How To Fix Error “Host Key Verification Failed”

Fix Error “Host Key Verification Failed”

Secure Shell (SSH) is a widely used protocol for establishing secure and encrypted connections between computers over an untrusted network. It plays a crucial role in remote server administration, file transfers, and secure communication. However, users may sometimes encounter the “Host Key Verification Failed” error when attempting to connect to a remote server via SSH. This error can be frustrating and disruptive, preventing users from accessing their remote systems. In this article, we will dive deep into understanding the causes of this error and provide step-by-step instructions on how to resolve it effectively.

Understanding the “Host Key Verification Failed” Error

What is SSH Host Key Verification?

SSH host key verification is a security mechanism that ensures the authenticity of the remote server you are connecting to. Each SSH server generates a unique set of host keys during installation, which serve as its identity. When a client connects to the server for the first time, it receives the server’s public host key and stores it in a local file called known_hosts. On subsequent connections, the client compares the received host key with the one stored in the known_hosts file to verify that it is connecting to the intended server.

The “Host Key Verification Failed” error occurs when the host key presented by the server does not match the key stored in the client’s known_hosts file. This mismatch can happen due to various reasons, such as:

  • The server has been reinstalled or upgraded, generating a new set of host keys.
  • The server administrator has manually rotated the host keys for security purposes.
  • Changes in the network configuration, such as a change in the server’s IP address or hostname.
  • Corruption or unauthorized alteration of the known_hosts file on the client side.

It is essential to investigate and resolve this error promptly, as it may indicate a potential security risk. An attacker could be attempting a man-in-the-middle attack, intercepting your SSH connection, and presenting a different host key to deceive you.

Preliminary Checks Before Fixing the Error

Before proceeding with the actual fixes, it is crucial to perform some preliminary checks to ensure that you are connecting to the correct server and that the host key mismatch is indeed the cause of the error.

Verify the Server’s Host Key Fingerprint

The first step is to verify the server’s current host key fingerprint and compare it with the one stored in your known_hosts file. You can obtain the server’s host key fingerprint by running the following command:

ssh-keygen -l -f /etc/ssh/

Replace ecdsa with rsa or ed25519 depending on the type of key used by your server.

The output will display the fingerprint of the server’s host key. Compare this fingerprint with the one shown in the error message or the one stored in your known_hosts file. If they match, it confirms that you are connecting to the correct server.

Ensure You are Connecting to the Correct Server

Double-check the IP address or hostname you are using to connect to the server. Ensure that it is correct and matches the server you intend to connect to. If you are unsure, contact your server administrator or consult your network documentation to verify the server’s details.

Methods to Fix the “Host Key Verification Failed” Error

Now that we have a clear understanding of the error and have performed the necessary preliminary checks, let’s explore the various methods to fix the “Host Key Verification Failed” error.

Method 1: Remove the Old Host Key from the known_hosts File

The most common and straightforward approach to resolve the error is to remove the old host key entry from the known_hosts file. You can achieve this using the ssh-keygen command or by manually editing the file.

ssh-keygen -R [hostname or IP address]

Replace [hostname or IP address] with the actual hostname or IP address of the server you are trying to connect to. This command will remove the specific host key entry from the known_hosts file.

Manually editing the known_hosts file:

    1. Open the known_hosts file in a text editor. The file is typically located at ~/.ssh/known_hosts.
    2. Locate the line that contains the offending host key entry. It will start with the hostname or IP address of the server.
    3. Delete the entire line corresponding to the server.
    4. Save the changes and exit the text editor.

Alternatively, you can use the sed command to delete the specific line from the known_hosts file:

sed -i '[line_number]d' ~/.ssh/known_hosts

Replace [line_number] with the actual line number of the offending host key entry.

After removing the old host key, try connecting to the server again. SSH will prompt you to add the new host key to the known_hosts file.

Method 2: Delete the Entire known_hosts File

In some cases, the known_hosts file may become corrupted or contain multiple outdated entries, causing the “Host Key Verification Failed” error. In such situations, you can choose to delete the entire known_hosts file and start fresh.

To delete the known_hosts file, run the following command:

rm ~/.ssh/known_hosts

This command will remove the known_hosts file from your SSH directory. The next time you connect to any SSH server, you will be prompted to add its host key to the newly created known_hosts file.

Note that deleting the entire known_hosts file will remove all the stored host keys, and you will need to re-verify and accept the host keys for all the servers you connect to.

Method 3: Disable Strict Host Key Checking

Disabling strict host key checking is a temporary workaround that can be useful in certain scenarios, such as when running automated scripts or in non-production environments. However, it is important to understand the security implications of disabling this feature.

To disable strict host key checking for a specific SSH connection, use the following command:

ssh -o StrictHostKeyChecking=no [user@hostname]

This command tells SSH to bypass the host key verification process and connect to the server without prompting for confirmation.

It is crucial to exercise caution when using this method, as it disables an important security feature of SSH. Only use it when necessary and in trusted environments.

Method 4: Update the known_hosts File with the Correct Host Key

If you have obtained the correct host key from a trusted source, such as the server administrator or a secure communication channel, you can manually add it to the known_hosts file to resolve the “Host Key Verification Failed” error.

To update the known_hosts file with the correct host key, use the following command:

echo "[hostname] [host key]" >> ~/.ssh/known_hosts

Replace [hostname] with the actual hostname or IP address of the server and [host key] with the correct host key provided by the trusted source.

This command appends the correct host key entry to the end of the known_hosts file, allowing you to connect to the server without encountering a verification error.

Troubleshooting Common Issues

If you have tried the above methods but the “Host Key Verification Failed” error persists, there could be other underlying issues. Here are a few troubleshooting tips:

  • Verify network connectivity: Ensure that you have a stable network connection and that there are no firewall or network restrictions preventing SSH communication.
  • Check firewall settings: If you have a firewall enabled on your client or server, ensure that it allows SSH traffic on the designated port (default is 22).
  • Restart the SSH service or the server: Sometimes, restarting the SSH service on the server or rebooting the server itself can resolve connectivity issues.

If none of the above steps resolve the error, it may be necessary to seek assistance from your server administrator or IT support team. Provide them with the relevant information, such as the error message, server details, and the steps you have already taken to troubleshoot the issue.

Best Practices for Managing SSH Host Keys

To minimize the occurrence of the “Host Key Verification Failed” error and maintain a secure SSH environment, consider the following best practices:

  • Regularly update and rotate host keys: Periodically rotating host keys helps reduce the risk of key compromise and ensures that old keys are replaced with new ones.
  • Keep a backup of the known_hosts file: Maintain a backup copy of your known_hosts file in a secure location. This allows you to quickly restore the file if it becomes corrupted or accidentally modified.
  • Use SSH key management tools: Consider using SSH key management tools, such as ssh-keygen or ssh-copy-id, to simplify the process of managing and distributing SSH keys securely.
  • Educate users about SSH security practices: Provide training and guidelines to users on best practices for SSH security, including verifying host keys, protecting private keys, and reporting any suspicious activities.


Encountering the “Host Key Verification Failed” error can be frustrating, but understanding its causes and knowing how to resolve it is crucial for maintaining secure SSH connections. By following the step-by-step instructions and best practices outlined in this article, you can effectively troubleshoot and fix this error, ensuring uninterrupted access to your remote servers.

Remember, SSH host key verification is an essential security feature that protects you from potential man-in-the-middle attacks. Always exercise caution when disabling or modifying host key verification settings, and prioritize security in your SSH configuration.

If you encounter persistent issues or have further questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to your server administrator, IT support team, or the SSH community for assistance. With the right knowledge and tools, you can confidently navigate and resolve the “Host Key Verification Failed” error, keeping your SSH connections secure and reliable.


r00t is a seasoned Linux system administrator with a wealth of experience in the field. Known for his contributions to, r00t has authored numerous tutorials and guides, helping users navigate the complexities of Linux systems. His expertise spans across various Linux distributions, including Ubuntu, CentOS, and Debian. r00t's work is characterized by his ability to simplify complex concepts, making Linux more accessible to users of all skill levels. His dedication to the Linux community and his commitment to sharing knowledge makes him a respected figure in the field.
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