Permission Denied Publickey Ec2 Ssh

admin15 March 2024Last Update :

Permission Denied Publickey Ec2 Ssh

As cloud computing continues to revolutionize the IT landscape, Amazon Web Services (AWS) stands at the forefront, offering robust and scalable solutions. One of the core components of AWS is the Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2), which allows users to run virtual servers and manage workloads in the cloud. However, accessing these virtual servers securely via SSH (Secure Shell) can sometimes be met with challenges, such as the dreaded “Permission Denied (publickey)” error. This article delves into the intricacies of this issue, providing a comprehensive guide to understanding and resolving it.

Understanding SSH and Public Key Authentication

Before we tackle the “Permission Denied (publickey)” error, it’s crucial to understand the basics of SSH and public key authentication. SSH is a protocol used to securely access and manage servers over an unsecured network. Public key authentication is a method that SSH uses to verify the identity of the client to the server and vice versa, using a pair of cryptographic keys.

How SSH Public Key Authentication Works

In public key authentication, the user generates a pair of keys: a private key, which is kept secret, and a public key, which can be shared. The public key is placed on the server, and when the user attempts to connect, the server uses this public key to create a challenge that can only be answered with the corresponding private key. If the client provides the correct response, the server grants access.

Diagnosing the “Permission Denied (publickey)” Error

When attempting to SSH into an EC2 instance, encountering a “Permission Denied (publickey)” error can be frustrating. This error indicates that the authentication process has failed. There are several reasons why this might occur, and diagnosing the issue requires a systematic approach.

Common Causes of Authentication Failure

  • Incorrect SSH key pair
  • Improper file permissions on the SSH key
  • SSH key not attached to the EC2 instance
  • Incorrect username for the EC2 instance
  • Network restrictions or firewall settings

Step-by-Step Solutions to Resolve the Error

To resolve the “Permission Denied (publickey)” error, follow these steps, checking after each to see if the issue is resolved.

Verifying the SSH Key Pair

Ensure that the SSH key pair you’re using matches the one associated with your EC2 instance. You can verify this in the AWS Management Console under EC2 > Instances > Description > Key pair name.

Checking File Permissions

The private key file on your local machine must have the correct permissions set. Typically, this means read-only permissions for the user. Use the following command to set the correct permissions:

chmod 400 /path/to/your/key.pem

Attaching the SSH Key to the Instance

If the key pair is not attached to the instance, you’ll need to attach it or launch a new instance with the correct key pair.

Using the Correct Username

Different AMIs (Amazon Machine Images) may require different usernames for SSH access. For example, “ec2-user” for Amazon Linux, “ubuntu” for Ubuntu, etc. Ensure you’re using the correct username for your instance’s AMI.

Network and Firewall Settings

Check your security group rules to ensure that your IP address is allowed to access the instance on port 22, which is the default SSH port.

Advanced Troubleshooting Techniques

If the basic steps don’t resolve the issue, you may need to employ more advanced techniques, such as enabling verbose logging during SSH connection attempts or checking the server’s SSH configuration file for any restrictions.

Enabling Verbose Logging

Use the -v option with your SSH command to get more detailed output, which can provide clues to the issue:

ssh -v -i /path/to/your/key.pem ec2-user@your-instance-ip

Checking Server Configuration

If you have access to the server’s SSH configuration file (typically /etc/ssh/sshd_config), ensure that public key authentication is enabled and that there are no restrictions preventing your user from authenticating.

Case Studies and Examples

Let’s explore a few case studies where users faced the “Permission Denied (publickey)” error and how they resolved it.

Case Study 1: Incorrect SSH Key Pair

A user was consistently facing the error until they realized they had multiple key pairs and were using the wrong one. Once they switched to the correct key pair associated with their EC2 instance, they were able to connect successfully.

Case Study 2: File Permissions Too Open

Another user had their private key file permissions set too broadly, allowing group and world read access. Tightening the permissions to read-only for the user fixed the issue.

FAQ Section

What is the default username for an Amazon Linux EC2 instance?

The default username for an Amazon Linux EC2 instance is “ec2-user”.

Can I change the key pair associated with a running EC2 instance?

No, you cannot change the key pair for a running instance. You must either create a new instance with the desired key pair or attach a new key to the existing instance following AWS documentation.

How do I know if my security group is blocking SSH access?

Check the inbound rules of your security group to ensure that it allows traffic on port 22 from your IP address.


Resolving the “Permission Denied (publickey)” error when SSHing into an EC2 instance involves checking several potential issues, from key pair mismatches to file permissions and network settings. By methodically diagnosing and addressing these factors, you can ensure secure and successful access to your EC2 instances.


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