[Beowulf] Intra-cluster security

Leif Nixon nixon at nsc.liu.se
Sun Sep 13 06:31:41 EDT 2009

Stuart Barkley <stuartb at 4gh.net> writes:

> - Kerberos with ssh works fine for interactive users, but doesn't seem
> to translate well to a queuing environment.  Or am I missing
> something?

It's quite possible to use, but you do get a ticket expiry problem.

> - Each user creates a password-less ssh private key, puts the public
> key in the authorized_hosts file and has relatively unfettered ssh
> access between nodes (nfs shared home directory helps a lot).  This
> seems to be the most common approach.

Yes, this is common. And a really, really BAD IDEA. Do not do this. Bad,
bad, BAD.

> I consider it dangerous to encourage use of password-less ssh keys.

Yes, very much so. And your users will discover that they can copy that
passphrase-less private key to their personal workstation and get
password-less access to the cluster. (Yes, they will.) And then the key
will get stolen. (Yes, it will.) And then you get


Of course, you can disallow ssh key authentication from external
machines to mitigate the problem, but that's just a band-aid for a
mis-engineered system.

In case I didn't come across clearly, let me repeat that: DO NOT USE

(There are some exceptions, of course, like when you want to run things
in batch from cron, and similar. But then you must, must, must use
proper limitations for that key in authorized_keys.)

> - It looks like I can configure the cluster systems to handle local
> ssh transparently.  This would involve setting setuid/setgid on ssh,
> building cluster wide authorized_keys files and other things.  I
> haven't studied this closely but there are a few references available
> (http://www.snailbook.com/faq/trusted-host-howto.auto.html among
> others).

This is the way to go. All our systems are set up this way. Works just
fine. You just need a mechanism for maintaining host keys and
ssh_known_hosts. (And remember that this doesn't work for root - you
need separately set up ~root/.shosts and ~root/.ssh/known_hosts if you
want it.)


Do the Internet a service and scan your users' home directories for
passphrase-less private ssh keys. This is as easy as running

  # grep -L ENCRYPTED /home/*/.ssh/id_?sa

Delete all such keys that don't have a good reason for existence. (Yes,
we do so on all our systems.)

                               / Swedish National Infrastructure for Computing
Leif Nixon - Security officer <  National Supercomputer Centre
                               \ Nordic Data Grid Facility
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