Secure sudo without password 19 sep 2021 | Last updated: 29 dec 2023 00:00

Secure usage of sudo without passwords

Secure sudo without password

Passwordless sudo configuration


seems to be the Out-of-the-Box configuration on most Linux systems. Whilst this could be useful when installing, this should be removed shortly after. Combined with SSH password login (in stead of key-based) this quickly is a very short path to root: effectively, username + password is root.

Let's not go into the password hygiene topic here.

Let's see if we can make this safe and simple.

NOTE: If any other user can read other user's files or sockets, they can also gain access to other user's SSH agent context.


Many systems are configured with NOPASSWD in sudo. This is poor security, all an attacker needs is the context of the user. You'd do well to remove all NOPASSWD: strings from your sudo configuration (use sudo visudo and don't forget sudoers.d/*!)

Make sure you set sufficiently random passwords for all users, or use the ssh-agent method described below. You're already using keys to authenticate in SSH, right?!?

By default sudo will cache the password for 5 minutes. Any sudo command resets the timer to 5 minutes. To adjust, configure via sudo visudo

Defaults       timestamp_timeout=5

Get rid of password questions

You can use your ssh-agent / pageant on your client instead of using a password for using sudo.

Server config

Ubuntu seems to fail on DSA keys (prefix ssh-dss in authorized_keys). Fix this by adding to /etc/ssh/sshd_config:

PubkeyAcceptedKeytypes -ssh-dss,

Make sure that permissions on all ~/.ssh directories and authorized_keys files are appropriate, this setup will fail if the permissions are too wide.

Install the PAM ssh agent module

FreeBSD: pkg install pam_ssh_agent_auth
Ubuntu: apt-get install libpam-ssh-agent-auth
RedHat: yum install pam_ssh_agent_auth

Configure PAM for sudo

To enable the module, add the following line to /usr/local/etc/pam.d/sudo (/etc/pam.d/sudo on Linux) early in the chain, before the first auth line.

auth sufficient file=~/.ssh/authorized_keys

You could use keys other than the one used for the connection

Configure sudo

NOTE: not all systems require this...

Make sure that the SSH_AUTH_SOCK is not clobbered when sudo is run, and disable password caching. Use sudo visudo and add after the other "Defaults" lines at the top of the file

Defaults       env_keep += SSH_AUTH_SOCK
Defaults       timestamp_timeout=0

Client configuration

Enable Agent Forwarding

OpenSSH: set ForwardAgent yes in ~/.ssh/config
PuTTY: Configuration in "Connection -> SSH -> Auth" enable "Allow Agent Forwarding"

Use the ssh authentication agent

OpenSSH: run ssh-agent and add your key with ssh-add
PuTTY: Start "Pageant" and load your key

Reuse existing ssh-agent session

If you're like me, you'll probably be running multiple/many shells. You can reuse an already running ssh-agent in terminals your start. Add (something like) this to your .profile (or .zshrc, .bashrc etc.)

# Check for an already running ssh-agent
agent_pid=`pgrep ssh-agent`
[ $? -ne 0 ] && agent_pid=-1
# Check persisted environment vars for ssh-agent
file_pid=`sed -ne 's/.*SSH_AGENT_PID=\([0-9]*\).*/\1/p' ~/.ssh/agent`
if [ ${agent_pid} -ne ${file_pid:=0} ] ; then
    # Start ssh-agent and load keys (you can add additional key-filenames) 
    ssh-agent > ~/.ssh/agent
    ( cd ~/.ssh; ssh-add id_ed25519 id_ecdsa; )
. ~/.ssh/agent