     = optional

To use the Root key stored on pkcs11 to sign the intermediate certificate use this command:

# openssl ca -config openssl.cnf -extensions v3_intermediate_ca -days 3650 -notext -md sha256 -engine pkcs11 -keyform engine -keyfile 0:d15c3e9578a612a658bb14e0e147db4f2279cf19 -in intermediate/csr/intermediate.csr.pem -out intermediate/certs/intermediate.cert.pem
Using configuration from openssl.cnf
engine "pkcs11" set.
Enter PKCS#11 token PIN for HSM 2 (UserPIN):
Check that the request matches the signature
Signature ok
Certificate Details:
        Serial Number: 4096 (0x1000)
            Not Before: Apr  7 05:54:22 2018 GMT
            Not After : Apr  4 05:54:22 2028 GMT
            countryName               = SE
            organizationName          = PeanOrg
            organizationalUnitName    = PeanOrg Certificate Authority
            commonName                = PeanOrg Intermediate CA 1
        X509v3 extensions:
            X509v3 Subject Key Identifier:
            X509v3 Authority Key Identifier:

            X509v3 Basic Constraints: critical
                CA:TRUE, pathlen:0
            X509v3 Key Usage: critical
                Digital Signature, Certificate Sign, CRL Sign
Certificate is to be certified until Apr  4 05:54:22 2028 GMT (3650 days)
Sign the certificate? [y/n]:y

1 out of 1 certificate requests certified, commit? [y/n]y
Write out database with 1 new entries
Data Base Updated

We now have all we need to sign certificates. Just follow Jamies guide Sign server and client certificates


It took me a few hours to get this going because of sort of a lack of documentation on how to use OpenSSL and PKCS11 together, during my efforts I found these resources helpful

Minimal scp only chroot in FreeBSD


The other day I needed to receive a few files from a friend. And I wanted to provide an easy to use service to do so. Back in the days I did run a FTP service with anonymous login and write acces to a inbox folder (1777).  But these days I have a few more security concerns and wanted to provide a scp drop site, and exactly that. A “scp only chroot”.


Giving chrooted ssh access is pretty straight forward in the sshd_config. But to actually get it to work you will have to fiddle around a bit. You will need to figure out exactly what files you will need inside the chroot for the service to function properly.

Create user

Just use your favourite way of creating users in your system.


The easy part is to configure your sshd_config to chroot the specific user, group or whatever you want to chroot. Since this is probably a one off for me I settled for a single user.

Match User scponly
  ChrootDirectory /home/%u
  X11Forwarding no
  AllowTcpForwarding no

This short configuration will chroot the user scponly to /home/scponly when it connects. You just need to restart sshd in order to these settings to take effect.

Setting up environment

The hardest part was to set up the environment since you will need to make all libs and so on available inside the chroot.

Since this was to be a one off solution I will not go through the hassle of loop/null mounts or stuff like that. I will simply copy the stuff thats actually needed into the chroot. To find out what libs you actually need you can use the tool ldd(1)

# ldd /usr/local/bin/scp 
/usr/local/bin/scp: => /lib/ (0x800a00000) => /lib/ (0x800e69000) => /lib/ (0x801082000) => /usr/local/lib/ (0x801296000) => /lib/ (0x8014f3000) => /lib/ (0x801712000)

So I just created a few directories in /home/scponly

# cd /home/scponly
# mkdir etc bin lib dev libexec

and then copied these libs to /home/scponly/lib/.

You will also need to have a shell that then can invoke scp. I copied /rescue/sh to /home/scponly/bin/ because it is statically linked and does not depend on any libraries. When all this was done I thought the whole thing was finished but I encountered a few problems.


The first one was scp complaining about missing So just like the other libs I just copied it in to /home/sftponly/libexec/.

Secondly scp started to complain about missing /dev/null. And my solution to this was to just create a empty file called null in /home/sftponly/dev/ and chmod to 666. Why it works with a regular file I dont know. If you have any idea please tell me in the comments.

The final problem I faced was an error when invoking scp that said “unknown user 1005”. I did some searches on the web and found several solutions that where Linux specific so no help there. But they involved putting a few more files and libs relevant to nss into the chroot.

What I finally found out was that its the /etc/master.passwd (think of shadow in linux) and its database that where missing. So I just did grep scponly /etc/master.passwd > /home/scponly/etc/master.passwd to copy only the record for scponly to the chroot.

sad:*:1005:1002::0:0:scp only user:/home/scponly:/bin/sh

Finally the actual databased needed to be created with this command

# pwd_mkdb -d /home/scponly/etc/ /home/scponly/etc/master.passwd

Thats it! Now I have a account thats basically all it can do is scp. Yes you can login and get a shell but since there is no other binaries than scp and sh you are pretty limited.

Cheap out of band management/ipmi replacement for home servers

This article describes how to build your own out of band system for your home server.


If you have ever worked professionally with servers you have almost certainly come across some type of out of band management. HP iLO, Dell iDRAC, Huawei iBMC and so on. All more or less based on the IPMI standard. These are basically a small computer that lives independently from your server and give you control over the server even if its turned off for example. You can also virtually mount ISO images and get a console over a web interface and so on. In this way you can even do changes to BIOS settings and so on from a remote location. But probably the most used feature where I work is to simply send power commands to the server like “ipmitool -H <IPMI IP> chassis power off

The problem for home users is that most consumer grade hardware will not have these features since the IPMI is an actual computer that sits on your motherboards (either directly or in some sort of expansion slot). I will now describe what I did to get a similar (but heavily reduced feature set) for my home server.



First of all you need some hardware, this could be any small computer that will fit inside of closely to your existing server. Its also very good if it could get power from the USB port of the actual server, this way you will not have to have any separate power source for your of of band, also this will have ground in the two systems at the same level which will be good later on.

I use a OrangePi Zero and a case which I got off of ebay for about 10USD.


Motherboards these days don’t have a external serial port anymore, but some of them have a internal one which mine luckily had. But to hook up the serial interface of the computer which is a RS-232 interface to the TTL serial interface of the OrangePi I needed to do some conversion or you will damage your Pi, I use a MAX3232 in a package from sparkfun to do this. Just hook upp RX/TX and GND (and 3-5.5V to power it) of both systems to the MAX3232 and you should be good to go. Notice: that if you use the primary serial interface of your Pi you can run into problems if both systems are booting at the same time, because they will interpret each others boot messages as input and will most likely hang the boot.


Power control

This is one of the most important and also interesting parts of the project. To have console access to a server is pretty common and I have also described this in another “out of band” article where I use console access for my router.

But for this project I wanted to use the GPIO pins of my OrangePi to control the ATX power switch of my server. After some trial and error I got it to work. I use a transistor as a power switch and then I signal the transistor when I want to power on or off the system. A problem I had early on was that when the server (and then also the Pi) got power it immediately  turned on the server as well. This was a problem for me because of the console “bug” I described above. To work around this I added a couple of transistors to the system, first a 37kΩ resistor in front of the base of the transistor and also a 10kΩ pull-down resistor the get rid of any signal from the GPIO pin when it is not yet configured. The schematics of the thing looks something like this:


This was built using:
Adafruit Perma-Proto Quarter-sized Breadboard
TIP120 transistor
a few pin headers and some resistors

and the end result looks something like this:



The lonely pin is where I connect the GPIO on my OrangePi and to the four other pins I connect the power push button on my case and the pwr+,pwr- pins on the motherboard.

The computer mounted inside my case looks loke this:



To get the console output working from there server we need to change a few files. You will need something like this in /etc/ttys

ttyu0	"/usr/libexec/getty 3wire"	vt100	on secure

and something like this to /boot/loader.conf


I have not yet written any scripts and so on but it’s really easy to use use standard CLI commands in FreeBSD to control the GPIO.

# Setup of the pin
root@orangepi:~ # gpioctl -n 12 pwr
root@orangepi:~ # gpioctl -c pwr out
# Power on (if off)
root@orangepi:~ # gpioctl pwr 1 ; gpioctl pwr 0
# Soft shutdown (if on)
root@orangepi:~ # gpioctl pwr 1 ; gpioctl pwr 0
# Forceful shutdown
root@orangepi:~ # gpioctl pwr 1 ; sleep 5; gpioctl pwr 0

Summing up

This project took me about 3-4 evenings to finish including a lot of trial and error in the beginning and now I have a system where I can actually from a remote location reboot my server. I also get console access early enough to change the options to the kernel or even change kernel before booting. Since I spent only about 25USD in total on this project I’m really satisfied with the result. We will have to see how good it actually works in a real situation, like a kernel panic or whatever.

Strong authentication of OpenSSH hosts using hardware tokens

This article describes how to secure your SSH host keys using hardware tokens.


I have previously written numerous posts about strong user authentication using smart cards, yubikeys and/or OpenSSH certificates. I have also described how you can use OpenSSH certificates to authentcate hosts. But let say your server where compromised in some way just for a few hours and your SSH host keys (and certificates) where stolen. This would allow the attacker to perform MITM attacks or impersonate your server in several different ways. Depending on the application this could be more or less detrimental. If the server have a lot of users this could be used to steal passwords for example.

One way to mitigate this attack is to store your host keys on hardware tokens. This way they cannot be stolen by someone not in physical contact with the server, and you would easily find out if the token was missing.

Configure the token

I will use a Yubikey 4 for this. I have already described how to use yubikeys for client keys, so a more detailed description on how to configure and use Yubikeys for SSH can be found here. You can check that everyting is working like this:

# opensc-tool -l
# Detected readers (pcsc)
Nr.  Card  Features  Name
0    Yes             Yubico Yubikey 4 OTP+U2F+CCID 00 00

What we need is basically a pkcs11 capable device i.e a smart card or “similar” and create a  RSA key pair on it.

Configure sshd and setting up a ssh-agent

Since it would be extremely impractical to enter the token PIN every time a client connects to your secure server, we will need to use a ssh-agent that will keep the pin in memory as long as the agent process is running. We also need to enter the PIN before we leave:

# ssh-agent -a /root/yubikey-agent
setenv SSH_AUTH_SOCK /root/yubikey-agent;
setenv SSH_AGENT_PID 10894;
echo Agent pid 10894;
# setenv SSH_AUTH_SOCK /root/yubikey-agent;
# ssh-add -s /usr/local/lib/
Enter passphrase for PKCS#11: 
Card added: /usr/local/lib/
# ssh-add -l
2048 SHA256:qBbMpdbUeabLe4PnfjrjPbGPu8zfbkbK+ni4mXOnV24 /usr/local/lib/ (RSA)

Now you have your RSA key available to the system using the UNIX-domain socket at /root/yubikey-agent.

In a production situation I would put this in a rc-script and enter the PIN at boot-time.

Configure OpenSSH

We need to  create a file containing the public key and also tell sshd to use this key and the newly created socket as a backend for its host keys.

# ssh-keygen -D /usr/local/lib/ > /etc/ssh/
# echo "HostKey /etc/ssh/" >> /etc/ssh/sshd_config
# echo "HostKeyAgent /root/yubikey-agent" >> /etc/ssh/sshd_config

Notice that if you have several keys on your token, ssh-keygen will output all of them. Make sure only the correct keys are added to the key file.

Verify the configuration

When you have configured sshd you will need to restart sshd and them we can verify that host keys are actually from the hardware token (in this case the yubikey). A very easy way to do this is to actually try to connect to the server and have a look at what keys it presents to you.

% ssh server
The authenticity of host 'server (' can't be established.
RSA key fingerprint is SHA256:qBbMpdbUeabLe4PnfjrjPbGPu8zfbkbK+ni4mXOnV24.
No matching host key fingerprint found in DNS.
Are you sure you want to continue connecting (yes/no)?

You can now easily verify that this fingerprint IS actually the same as the one ge got when we added the yubikey to the ssh-agent.

This is basically it. If you are going to use this in production you would probably want to add some rc-scripts to automate the setup process as much as possible.

SSH certificates together with hardware keys (smartcard/yubikey)

We have showed how to use SSH certificates and SSH CAs, we have also showed how you can use the yubikey to store you SSH keys. This article will describe how to combine these two features.

First of all you need to have a yubikey set up with some RSA/ECDSA keys. Then find out the public part of you key:

% ssh-keygen -D /usr/local/lib/
ssh-rsa AAAAB3NzaC1yc2EAAAADAQABAAABAQCHn4jSqvNLn5NtUxqlAlm1Qj1tlunb0PjBsItmmesquULAM5oqVYmwJ+bmXpDlzgeeIbl1lf3aUTsXCs6My8mkIUwwN+3a5AJ8MA18Bzzx/qIpxe2N/nZ61e03ua5B6SjpfxAAC6i3DPHU6kUSy26sXhfx14y6abWlrwhXaILsTogz2sOganS44au+nSpa35xwMxG5vehkRkYe6vQvvIDFeMhy61DAJGOcGeCbXTfJB9yYwAgOEqTvHDBfbTrHhmnUu82/JV6twY4/tdgrjFxGE3/JsRnoP3lBCoLQR+Uxs3mV7pFelQj/8bZKVsjdzqH9AYWpvIQTJGuwAmyOk61V

This public key should be handed over to your systems administratior (probably yourself in this case) for signing. In return you will get a OpenSSH certificate file that looks sort of a public key but a bit longer.

Now the “tricky” part comes. When you have your public key in ~/.ssh/ ssh will automatically look for a certificate file called But since we are going to use the smartcard/yubikey to handle our key it will not be visible in ~/.ssh.

First give your certificate a reasonable name like ~/.ssh/ Then we could tell ssh to combine the two.

Me most basic way is then to just specify the options you need on the command line:

% ssh -o PKCS11Provider=/usr/local/lib/ -o CertificateFile=~/.ssh/ peter@torus
Enter PIN for 'PIV_II (PIV Card Holder pin)': 

If you want to use this permanently you can of course put the options in ~/.ssh/config instead it should look something like this:


A third option if you are using the ssh-agent (like me) you could first add the card to your agent:

% ssh-add -s /usr/local/lib/pkcs11/
Enter passphrase for PKCS#11: 
Card added: /usr/local/lib/pkcs11/

and the specify the cert-file either on the command line or in ~/.ssh/config

% ssh -o CertificateFile=~/.ssh/ peter@torus
[torus:~] peter>

Now you should be able to combine ssh certificates and yubikeys/smart cards

Securely update wordpress instance


WordPress wants you to have automatic updates turned on for your installation. According to them this is the best way to securely update wordpress. While this is party true because time is key when it comes to web security. If you have patched your installation before anyone tries to exploit the vulnerabilities you might have that’s a good thing. But the problem is that many of these vulnerabilities depend on the web server having write access to your files. And in order to have automatic updates turned on you will have to grant wordpress (the web server) write access to all files that it might want to update.

Securely update wordpress

For a long time wordpress have offered another way of semi automatically updating your wordpress, this depends on you handing over your credentials for file transfers to wordpress. What wordpress does is basically a regular login using ftp or sftp and uploading the new files this way. According to me this is a vast improvement (maybe because I’ve been the victim of wordpress “hacks” that used the possibility to change my files on disk).

But what if you only have sftp/ssh access with key? Or you dont want to give your personal password to wordpress every time you want to do upgrades?

WordPress have a built in solution for this very similar to the one described above. You can actually use ssh keys to do the upgrade.  Create a RSA key pair WITH PASS PHRASE on your web server and store it somewhere safe where only you and the httpd daemon have access to read it.

Then its time to allow this key access to your account, but please restrict access from localhost or the servers own IP. This key should never be allowed to be used from outside. Your .ssh/authorized_keys could look something like this:

from="" ssh-rsa AAAAB3NzaC1yc2EAAAADAQABAAABAQC19oGbaEW7NKBQ5vn3auFbUKAasopYYPv03FxhEjbZwhoVTO44BIR0oIdMs1u1v5Y4gDH77ndCI/6fqwJQwc1D0YYH/45wUOEaB4MuPlCxlp7yxE+FyzMspi9mP8HETS+jEfzLIQ01F424yfVweQME9fxeCP0MFO+XK0SuMCk5ibdvaxYwCuRwPFkHcnyKIrDnIgGXv0D8YdC+K/RW/Ghpu9C7Rn2q0pQDbSHj7/xddO7aD+X6DPZfbHS/5ZrJnB+oWf7b9j5FmH8ldBSGBvUr6kplnDr1dKN/98bwRp1FpcxzShAX3q9nj44FwPhKV5JEOw146YJxXXks40ia1da5

Then you can configure this in wp-config.php


When doing updates in the future wordpress will ask you for the pass phrase of your ssh key instead of your personal password. In this way the sensitive authentication “material” is never transferred over the internet.

There is still the possibility that malicious code in wordpress or a malicious plugin/theme could steal this key since it have read access to the private key and you give it the pass phrase. But this is still much better than giving it your password.