Public/private key SSH access to Fortigate

7 10 2020

To save having to enter usernames and passwords for your devices, it is a lot more convenient to use public/private key authentication. When SSHing to the device, you simply specify the username and authentication using the keys is automatic.

Windows users can use puttygen to make key pairs, and PuTTY as an SSH client to connect to devices. This process is quite well described here:

By default, keys (on a Linux or Macos host) are in your home directory, under the ~.ssh/ directory. A keypair is generated using ssh-keygen like so:

andrew@host % ssh-keygen
Generating public/private rsa key pair.
Enter file in which to save the key (/Users/andrew/.ssh/id_rsa): andrew_test
Enter passphrase (empty for no passphrase):
Enter same passphrase again:
Your identification has been saved in andrew_test.
Your public key has been saved in
The key fingerprint is:
SHA256:nx4REDACTEDGN69tY andrew@host
The key's randomart image is:
+---[RSA 3072]----+
| 1. o+|
| o o& o|
| * o..- =.|
| .. |
| S. =B xx . |
| .+. |
| . +.=. o. +E|
| o o+* .|
andrew@host %

In the example above, I created it as ‘andrew_test’ – this will make two files – andrew_test and The first one is your PRIVATE key and should remain secure on your system. The second is your PUBLIC key which you can distribute. If you don’t specify a name, default it will create files called id_rsa and

You can do a ‘more’ to see the contents of this file. Copy it to the clipboard because you need it in the next step.

Note: For extra security, if I had specified a passphrase in the section above, I would have to enter that phrase every time the key is used. In this example, I did not set a passphrase.

Log into the Fortigate you wish to administer and create a new user like so, pasting the cryptotext you found in the .pub file between quotation marks:

config system admin
edit <new username>
set ssh-public-key1 "<PASTE CRYPTOTEXT HERE>"
set accprofile super_admin
set password <password>

NOTE: Make sure you add a password for the user – otherwise, when logging on via the serial port (which does not support public/private key authentication), no password will be required!

Then exit from that login session, and log in again as the user you defined.

If you specified a custom name for your keypair, you need to do the following:

ssh -i ~/.ssh/<key-name>.pub <new username>@<fortigate IP>

If you didn’t specify a name, it will use the file by default, so you can simply type:

ssh <new username>@<fortigate IP>

Here is a working example of this last case – as you can see, there’s no prompt for a password:

andrew@host % ssh andrew@
Fortigate-Test #



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