SSH - Too Many Authentication Failures


I started seeing this error recently and had brain farted on why.

Received disconnect from Too many authentication failures for hostname

After a bit of googling it came back to me. This is because I’ve loaded too many keys into my ssh-agent locally (ssh-add). Why did you do that? Well, because it is easier than specifying the IdentityFile on the cli when trying to connect. But there is a threshhold. This is set by the ssh host by the MaxAuthTries setting in /etc/ssh/sshd_config. The default is 6.

Solution 1

Clean up the keys in your ssh-agent.

ssh-add -l lists all the keys you have in your ssh-agent ssh-add -d key deletes the key from your ssh-agent

Solution 2

You can solve this on the command line like this:

ssh -o IdentitiesOnly=yes -i ~/.ssh/example_rsa

What is IdentitiesOnly? Explained in Solution 3 below.

Solution 3 (best)

Specifiy, explicitly, which key goes to which host(s) in your .ssh/config file.

You need to configure which key (“IdentityFile”) goes with which domain (or host). You also want to handle the case when the specified key doesn’t work, which would usually be because the public key isn’t in ~/.ssh/authorized_keys on the server. The default is for SSH to then try any other keys it has access to, which takes us back to too many attempts. Setting “IdentitiesOnly” to “yes” tells SSH to only try the specified key and, if that fails, fall through to password authentication (presuming the server allows it).

Your ~/.ssh/config would look like:

Host *
  IdentitiesOnly yes
  IdentityFile ~/.ssh/myhost
  IdentitiesOnly yes
  IdentityFile ~/.ssh/mysecurehost_rsa
Host *.myotherhost.domain
  IdentitiesOnly yes
  IdentityFile ~/.ssh/myotherhost_rsa

Host is the host the key can connect to IdentitiesOnly means only to try this specific key to connect, no others IdentityFile is the path to the key

You can try multiple keys if needed

Host *
  IdentitiesOnly yes
  IdentityFile ~/.ssh/myhost_rsa
  IdentityFile ~/.ssh/myhost_dsa

Hope this helps someone else.


Jason Meridth


My name is Jason Meridth. I am a continuously learning senior software developer/team lead/development manager trying to not let best be the enemy of better. I reserve the right to change my mind upon obtaining more information. I am also the owner and principal software consultant at Meridth, LLC. If you have any software, hardward, networking, process, etc needs please don't hesitate to reach out to me.

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