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SSH keys and sharing access


A keypair consists of a public key and a private key. A public key is used to encrypt data, a private key is used to decrypt data, which is why a private key should in most cases not be shared. You can imagine a public key encryption as a padlock which you close once data is encrypted with it. A private key would be the key which unlocks the padlock.
If you place a public key on a virtual machine (with which you wish to communicate), the data the virtual machine sends you will be encrypted by the public key. The corresponding private key is now needed to decrypt the data the virtual machine sends you.
Fortunatley, this happens automatically when using a secure shell or SSH for short. The virtual machine encrypts the data with the public key (or even multiple public keys) which is/are placed on it and it gets decrypted with the private key you use to establish a SSH connection, e.g. by using

ssh ubuntu@<IP> -i /path/to/your/private/key -p <PORT> 
This also means the following things:

  1. When you use a private key which does not correspond to a public key which is placed on your virtual machine, the data can not be decrypted and you are not able to access any data on the virtual machine. You lose all access to the machine.

  2. When the public key on your virtual machine should somehow in any way change, only a private key which corresponds to this particular public key will be able to decrypt the data. If you do not possess this private key, you lose all access to the machine.

  3. Only someone with access to the machine is able to change the public keys which the virtual machine recognizes and uses. We, the whole staff of the de.NBI Cloud, do not belong to the people which are able to access your virtual machine and change its public keys. Your virtual machine, once active, will only recognize the public key you have set on your profile page when you started the virtual machine. Of course this excludes special options we offer, like starting virtual machines for a workshop or our offer to place public keys of selected members of your project onto the machine when starting it. Therefore, once your virtual machine is started, no one but the people you allowed it, are able to change the public keys on your virtual machine.

On key pair security

Every padlock is designed to be opened somehow. Therefore no padlock in existence can guarantee you 100% security, very good padlocks can only guarantee you a sufficiently good enough security. This also applies to key pairs. Modern key pairs, like the ones you are able to create on our profile page, guarantee you a good enough security with the state of our current collective knowledge. They do not guarantee you a good enough security for every future to come.

It is mandatory that you set a public key on your profile page when you want to start a virtual machine. After it is started only the private key which corresponds to the public key which was set on your profile page when you initially started the virtual machine will be able to access it and decrypt the data it sends you.
You lose the private key, you lose access.

More information about the profile page and how to generate a key pair on our profile page can be found here.

If you want to know more about the technical details of key pairs wikipedia is a good enough first point of contact.

Sharing Access

If you want to share access to one of your virtual machines the person you want to share it to needs to give you their public ssh key. If they do not have a ssh key pair yet, they need to generate it, e.g., using ssh-keygen. After you have obtained their public key you need to add the key to your virtual machine.

If you are using a Linux distribution this can be done via the following command:

ssh-copy-id -i {PUBLIC_KEY} -p {PORT} ubuntu@{IP_ADDRESS}

You can find the PORT and the IP_ADDRESS in you virtual machine overview under "Connect Information". PUBLIC_KEY is the name and path of the public ssh key of the person that you want to share access to.

Otherwise, use the following steps to add a user to a virtual machine

1. Connect to your machine as usual.

2. Use the command:

nano .ssh/authorized_keys

This opens the file in which all your keys are saved who have access to your virtual machine. Your key is already in that file, do not change it.

3. Copy the public key of the person you want to add (important- not the private key) and add it to the line after your key to the file. Using CTRL-X you can close the file. When you are closing the file you are asked whether you want to save your changes. Please confirm this.

Now the other user can access your virtual machine. If you run into troubles please contact us via


Please only add the ssh key of people you trust. Furthermore, you are still responsible for the virtual machine if you share your access with other people.