Showing posts with label yubikey. Show all posts
Showing posts with label yubikey. Show all posts


YubiKey U2F on Ubuntu

Basic walk through of setting up U2F with YubiKey on Ubuntu 23.04 (should work on recent versions, as well). This follows the official documentation closely, removing anything not necessary for my particular setup.

N.B. this is different from challenge response, a different multifactor method. YubiKeys support multiple protocols, U2F and challenge response being two of them.


  • Ubuntu 23.04
  • YubiKey
    • I used the YubiKey 5 series: 5 NFC, 5 C, and 5 Ci. Where necessary, I used an adapter to plug in the USB-C key into an standard USB-A port.
  • Associate YubiKey U2F with your account
    • Creates a line of text in a file containing your username and the 2nd factor string
    • Move the U2F file to a secure location readable only by root
  • Create PAM configs to require U2F for certain authentication operations, e.g. login, sudo

Create two PAM configs. Creating these configs will allow us to include them rather than copying and pasting the same config lines in multiple other PAM configs in /etc/pam.d.

In these configs, we add the “cue” and “interactive” options which will prompt the user to insert the YubiKey and to touch it.

/etc/pam.d/u2f-required will be the configuration to require the YubiKey:

auth required authfile=/etc/yubico/u2f_keys cue interactive

/etc/pam.d/u2f-sufficient will be the configuration which allows using only the YubiKey without a password:

auth sufficient authfile=/etc/yubico/u2f_keys cue interactive

For the initial setup, also add the following to the "auth" lines in the above config files:

debug debug_file=/var/log/pam_u2f.log

Then, create an empty debug log file to start: 

sudo touch /var/log/pam_u2f.log

CAUTION Best to have a root shell active, in case something goes awry, and you cannot sudo anymore:

normaluser$ sudo bash

DO NOT exit this terminal until you are sure at least sudo works. 

Basic idea: in each authentication scenario (i.e. PAM config file) where you want U2F, add the line

@include u2f-required

after the line 

@include common-auth

E.g. require U2F for sudo, modify the files
  • /etc/pam.d/sudo
  • /etc/pam.d/sudo-i
These are the PAM configs I updated in /etc/pam.d:
  • gdm-password -- prompts for YubiKey at GUI login screen
  • login -- prompts for YubiKey at console login
  • polkit-1 -- prompts for YubiKey when running GUI apps requiring sudo, e.g. synaptic
  • su -- prompts for YubiKey for su
  • sudo -- prompts for YubiKey for sudo
  • sudo-i -- prompts for YubiKey for sudo -i
The first one to try should be sudo since it is easy to test. Make the modification, then open a new terminal tab/window, and run a simple sudo command, e.g. "sudo ls -l /tmp". It should prompt you to insert the device, and then to touch it:

normaluser$ sudo ls -l /tmp
[sudo] password for normaluser: 
Insert your U2F device, then press ENTER.
Please touch the device. (The YubiKey should start flashing.)
total xx
[listing of files here]

If that did not work, examine the debug log /var/log/pam_u2f.log Make any adjustments, close out that sudo terminal tab/window, and launch a new one.

Once you are satisfied that everything works, you can remove the “debug debug_file=/var/log/pam_u2f.log” from /etc/pam.d/u2f_required and /etc/pam.d/u2f_sufficient

Minor annoyance: the GUI popup dialog for sudo authentication won’t accept just ENTER when it says “Insert your U2F device, then press ENTER”: you have to type in at least a SPACE for it to register that you have acknowledged the prompt, and are ready to touch the YubiKey.


U2F USB key (Yubikey) for 2-factor authentication and Linux authentication

I just bought a pair of Yubikey U2F (Universal 2-Factor) devices (the 5 NFC model, because of the claims that it would work with iPhones). Mostly because I got tired of pulling out my phone, finding the authenticator app, searching for the entry for the appropriate website, and then typing in the number.

I'll get to the iPhone stuff at the end.

But first, using the Yubikey for the second factor works for only a few websites. Also, it depends on your web browser: I tested Chrome (on Linux, macOS, and Chromebook), and Firefox (on Linux and macOS). Chrome and Firefox can deal with reading a U2F key via USB just fine.

Yubico has clear instructions for how to set the keys up:

Among sites which accept U2F hardware keys are Facebook, Google, GitHub, GitLab,  Dropbox, and Twitter (though Twitter does not support multiple U2F keys, which sucks if you lose a key). You browse to the site as usual, type in your password, and it will prompt you to plug in your U2F key and tap the flashing bit with a gold contact sensor, and you're in.

For using the Yubikey as a U2F in Linux, to authenticate for logging in, unlocking the screensaver, and sudo, you will have to install Yubico's U2F PAM module: There is more detailed documentation geared towards developers here: The PAM module works fine in Ubuntu 19.10 Eoan Ermine.

And it works great: plug the Yubikey in first, type in your password and hit Enter, the key starts flashing, touch the flashing bit, and you are in.

On the downside, I would not use this on a server where you need to do management remotely, since you would not be able to plug in a U2F key on an SSH connection.

As for using NFC and iOS: it does not work like I expected it to, nor how the Yubico website led me to expect. If you tap the Yubikey to the iPhone, it will pop up an alert, which if you tap, will open Safari on a "validation" web page hosted at

The websites which work within Chrome and Firefox on a computer (Google, GitHub, etc) do not seem to have a way to read the Yubikey via NFC on iPhone. There is a Lightning + USB-C key (the 5 Ci) but it's expensive ($70 ea.) and I do not know for sure if it will work, since the Google and GitHub mobile websites viewed on iPhone and Android do not even present the option for using U2F keys.

So, at this point, I feel I should have just bought the cheaper non-NFC, and I would have been at the same point.

UPDATE 1 If you use KeePassXC for storing passwords, it can be configured to require a YubiKey. This uses the "challenge-response" feature, which has to be manually set up using the YubiKey Personalization Tool (also available at GitHub). Yubico has a video walkthrough here: