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BLESS - Bastion's Lambda Ephemeral SSH Service

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BLESS is an SSH Certificate Authority that runs as a AWS Lambda function and is used to sign ssh public keys.

SSH Certificates are an excellent way to authorize users to access a particular ssh host, as they can be restricted for a single use case, and can be short lived. Instead of managing the authorized_keys of a host, or controlling who has access to SSH Private Keys, hosts just need to be configured to trust an SSH CA.

BLESS should be run as an AWS Lambda in an isolated AWS account. Because BLESS needs access to a private key which is trusted by your hosts, an isolated AWS account helps restrict who can access that private key, or modify the BLESS code you are running.

AWS Lambda functions can use an AWS IAM Policy to limit which IAM Roles can invoke the Lambda Function. If properly configured, you can restrict which IAM Roles can request SSH Certificates. For example, your SSH Bastion (aka SSH Jump Host) can run with the only IAM Role with access to invoke a BLESS Lambda Function configured with the SSH CA key trusted by the instances accessible to that SSH Bastion.

Getting Started

These instructions are to get BLESS up and running in your local development environment.

Installation Instructions

Clone the repo:

$ git clone

Cd to the bless repo:

$ cd bless

Create a virtualenv if you haven't already:

$ virtualenv venv

Activate the venv:

$ source venv/bin/activate

Install package and test dependencies:

(venv) $ make develop

Run the tests:

(venv) $ make test


To deploy an AWS Lambda Function, you need to provide a .zip with the code and all dependencies. The .zip must contain your lambda code and configurations at the top level of the .zip. The BLESS Makefile includes a publish target to package up everything into a deploy-able .zip if they are in the expected locations.

Compiling BLESS Lambda Dependencies

AWS Lambda has some limitations, and to deploy code as a Lambda Function, you need to package up all of the dependencies. AWS Lambda only supports Python 2.7 and BLESS depends on Cryptography, which must be compiled. You will need to compile and include your dependencies before you can publish a working AWS Lambda.

You can use a docker container running amazon linux:

  • Execute make lambda-deps and this will run a container and save all the dependencies in ./aws_lambda_libs

Alternatively you can:

  • Deploy an Amazon Linux AMI
  • SSH onto that instance
  • Copy BLESS' to the instance
  • Copy BLESS' bless/ to the instance at bless/
  • Install BLESS' dependencies:
$ sudo yum install gcc libffi-devel openssl-devel
$ virtualenv venv
$ source venv/bin/activate
(venv) $ pip install --upgrade pip setuptools
(venv) $ pip install -e .
  • From that instance, copy off the contents of:
$ cp -r venv/lib/python2.7/site-packages/. aws_lambda_libs
$ cp -r venv/lib64/python2.7/site-packages/. aws_lambda_libs
  • put those files in: ./aws_lambda_libs/

Protecting the CA Private Key

  • Generate a password protected RSA Private Key:
$ ssh-keygen -t rsa -b 4096 -f bless-ca- -C "SSH CA Key"
  • Use KMS to encrypt your password. You will need a KMS key per region, and you will need to encrypt your password for each region. You can use the AWS Console to paste in a simple lambda function like this:
import boto3
import base64
import os

def lambda_handler(event, context):
    region = os.environ['AWS_REGION']
    client = boto3.client('kms', region_name=region)
    response = client.encrypt(
    Plaintext='Do not forget to delete the real plain text when done'

    ciphertext = response['CiphertextBlob']
    return base64.b64encode(ciphertext)
  • Manage your Private Keys .pem files and passwords outside of this repo.
  • Update your bless_deploy.cfg with your Private Key's filename and encrypted passwords.
  • Provide your desired ./lambda_configs/ca_key_name.pem prior to Publishing a new Lambda .zip
  • Set the permissions of ./lambda_configs/ca_key_name.pem to 444.

BLESS Config File

  • Refer to the the Example BLESS Config File and its included documentation.
  • Manage your bless_deploy.cfg files outside of this repo.
  • Provide your desired ./lambda_configs/bless_deploy.cfg prior to Publishing a new Lambda .zip
  • The required [Bless CA] option values must be set for your environment.
  • Every option can be changed in the environment. The environment variable name is contructed as section_name_option_name (all lowercase, spaces replaced with underscores).

Publish Lambda .zip

  • Provide your desired ./lambda_configs/ca_key_name.pem prior to Publishing
  • Provide your desired BLESS Config File at ./lambda_configs/bless_deploy.cfg prior to Publishing
  • Provide the compiled dependencies at ./aws_lambda_libs
  • run:
(venv) $ make publish
  • deploy ./publish/ to AWS via the AWS Console, AWS SDK, or S3
  • remember to deploy it to all regions.

Lambda Requirements

You should deploy this function into its own AWS account to limit who has access to modify the code, configs, or IAM Policies. An isolated account also limits who has access to the KMS keys used to protect the SSH CA Key.

The BLESS Lambda function should run as its own IAM Role and will need access to an AWS KMS Key in each region where the function is deployed. The BLESS IAMRole will also need permissions to obtain random from kms (kms:GenerateRandom) and permissions for logging to CloudWatch Logs (logs:CreateLogGroup,logs:CreateLogStream,logs:PutLogEvents).


After you have deployed BLESS you can run the sample BLESS Client from a system with access to the required AWS Credentials.

(venv) $ ./ region lambda_function_name bastion_user bastion_user_ip remote_usernames bastion_source_ip bastion_command < to sign> <output>

Verifying Certificates

You can inspect the contents of a certificate with ssh-keygen directly:

$ ssh-keygen -L -f

Enabling BLESS Certificates On Servers

Add the following line to /etc/ssh/sshd_config:

TrustedUserCAKeys /etc/ssh/

Add a new file, owned by and only writable by root, at /etc/ssh/ with the contents:

ssh-rsa AAAAB3NzaC1yc2EAAAADAQ… of an SSH CA
ssh-rsa AAAAB3NzaC1yc2EAAAADAQ… of an offline SSH CA
ssh-rsa AAAAB3NzaC1yc2EAAAADAQ… of an offline SSH CA 2

To simplify SSH CA Key rotation you should provision multiple CA Keys, and leave them offline until you are ready to rotate them.

Additional information about the TrustedUserCAKeys file is here

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