PuTTY SSH with key authentication

Public key authentication is an alternative means of identifying yourself to a login server, instead of typing a password. It is more secure and more flexible, but more difficult to set up.

In conventional password authentication, you prove you are who you claim to be by proving that you know the correct password. The only way to prove you know the password is to tell the server what you think the password is. This means that if the server has been hacked, or spoofed, an attacker can learn your password.

Public key authentication solves this problem. You, consisting of a public key (which everybody is allowed to know) and a private key (which you keep secret and do not give to anybody). The private key is able to generate signatures. A signature created using your private key cannot be forged by anybody who does not have that key; but anybody who has your public key can verify that a particular signature is genuine.

So you generate a key pair on your own computer, and you copy the public key to the server under a certain name. Then, when the server asks you to prove who you are, WinSCP can generate a signature using your private key. The server can verify that signature (since it has your public key) and allow you to log in. Now if the server is hacked or spoofed, the attacker does not gain your private key or password; they only gain one signature. And signatures cannot be re-used, so they have gained nothing.

PuTTY SSH Remote Desktop

PuTTY SSH without password

PuTTY SSH with key

PuTTY SSH authentication agent

PuTTY SSH authentication

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