Your Very Own Remote Linux Box

Every time I installed a fresh linux box, I would find myself looking up the same series of commands over and over to make the newly spawned machine distinct and securely accessible on the network.

Then I7600 IoT Design Lab at CCNY incentivized me to write this tutorial for academic credit.

1. Requirements

The instructions below are typeset as I am handling ubuntu 20.04 64bit server installation on a raspberry pi, though this tutorial should work with other devices and linux flavors.

The only requirement is a freshly installed linux box (further referred as remote) that we are about to boot into and a wired connection to a DHCP network, so that we can find our box on the network from the computer we are about to ssh from (further referred as local). This tutorial leaves the process of linux installation up to you.

2. First Boot

Our device is powered on, let’s map it on the network.

2.1 You own the network.

In case you own the network and have access the router/network switch you can look up the ip address of the device on your NAT. Ubuntu device will be called ubuntu by default. Keep in mind that the ip address will change when DHCP lease time is over, most of the routers have an option to make the ip address sticky.

2.2 The network isn’t yours

This might get tricky since you can’t simply determine the ip of your newly installed ubuntu box. First you have to be sure that the network switch you are connecting to is DHCP (the ip address can be obtained automatically), you could poke the ethernet port with your laptop to test.

Now you’d like to determine the ip address of your box. You could run a network scan with nmap to discover devices on the subnet.

nmap -sn  # if your ip is 192.168.1.x

In case nmap resolved hostnames (you’re lucky), just look for ubuntu in the list. Otherwise, you might have to unplug your device’s ethernet and do another scan to see which device disappeared/appeared.

3. Changing defaults

Once you have determined the ip, it is time to remotely login via ssh.

ssh ubuntu@  # Relace the ip of your device.

You will be prompted to enter the default password (it’s ubuntu in case you are working with ubuntu).

Next, we would like to change the device hostname (as it appears on the network) and username, which would require log in as a different user. We will login as root. Alternatively we could create another user account and then delete the default one. In this tutorial I will use the root account.

Set root password.

sudo passwd root

Open sshd_config and allow login as root by setting PermitRootLogin yes.

sudo nano /etc/ssh/sshd_config  # Open sshd_config

Restart ssh service.

service sshd restart



3.1 Change hostname

Login as root.

ssh root@  # Relace the ip of your device.

Hostname is a string that device uses to self identify on the network, it is stored in /etc/hostname. If you read the file you can see the default “ubuntu” in there.

My device is a raspberry pi 3b, and I shall set hostname accordingly (so I can recognize it from the other devices on my local network).

echo "raspi3b-alpha" > /etc/hostname

3.2 Change username

Rename the default ubuntu user.

usermod -l my_username -d /home/my_username -m ubuntu



4. Public key authentication

If you don’t have a key pair associated with your local machine, create one.

cd ~/.ssh  # SSH keys are normally stored in the .ssh directory.
ssh-keygen -t ed25519

You will be prompted to enter the key name and protect it with a password (up to you). This will generate and your-key, public and private keys accordingly. Public key is the one you will share with remotes, private key should stay safe and secret on you local computer.

Share public key with the remote.

scp my_username@  # Mind the ip.

4.1 Secure the remote

Login to the remote.

ssh my_username@

Authorize to be a login credential on the remote.

cat ~/.ssh/ >> ~/.ssh/authorized_keys

Configure ssh by finding and setting the following in the /etc/ssh/sshd_config

PermitRootLogin no  # disable root login
PubkeyAuthentication yes  # enable public key authentication.
PasswordAuthentication no  # disable password authentication.

Hint: press ctrl+w and type something to search.

sudo nano /etc/ssh/sshd_config  # open sshd_config with nano

Finally, restart ssh to apply the changes.

service sshd restart

Almost forgot, lock the root user.

sudo passwd -l root

Attempt to log in using public key from your local machine. Notice, flag -i is pointing to the private key. Attempting to log in without passing the public key should now fail.

ssh my_username@ -i ~/.ssh/your-key

5. Tips and tricks

5.1. SSH config

Imagine you would like to manage multiple devices from your local machine. Remembering all ip addresses specifying path to the appropriate keys can get annoying quickly. You could add the following directive to you local ~/.ssh/config.

Host raspi3b.local # Name of the entry
    HostName  # This can also be a dns name like ``.
    User my_username  # Your username goes here.
    IdentityFile ~/.ssh/your-key # Path to your private key.

This way you could just type the following to login.

ssh raspi3b.local

In case you’re wondering the .local is just my way of indication that I would like to login via the local network. You could set the name to anything.

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