How To Fix SSH Permission Denied Publickey

Fix SSH Permission Denied Publickey

Secure Shell (SSH) is an essential tool for establishing encrypted and secure remote connections. It ensures data confidentiality and integrity during communication over an insecure network. However, when attempting to connect to a remote server using SSH, you may encounter the dreaded “SSH Permission Denied (Publickey)” error. This error indicates that the server denied access because the provided public key does not match any available authorized keys.

In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the various causes behind the “SSH Permission Denied (Publickey)” error and provide detailed step-by-step instructions to troubleshoot and resolve it effectively. Whether you are a seasoned system administrator or an aspiring developer, this article will equip you with the knowledge to overcome this hurdle and regain seamless access to your remote servers.

Understanding the “SSH Permission Denied (Publickey)” Error

Before diving into the troubleshooting process, let’s gain a deeper understanding of the error’s significance and potential causes.

Explanation of the Error Message

The “SSH Permission Denied (Publickey)” error message might vary slightly based on the SSH client you are using, but it generally looks like this:

Permission denied (publickey).

Potential Causes of the Error

  1. Incorrect Public Key on the Remote Server The remote server compares the public key presented by the SSH client with the authorized_keys file in the user’s ~/.ssh directory. If the public key does not match any entry in this file, the server denies access.

  2. Incorrect Private Key on the Local Machine On the client side, the SSH client uses the private key associated with the public key sent to the server for authentication. If the private key does not match the public key, the authentication fails, resulting in the “Permission Denied” error.
  3. File Permission Issues with the SSH Key Files Improper file permissions on the local machine’s SSH key files can lead to access denial. Both the private key (usually id_rsa) and the ~/.ssh directory should have strict permissions to prevent unauthorized access.
  4. Server Configuration Issues Misconfiguration of the SSH server settings, particularly in the sshd_config file, can cause authentication failures, leading to the “Permission Denied” error.

Troubleshooting Steps to Resolve the Error

Now that we have a clear understanding of the error’s potential causes, let’s delve into the step-by-step troubleshooting process to fix the “SSH Permission Denied (Publickey)” issue.

Step 1: Verifying the Correct SSH Key Pair

The first step is to ensure that you have the correct SSH key pair on your local machine. Follow these steps:

Check the Existence of the SSH Key Pair: Open your terminal and enter the following command:

ls ~/.ssh

Generating a New SSH Key Pair (if Necessary):

If the SSH key pair is missing or you wish to generate a new one, use the following command:

ssh-keygen -t rsa -b 4096 -C ""

This command generates a new RSA key pair with a 4096-bit key length. The provided email address is added as a comment to the public key for identification purposes.

Step 2: Verifying SSH Agent

The SSH agent is responsible for securely storing private keys and providing them for authentication. To check if the SSH agent is running and add your private key to it, follow these steps:

  • Check if the SSH Agent is Running:
eval "$(ssh-agent -s)"

If the agent is already running, this command will output its PID. If not, it will start the SSH agent.

  • Adding the Private Key to the SSH Agent:

Use the following command to add your private key to the SSH agent:

$ ssh-add ~/.ssh/id_rsa

If you have set a passphrase during the key generation, you will need to enter it now.

Step 3: Correcting File Permissions

File permissions play a crucial role in SSH key security. To set the appropriate permissions for your SSH directory and private key file, follow these steps:

  • Setting Appropriate Permissions for the SSH Directory:
chmod 700 ~/.ssh

This command sets the directory’s permissions to be accessible only by the owner (you) and denies access to anyone else.

  • Setting Proper Permissions for the Private Key File:
chmod 600 ~/.ssh/id_rsa

This command restricts read and write permissions for the private key to the owner only.

Step 4: Updating Authorized Keys on the Server

To ensure successful authentication, the public key must be added to the authorized_keys file on the remote server. Follow these steps:

  • Copying the Public Key to the Remote Server:
ssh-copy-id user@remote_server
  • Ensuring Correct Permissions for the authorized_keys File:
ssh user@remote_server "chmod 600 ~/.ssh/authorized_keys"

Step 5: Checking SSH Configuration on the Server

If the issue persists, there might be a configuration problem on the remote server. Follow these steps to verify and modify the SSH server configuration:

  • Verifying SSH Settings in the sshd_config File:
sudo nano /etc/ssh/sshd_config

Look for the following settings:

PubkeyAuthentication yes
PasswordAuthentication yes

Ensure that “PubkeyAuthentication” is set to “yes,” and “PasswordAuthentication” is set to “no” or “without-password” for maximum security.

  • Restarting the SSH Service on the Remote Server:
sudo systmctl restart sshd

Additional Tips and Best Practices

In addition to the troubleshooting steps, consider implementing the following tips and best practices for maintaining a secure SSH environment:

  • A. Regularly Back Up SSH Key Pairs

It is essential to back up your SSH key pairs regularly. This practice ensures that you can restore your keys if they are lost or compromised.

  • B. Avoid Sharing Private Keys

Never share your private keys with others, as it compromises the security of your SSH connections. Each user should have their unique key pair for authentication.

  • C. Use Passphrases for Added Security

Adding a passphrase to your SSH key provides an additional layer of security. It acts as a password for your private key, making it harder for unauthorized users to gain access.

  • D. Monitor SSH Logs for Suspicious Activity

Monitor your server’s SSH logs for any signs of suspicious login attempts. Detecting and investigating unusual activity can help you proactively protect your system from potential threats.


In conclusion, the “SSH Permission Denied (Publickey)” error can be frustrating, but with a clear understanding of its causes and the proper troubleshooting steps, you can easily resolve it. By following the detailed instructions in this guide, you can confidently troubleshoot and fix the issue, ensuring secure and reliable remote access to your servers.

Remember to always verify your SSH key pairs, keep your private keys secure, and maintain proper file permissions to enhance the security of your SSH connections. By adhering to best practices and monitoring your SSH logs, you can further fortify your server’s security and thwart potential unauthorized access attempts.

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