HOWTO – SSH single-sign-on with Putty

Install PuTTY, PuTTYgen, And Pageant on your Windows system

First we need to install PuTTY, PuTTYgen, and Pageant on our Windows system. All we need to do is download the exectuable files (.exe) and save them somewhere, e.g. on the desktop. We don’t need to install them as they are standalone applications. To start them, we only need to double-click them.

Download the following files from the PuTTY download page and save them on your Windows system, e.g. on the desktop:

Create A profile with settings for your Server

In PuTTY, you can create profiles for connections to your various SSH servers, so you don’t have to type in the settings again when you want to connect to a certain server again.

Let’s create a profile for our server. Start PuTTY by double-clicking its executable file. You are now in the category Session (see the tree on the left side of the screenshot). Enter under Host Name (or IP address), enter 22 under Port and select SSH under Protocol:

Then go to Connection -> Data and specify the username with that you want to log in to your SSH server under Auto-login username. In this article I use root:

Then go to Session again. Under Saved Sessions enter a name for the profile, e.g. or any other string that lets you remember for which server the profile is. Then click on Save:

The next time you use PuTTY, you can simply select the appropriate profile from the Saved Sessions text area, click on Load and then Open.

Now we can connect to our SSH server simply by clicking on Open.

If you connect to the server for the first time, a security warning pops up. This is because PuTTY doesn’t know the server’s host key yet, so it is safe to click on Yes. (If this happens again later on, this can mean that another server is now running under the same IP address, or that someone has broken in and changed the key.)

We have saved the username with which we connect in our profile settings, so we don’t have to type it here again. We only have to specify that user’s password:

Generate A Private/Public Key Pair

We can use PuTTYgen to create a private/public key pair. Start it by double-clicking its executable file. Make sure you select SSH-2 RSA under Type of key to generate and specify 1024 as the Number of bits in a generated key. Then click on Generate:

Please move the mouse pointer over the blank area during the key generation to generate some randomness:

Now a private/public key pair has been generated. Under Key comment, you can enter any comment; normally you use your email address here. Then specify a Key passphrase and repeat it under Confirm passphrase. You’ll need that passphrase to log in to SSH with your new key. Then click on Save publick key and save it in some safe location on your computer. You are free to choose a filename and extension, but it should be one that lets you remember for which system it is.

Then click on Save private key. You can save it in the same location as the public key – it should be a location that only you can access and that you don’t lose! (If you lose the keys and have disabled username/password logins, then you can’t log in anymore!) Again, you’re free to choose a filename, but this time the extension must be .ppk:

Then copy the public key from the PuTTYgen window:

Save The Public Key On The Server

Then log in to your SSH server (if you have closed the previous SSH session already), still with the username and password, and paste the public key into the file ~/.ssh/authorized_keys2 (in one line!) like this:

mkdir ~/.ssh
chmod 700 ~/.ssh
vi ~/.ssh/authorized_keys2
# now paste your ssh key in this file and save it
ssh-rsa AAAAB3NzaC1yc2EAAAABJQAAAQEAy5NMEO5fmm1QQUGRDPrybhi/9SshTn8cwKySifcHSNIN/QU512p9M91NXYjaqyZ2Knohc1SOjhARCsVaIWK3450r1ukfpnG7/dCmh3T1li4WRjm+6akZdAGW7CUAUN+jju+0aCvbaKprYpCsDIXsY652Vq+gifdkJueR/EBX9N2vZrsYcdefQfZeq6SnI8k6TDkehq+rnkyhj6KoixFw4W6cFXHfDTOi3MBIvZYX/jjZ5BzzDFXnkzD6v7H+vA55reERQrsQJP87zUhSKegGiVH78ZKDign5XtFWiYwTx7lfkSTFDC71h3cF32EAI4PRnNRzUM9xHNywS+fvW8bFnFw==

That file mustbe write/readable only by that user, so we run

chmod 600 ~/.ssh/authorized_keys2  

Attach The Private Key To The PuTTY Profile

Now launch PuTTY again and load the profile of your SSH server (

Then go to SSH -> Auth and click on Browse:

Browse your file system and select your previously created private key:

Then go to Session again and click on Save:

Now we have attached the private key to our PuTTY profile.

Our First Key-Based Login

Now everything is ready for our first key-based login to our SSH server. Click on Open:

As you can see, the public key is now used for authentication, and you are asked for the passphrase:

Disable Username/Password Logins

Up to now, you can log in with your private/public key pair and still with username/password logins, so if someone doesn’t attach a private key to his PuTTY session, he will be asked for a username and password. So to achieve a better security, we must disable the username/password logins (you should do this only when you know that your key-based logins are working, because if they aren’t and you disable username/password logins, then you have a problem…).

To disable the username/password logins, we must modify the sshd configuration file. On Debian/Ubuntu systems, it’s /etc/ssh/sshd_config. You should set Protocol to 2 (1 is insecure and should not be used!), PasswordAuthentication to no, and UsePAM to no (or comment out the UsePAM line), e.g. like this:

vi /etc/ssh/sshd_config 
Protocol 2
PasswordAuthentication no
UsePAM no

Then restart sshd. On Debian/Ubuntu, you can do it like this:

 /etc/init.d/ssh restart 

Now if you open a PuTTY session without your private key attached, you shouldn’t be able to log in anymore.

Let Pageant Remember Your Key Passphrase

Whenever you use your key-based login now, you still have to specify your key passphrase. This can be annoying if you connect to the SSH server multiple times a day. Fortunately, you can tell the passphrase to Pageant which will then provide the passphrase whenever you log in to your SSH server.

You can start Pageant by double-clicking its executable file, afterwards, you should see Pageant running in the taskbar:

Now double-click the Pageant icon in the taskbar. The following window comes up. Click on Add Key:

Browse your filesystem and select your private key:

Then enter the passphrase for the private key:

The key is now listed in Pageant’s key list. Click on Close:

As long as Pageant is running in the taskbar, you can log in to your SSH server without providing the passphrase – this is done by Pageant:

When you stop Pageant, it forgets all keys, so the next time you start Pageant you must add the keys again. This can also be annoying, but to prevent this, we can create a shortcut on the desktop to the Pageant executable. Right-click the Pageant executable and select Create Shortcut.

You should now find a shortcut. Right-click it and go to Properties.

Under Target, you will now find the path to pageant.exe, e.g. “C:\Users\SomeUser\Desktop\pageant.exe” (if there are no spaces in your path, you don’t need the quotation marks). You can now simply add the location of your private key to that line, for example if you private key is C:\putty\my_keys\private_key_192.168.0.100.ppk then the line should look like this:

“C:\Users\SomeUser\Desktop\pageant.exe” C:\putty\my_keys\private_key_192.168.0.100.ppk

if there are spaces in the path to your private key, you must wrap it in quotation marks again, e.g. like this:

“C:\Users\SomeUser\Desktop\pageant.exe” “C:\directory with lots of spaces in name\my keys\private_key_192.168.0.100.ppk”

Now when you double-click on the Pageant shortcut, Pageant will automatically load your private key and ask you for the passphrase. Enter it, and that’s it.


Published by

Ronny Van den Broeck

I'm a network and system engineer for more than 20 years now. During this period I became a pro in hunting down one's and zero's, with an eager mindset to help people accomplish the same or abstract them away from the matrix.

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