Getting a headless connection to a server

I just learnt how to get a headless connection to a server before it has even booted. This gives access to LUKS and LVM, giving the oppurtunity to decrypt an encrypted hard drive. The solution was in this blog post. I also found a post about this on Stack Exchange, which I decided to contribute to. For my own later reference, I’ll repost the walkthrough here.


I have summarized what you need to do in the following. For more details, have a look at the post above:

  1. Install BusyBox and Dropbear on your server
    sudo apt-get install dropbear busybox 
  2. Update your initramfs on the server
    sudo update-initramfs -u 
  3. Copy the private key generated by dropbear to your client machine. You may have to copy this to a new dir and change ownership to do this. On your server do the following:
    sudo cp /etc/initramfs-tools/root/.ssh/id_rsa ~/. sudo chown user:user ~/id_rsa 

    Remember to replace user with your username. Password logins don’t seem to work.

  4. Now you may transfer the private key with scp by calling the following on your client:
    scp user@remote.server:~/id_rsa ~/.ssh/id_rsa_dropbear 
  5. Set up your client‘s ~/.ssh/config file for easy login. Open it up with a text editor and add the following:
    Host myremoteserver
    HostName my.remote.server
    User root
    UserKnownHostsFile ~/.ssh/known_hosts.initramfs
    IdentityFile ~/.ssh/id_rsa_dropbear

    Change the Host to whatever you like and HostName to the name of your server. Let the user be root. It appears to be the only accepted user in Dropbear. Save and close the file.

  6. Restart your server and wait for the passphrase prompt. Give Dropbear a few seconds to detect and set up its internet connection. Connect to your server with the following command on your client:
    ssh myremoteserver # or any name you chose 
  7. When logged in, issue the following command on your server. See the blog post for details:
    pid=`ps | grep "/scripts/local-top/cryptroot" | cut -d " " -f 3`;
    kill -9 $pid; sleep 35; /scripts/local-top/cryptroot;
    pid=`ps | grep "/bin/sh" | cut -d " " -f 3`;
    kill -9 $pid;

    It will take some time (30 seconds) before you get to type your passphrase. Type it in when prompted.

  8. Close the connection by typing
  9. Your server should now have unlocked its encrypted hard drive and boot as normal.

(A huge thanks to the original author of the blog post!)


Automount an SSH server in Ubuntu

If you ever need to mount an SSH server in Ubuntu, this is probably the easiest way to do it. This method uses a public/private key pair to authenticate with the server, making the whole process work without passwords.

If you don’t  have SSH available to host, but you’ve got a Windows shared directory, I suggest you have a look at a tutorial I’ve written earlier on that topic.

Generating a key pair

You are probably used to connect to your SSH host using a login and a password. This might seem secure, but there is actually another way which is much more convenient, and much more secure. That way is the way of a public/private key pair. If it sounds a bit advanced I will give you a short explanation in a moment, but first you should know that you are not to worry about doing this. It’s quite easy to set up an SSH key pair in Ubuntu.

A private/public key pair has a pretty easy way of functioning. First of all, you should know that the “keys” we are talking about are two small files. They contain a long text which makes up the two keys. These two keys are used to encrypt and decrypt other messages. For instance the data sent back and forth to your SSH host.

The amazing part with these keys, are that they are the only keys which can decrypt whatever message was encrypted with the other key. This makes sure that the server is the only computer able to read your messages, and that your computer is the only which might read the server’s messages. A huge problem with sending passwords over the Internet is the fact that even though the password was encrypted, it might get picked up by someone else who’s sniffing on your wireless connection. That way it might be reused in the encrypted form to log back in on the server. SSH is a bit more sophisticated by encrypting the password differently every time, but essentially it follows a pattern which is easily decrypted.

With a key pair the connection is way more secure, and in short terms it works like this:

  1. Your computer connects to your host
  2. The server sends back a message, for instance “hi!”, encrypted with your public key
  3. Your computer decrypts the message with your private key, reads it as “hi!”, and encrypts it again
  4. The server recieves your encrypted message, decrypts it with the public key, and checks that the message is the same as when it was sent out. You are now logged in.

This way the server knows that you are who you say you are for two reasons: You are the only one who could decrypt the message with your key, and you are the only one who could encrypt the message again so that it could be decrypted by the server.

The reason we call them private and public keys are pretty obvious. The private key should be kept private so that nobody else may pretend they are you, but the public key may be spread around (thereby ‘public’) since it is useless for anything but encrypting messages for you.

Enough with the theory, get to the tutorial already!

To generate a key pair in Ubuntu, go to Applications > Accessories > Passwords and Encryption keys. A window like this should show up:

Screenshot-Passwords and Encryption KeysClick File > New…

Screenshot-Create New ...Choose Secure Shell Key and click Continue.

Screenshot-New Secure Shell KeyType in your e-mail address and click Create and Set Up.

Screenshot-Passphrase for New Secure Shell KeyAdd a passphrase for the key. This might be anything you’d like. It just makes the key a bit more secure.

Screenshot-Set Up Computer for SSH ConnectionNow, type in the address of your host and your username and click Set Up.

You will be prompted for your SSH password. Type this in and click OK.

Ubuntu will now take care of the rest for you, and you should be able to connect to the server without any hassle.

So, how do we mount it automatically?

After you have generated your keypair, you just go to System > Preferences > Startup Applications and add the following command:

sshfs /home/username/myssh

That is how easy it is. If you, like me, are using a server which formats the folder names with norwegian characters, you might want to add

-o modules=iconv,from_code=ISO-8859-1

to the end of the command, making the whole command look like:

sshfs /home/username/myssh -o modules=iconv,from_code=ISO-8859-1