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How To Fix Offending key in ~/.ssh/known_hosts file

As we discussed earlier in our basic ssh client commands article, when you do ssh to a machine for the 1st time (or whenever there is a key change in the remote machine), you will be prompted to say ‘yes’ for authenticity of host.

This feature is controlled using StrictHostKeyChecking ssh parameter. By default StrictHostKeyChecking is set to yes.

The default setting of “StrictHostKeyChecking yes” is the best option from security point of view to protect your system against any trojan horse attacks. If you don’t know what you are doing, you should not set StrictHostKeyChecking to no.

Sometimes it might be good to disable it temporarily. For example, 1st time when you are connecting to lot of known hosts, you might want to set disable this feature (i.e asking yes for host keys) and let ssh add automatically all the host keys. Later you can enable this feature.

When you have configured automated passwordless login for a server and if the remote host key keeps changing for a reason (that you know why it is changing), you might want to consider setting StrictHostKeyChecking to no until the problem of remote host key keep changing is fixed.

From the ssh command line, you can pass StrictHostKeyChecking option as shown below. You can also set this option in your ssh_config file

# ssh -o 'StrictHostKeyChecking no' user@host

If you are logging in to the server for the 1st time, it would permanently add the RSA to the list of known hosts without prompting you.

But, if there is a key change (normally if the OS (or sshd) is reinstalled, the remote host key will change), then you have to delete old invalid key as shown below.

Remove the offending ssh key

Following error will be displayed when the remote host key changes (after you’ve connected earlier with a valid remote host key).

Someone could be eavesdropping on you right now (man-in-the-middle attack)!
It is also possible that the RSA host key has just been changed.
The fingerprint for the RSA key sent by the remote host is
Please contact your system administrator.
Add correct host key in /home/ramesh/.ssh/known_hosts to get rid of this message.
Offending key in /home/ramesh/.ssh/known_hosts: 6
Permission denied (publickey,password).

You have to remove the key to proceed further. Use the following command to remove the offending key.,

# sed -i '6d' ~/.ssh/known_hosts

Note: Change the 6d according to the line number shown.

If your sed does not have -i option, use perl or use some editor to remove the offending key.

Perl solution:

# perl -pi -e 's/\Q$_// if ($. == 6);' ~/.ssh/known_hosts

Note: Change the line number from 6 to appropriate line number.

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{ 28 comments… add one }

  • unixadmin007 April 30, 2010, 2:30 am

    how can we do same in vi.. i.e. without opening the vi editor how can we delete this line number??

  • fedov April 30, 2010, 4:22 am

    A less cryptic Perl-Solution:

    perl -ni -e ‘print if ($. != 6);’ ~/.ssh/known_hosts

  • Lonnie Olson April 30, 2010, 10:41 am

    You should update your post to include the official OpenSSH way to do it.

    ssh-keygen -R hostname

  • Mithun April 30, 2010, 12:39 pm

    # More straight forward

    # Remove offending key
    ssh-keygen -R hostname

    # Add it back
    ssh -o ‘StrictHostKeyChecking no’ user@host

  • Jim Douglas April 30, 2010, 3:52 pm

    Thanks…. this was a good tip for me…..

  • Sivakumar May 5, 2010, 10:49 pm

    The below option also does the same tricks, with much less hazels

    ssh -o UserKnownHostsFile=/dev/null -o StrictHostKeyChecking=no

  • Thiruvenkatasamy January 10, 2012, 9:48 am

    I faced the same issue in two different (Unix)flavors. The first time i used the “Sed” with -i syntax. It works out.
    Second time in Sun OS it was not worked and i tried the “perl” syntax… awesome..!!
    Good result … Thanks Geeks for your stuffs!!!

  • Sonam June 28, 2012, 7:18 pm

    this is written for vi newbies. Others please excuse.

    vi +6 ~.ssh/known_hosts (Instruct vi to take you directly to the offending line in file)
    (Take a look at the hostname — verify this is the key you want to delete)
    (Press ‘dd’ to delete the line)
    (Command ‘:wq’ to write the file and quit)

    Alternatively, open known_hosts using vi and issue command ‘:se nu’ to make line numbers visible.

  • Doug September 28, 2012, 2:18 pm

    Thanks for this article. I used the info. here and it fixed my problem.

  • Kuldeep November 9, 2012, 1:41 pm

    Thanks ……It works . ……..I have used it when I installed new OS (ubuntu 12.04)

  • Shva December 18, 2012, 11:08 pm

    Thank you! This helped me

  • dr memals January 20, 2013, 3:41 pm

    I was booting the same hardware with different media, so completely different OSs and needed BOTH ssh keys to work. The solution
    ssh-keyscan -t rsa ip_address >> ~/.ssh/known_hosts

  • stu February 14, 2013, 10:29 am

    Thanks Dude, this post saved me a motorway crawl.


  • Rihan February 25, 2013, 11:04 pm

    Thanks, it helped me.. :)

  • bucshee March 8, 2013, 9:31 am

    But is there a way to do this automatically? I mean if the SSH Key changes for a device already in the known hosts file to have the new key overwritten and then connect via ssh using the new key.

  • Mikey April 25, 2013, 9:51 am

    Much appreciated for you posting this page. It helped me solve my problem.

  • Brad Allison June 8, 2013, 1:38 am

    sed always has the -i option.

    just BSD sed (like you find on macosx) requires you pass -i and option like “sed -i .bak”.

    But sed always has the -i option. GNU sed just doesn’t require a field after it like BSD sed does.

  • Ismaila Ajenifuja August 28, 2013, 1:48 pm

    The solution provided is awesome and the best so far. Just the one line command: “sed -i ‘6d’ ~/.ssh/known_hosts”

    Thanks a lot

  • Chris September 10, 2013, 2:53 am

    Lonnie and Mithun, said it easiest way I always forget the letter, R, which is how I just ended up here, but… ~$ ssh-keygen -R (IP or Host) and then just connect as normal ssh user@(ip or host) again! YThen yes to confirm add to known hosts.

  • Suresh September 11, 2013, 3:45 pm

    It really worked

  • julian December 8, 2013, 1:46 am

    Doesn’t work:
    Julians-Air:~ jellycat$ sed -i ’13d’ ~/.ssh/known_hosts
    sed: 1: “/Users/jellycat/.ssh/kn …”: invalid command code j
    (on OSX)

  • Yeaoh February 24, 2014, 9:57 pm

    the sed method didn’t work for me, but the perl one worked fine. I was on MAC OSX 10.9. Still I’m curious about why the sed would return something like like this
    sed: 1: “/Users/myuser/.ssh/kno …”: extra characters at the end of g command

  • kk June 9, 2014, 3:51 am

    This helped me in realtime production environment thanks a lot…

  • Rodrigo November 2, 2014, 9:53 pm

    Thank you very much…. I used the perl solution because sed didn’t work to me..
    Working very well here…

  • Elham December 3, 2014, 2:46 am

    Tanks very much.my problem is solved

  • factgasm February 20, 2015, 7:41 pm

    Thanks for the post, but had Linux’s developers included this advice in the error message in instead of the juvenile crap they did inculde then this post – and all the searches performed to find it – would never have been necessary in the first place

    This mentality sums up Linux very well indeed; they’d rather snigger at the expense of inexperienced users than provide a professional solution that produces fast and effective results. And to think that they have the temerity to knock Microsoft.

  • factgasm February 20, 2015, 8:03 pm

    Thanks for the post, but had Linux’s developers displayed this advice in their error message instead of the irresponsible juvenile nonsense they do, then this article – and all the searches performed to find it – would never have been necessary in the first place.

  • blah March 13, 2015, 6:25 am

    You could just put a ‘#’ sign in front of the entry

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