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Enable Password Authentication and Manage SSH Public Key Authentication in Amazon EC2 Instances

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In the realm of cloud computing, security remains paramount. Amazon EC2 instances, by default, rely on key-pair authentication, bolstering security through cryptographic measures. However, scenarios might arise where enabling password authentication becomes necessary, albeit cautiously. This tutorial elucidates the process of securely configuring Amazon EC2 instances, emphasizing the importance of maintaining a delicate balance between accessibility and security.

Key-Pair Authentication

Key-pair authentication forms the bedrock of security for Amazon EC2 instances. This mechanism employs a pair of cryptographic keys—public and private keys—to authenticate users. Upon provisioning an Amazon EC2 instance, users generate a key pair, safeguarding the private key while uploading the public key to AWS. When accessing the instance, the private key decrypts information encrypted by the public key, ensuring secure communication.

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Importance of Key-Pair Authentication

The significance of key-pair authentication cannot be overstated. It provides a robust defense against unauthorized access, mitigating the risks associated with traditional password-based authentication. With key pairs, the reliance shifts from easily compromised passwords to cryptographically secure keys, bolstering the overall resilience of the system. Additionally, key-pair authentication aligns with industry best practices, fostering a culture of security-consciousness in cloud computing environments.

Why Use Password Authentication?

While key pair authentication is the preferred method for accessing Amazon EC2 instances, there are circumstances where password authentication might be necessary. For instance, legacy systems or applications not supporting key pair authentication may require passwords. In certain scenarios where managing SSH keys becomes cumbersome, password authentication can offer a more convenient alternative. However, it’s crucial to exercise caution when opting for password authentication, as it introduces potential security vulnerabilities if not implemented judiciously.

Enabling Password Authentication

While key-pair authentication offers robust security, certain circumstances may necessitate the utilization of password authentication in Amazon EC2 instances. However, it’s imperative to approach this cautiously, recognizing the inherent security implications. The following steps outline the process of enabling password authentication in Amazon EC2 instances:

Step 1: Logging into the Instance

Access the Amazon EC2 instance via SSH using the private key:


Step 2: Setting up a Password for the User

Set a password for the desired user using the passwd command:


Step 3: Editing sshd_config

Edit the sshd_config file to allow password authentication:

sudo vim /etc/ssh/sshd_config

Modify the ‘PasswordAuthentication’ parameter to ‘yes’:

PasswordAuthentication yes


Optionally, enable root login by modifying ‘PermitRootLogin’:

PermitRootLogin yes

Step 4: Restarting SSH Service

Restart the SSH service for changes to take effect:

sudo service ssh restart

Step 5: Logging in with Password

Now, log in to the instance using the password:

ssh username@ip_address

Enabling password authentication can offer several advantages in certain scenarios

  • Legacy System Compatibility: Password authentication may be necessary for accessing legacy systems or applications that do not support key pair authentication. In such cases, passwords allow for continued access without requiring significant system modifications.
  • Convenience: Password authentication can be more convenient, especially when managing SSH keys becomes cumbersome. Users accustomed to using passwords may find it easier to authenticate with familiar credentials.
  • Accessibility: Password authentication can provide access to Amazon EC2 instances for users who may not have access to or knowledge of SSH key pairs. This can be particularly useful when multiple users need access, and managing SSH keys for each user is impractical.
  • Fallback Mechanism: Password authentication can serve as a fallback mechanism in case of issues with SSH key pairs. If a user encounters difficulties with their SSH key or a key is lost, password authentication ensures continued access to the system.
  • Temporary Access: In certain situations, such as providing temporary access to contractors or third-party vendors, password authentication may be preferred as it allows for easier credential management and revocation of access.

Why Consider Disabling SSH Public Key Authentication?

Disabling SSH public key authentication should be rare and only considered under specific circumstances. One such scenario could be if the private key corresponding to a user’s public key becomes compromised. In such cases, revoking access by disabling public key authentication temporarily might be warranted. However, this decision should not be taken lightly, as it removes a significant security layer from your server.

Disabling SSH Public Key Authentication

While public key authentication enhances security, circumstances may necessitate its disablement. However, such actions should be approached with caution to avoid unintended consequences. Here’s how to turn SSH public key authentication on or off:

Step 1: Editing sshd_config

Open the sshd_config file for editing:

sudo vi /etc/ssh/sshd_config

Step 2: Configuring PubkeyAuthentication

Locate the ‘PubkeyAuthentication’ directive and set it to ‘yes’ or ‘no’ as per requirement:

PubkeyAuthentication no


Step 3: Restarting SSH Service

Restart the SSH service to apply the changes:

sudo systemctl restart sshd

Exercise Caution

Disabling SSH public key authentication should only be considered a last resort for temporary periods. It significantly weakens the security of your system and exposes it to potential unauthorized access attempts. Before making such a decision, explore alternative measures and consult with security experts to mitigate risks effectively. Always prioritize the security of your system and data above convenience.


In conclusion, while Amazon EC2 instances prioritize security through key-pair authentication, there are scenarios where enabling password authentication becomes necessary. However, this transition should be approached cautiously, recognizing the balance between accessibility and security.

Password authentication offers benefits like legacy system compatibility and convenience but must be implemented judiciously to mitigate potential vulnerabilities. Similarly, disabling SSH public key authentication should be a rare and carefully considered action undertaken only under specific circumstances, with utmost caution exercised to maintain the integrity of the system’s security measures.

Drop a query if you have any questions regarding Amazon EC2 and we will get back to you quickly.

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1. When should I consider enabling password authentication on my Amazon EC2 instance?

ANS: – Enabling password authentication on Amazon EC2 instances may be necessary for legacy systems or applications lacking support for key pair authentication. It can also be convenient when managing SSH keys becomes impractical or when providing temporary access to users unfamiliar with SSH key pairs.

2. What are the risks associated with disabling SSH public key authentication?

ANS: – Disabling SSH public key authentication poses significant security risks, potentially exposing the system to unauthorized access attempts. It should be a last resort, used temporarily and cautiously, as it removes a critical security layer. Explore alternative measures and consult security experts before making such a decision.

WRITTEN BY Samarth Kulkarni



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