Aalto public servers requiring passwords with SSH keys

From 2023-09-25, publicly accessible Aalto server login is changing and will now require a password in addition to SSH keys. This will have a significant usability impact on some users. This post is made as a landing page for users who need immediate, practical help and for whom the aalto.fi page isn’t findable or detailed enough. The official contact is the IT Services service desk

The reference page SSH has been updated to include detailed reference information for every common operating system and SSH client. Secure Shell is one of the standard methods of connecting to remote servers and it is important that users of all skill levels are able to use it securely.

This change is not from Science-IT, but since it will affect many of our users but is not being publicized or supported very much, we are preemptively doing some major user support.

What’s happening

What is not happening is: requiring locally encrypted SSH keys (although this is highly recommended).

What is happening: When you connect to an SSH server from outside Aalto networks, you will need to have an SSH key set up and send your Aalto password to the remote server interactively.

What to do

If you already have an SSH key set up, you’ll start to be asked to enter a password every time you connect.

You can always connect to the Aalto VPN in advance to prevent this, but there may be cases where this isn’t a practical solution.

If you do not have an SSH key set up, you should:

  • Follow SSH to generate an SSH key - we have heavily revised this page to cover almost every common SSH arrangement.

  • Place your SSH key on any common Aalto server (kosh, etc. - not Triton since that doesn’t share home directories with the public servers)

    • You could connect by VPN, and then use normal password to connect and add the key.

    • You could use https://vdi.aalto.fi with a Linux computer to place the key.

    • You could place the key while on an Aalto network (as usual, this means eduroam or aalto only from an Aalto computer).

    • You could use another computer that’s already set up with an SSH key to place the key.

  • The key will then be available on all common Aalto shell servers (and other workstations), since they share the home directory.

  • Re-read SSH, in particular the SSH key agent, ProxyJump and Multiplexing sections, to see how to configure your SSH to minimize the number of times you need to enter passwords.


This was needed for security as evidenced by recent history. Password-only login is simply not feasible anymore (nor for some time). Removing passwords as an option is good security practice that most organizations should adopt these days.

But why an ssh key and remote password instead of a properly encrypted SSH key? An SSH key requires something you have (the key) and something you know (the password), doesn’t it? And doesn’t require sending a plaintext password to the remote server. This was decided by whoever is setting this up, probably partly due to the fact that it is not possible to enforce passwords on SSH keys via the server config.

In general (outside of Aalto), you should use SSH keys everywhere and be wary of ever sending plaintext passwords to remote servers (even in conjunction with an SSH key). Security is important, and by using SSH keys with local encryption of the key you are doing your part.

This is affecting important workflows

We apologize for the difficulty in getting work done and want to help you as much as possible (though Science-IT was not the ones that designed this or communicated it).

There are, unfortunately, some trivial workarounds that involve putting your password in plain text on your computer to script things. However, please note that writing passwords down (outside of password managers) is bad security practise and against the Aalto password guidelines. It is better to contact us to help design a better and more secure workflow, or ask IT Services and ask them to consider other use cases.