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How to Run Scripts after SSH Authentication

Published on Aug 4, 2017

After SSH authentication you may want to run a set of scripts for the current user or for the server. These scripts could include logging SSH user logins, mounting partitions or remote file systems, limiting how many users can be on the system at a time, or any other script that should trigger when a user signs onto the system. This tutorial will outline how to update PAM (Pluggable Authentication Module) to run a shell script after the user is successfully authenticated.

While writing this tutorial, a fresh installation of Debian Stretch was used for testing. The tutorial should be easily adaptable or work as-is for other Linux distributions.

Creating the Script

The first part of this tutorial is to create the script you want to run when a user is authenticated. This script can be anything that is executable. For this tutorial, a basic shell script is going to be used to log successful SSH logins and logouts. You can create this file in any folder you want, but I suggest creating a new directory /etc/pam_scripts and set the permission of the folder to 0755 and the owner and group to root.

It’s also important to set the script permissions to be executable and to only allow the root user to write to the script by using the command chmod 0700 <script> and chown root:root <script>. The script is going to be executed by the root user; any modifications to the file from untrustworthy users could cause irreversible damage.



DATE_ISO=`date --iso-8601="seconds"`

if [ ! -f ${LOG_FILE} ]; then
	touch ${LOG_FILE}
	chown root:adm ${LOG_FILE}
	chmod 0640 ${LOG_FILE}

echo ${LOG_ENTRY} >> ${LOG_FILE}

exit 0

PAM sets many environment variables for you to use within your script. Looking at the pam_exec(8) man pages will list all of the variables. To name a few, you can access PAM_RHOST, PAM_RUSER, PAM_USER, and PAM_TYPE which contains one of the module types: account, auth, password, open_session and close_session.

Configuring PAM

PAM is used to handle authentication for multiple services on your system, hence the name Pluggable Authentication Module. When you have OpenSSH installed, a file should be created at /etc/pam.d/sshd that controls how PAM will treat new connections and what rules are required for authentication. In the current file, you will also be able to set additional scripts to run as the authenticated user or as root.

Open the file /etc/pam.d/sshd and add the following session line at the bottom of the file. This line sets our shell script to execute as root and the script is set as required. If the script can’t execute properly or returns a non-zero exit code, the PAM-API will report that the module failed to authenticate the user. You can set the control value to be required, requisite, sufficient, optional, include and subtrack. It’s suggested that you read the pam.d(5) man pages along with the pam_exec(8) pages.

# Post Login Scripts
session required pam_exec.so /etc/pam_scripts/login-logger.sh


If your script isn’t running when a user is signing in through SSH, below are a few common mistakes. First, there is the option UsePam inside of the sshd configuration file which decides if PAM should be used or not. For Debian systems, this is set to yes, but other distributions and operating systems may set this to no by default. Changing UsePam could cause issues with your current authentication process. Be sure to read what settings will be affected if you change the UsePam option.

If your script still isn’t running, make sure you set your shell script to be executable. Run the command chmod +x <script> to set the file to have the correct permissions to execute. Changing the permissions to only allow the root user to edit the file should also be done.

If the script is executing but you’re unable to log into your account, then your script is most likely exiting with a non-zero value. Be sure that you set your script to explicitly exit with the exit code that you want.

Avoid SSHRC, PROFILE, and ForceCommand

There are other methods that may appear easier than modifying the PAM configuration files, but many other methods can easily be bypassed by the user, which can cause problems if your script is mandatory. A few methods that can be easily bypassed include using the /etc/ssh/sshrc file, using the /etc/profile file, and modifying the ForceCommand setting for SSH.

The global SSHRC file is bypassed if the user has a ~/.ssh/rc file. According to the SSH documentation, /etc/ssh/sshrc only runs if the local file doesn’t exist. If you have commands that are required to run for all users, using the SSHRC file is a bad choice.

As for the /etc/profile file, the script is only executed if the user is logging in with a shell. SSH by default allows port tunneling and forwarding. Both features do not require a shell to work, preventing /etc/profile from executing if the -N argument is used with ssh. A user could still access MySQL or other services without your script running beforehand.

Finally, the sshd configuration option for ForceCommand runs the script as the user who just signed into the system. This could limit many features you may want to run when the user signs into their account, such as mounting partitions or limiting how many users can be on the system at a single time.

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