Lab Security Policy

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No security system is perfect: there is a tradeoff between security and ease of use. We have tried to find a happy medium that lets you do your work in peace without too much hassle. Getting hacked is a big deal, so please read this and be mindful.


Our security policy can be summarized as follows:

 You can only access our cluster via ssh from a secure machine

What is a secure machine you may ask? Well, ...

"A secure machine is one that we control and can thus protect." This includes:

  • The portals
  • Desktops we control in BH and GH.
  • Your laptop, using our own VPN.
  • Machines in racks we control.

No other machine is assumed secure. This includes other groups' clusters in BH and GH, the QB3 shared cluster, and connections via UCSF's VPN. To access our cluster from these or any other machines we do not treat as secure, you must use a portal or our own VPN.


  • You don't need to use the portals if you are sitting at your desk on a secure network.
  • When away from your desk, you probably must use a portal to get in.
  • You can only access the portals using an ssh key that you set up in advance.
  • Insecure ssh keys will be revoked without notice. How_to_generate_ssh_keys_securely.
  • If you think your machine might have been compromised, please let us know immediately!


  • Ssh keys must be protected at all times and must never be shared with anyone, even family members or labmates.
  • Use different passwords for your bank, your email, and your cluster access. If one is hacked, the damage is contained.
  • If you have an account on a system that is hacked, please a. tell us you were hacked so we can revoke your ssh key and b. change your password asap if you think it could have been compromised.


  • Misuse of sshkeys is a very serious matter. Please guard your ssh key access as you would your bank account.
  • some people call ssh keys "ssl keys". It is the same thing, and ssl is arguably more correct. Nevermind.

If you have any doubts about appropriate use of ssh keys or passwords, or suggestions about how to improve security, please write the sysadmins.


If I lose my laptop / think my account may have been hacked, what is the correct course of action?

  • Send an email to John (, Ben ( ||, and Enkhjargal ( immediately. We will disable the user’s key and check the account.

Can I copy the private key to as many computers as I like, or should I have one for each computer I want to use to access the cluster?

  • You should have a different ssh key for every computer that you want to use to access the cluster. This is because if one of your computers gets hacked, I only have to disable one key and you can still use your other laptop/computer.

Can I use the same public/private key pair inside the cluster as I use to access the cluster? Or should we use two different ones?

  • You should use two different ones, one for inside the cluster and one out of the cluster.

Can I use key pair exchange to allow me to log in to my colleague's account, or is that a forbidden usage? Thus say I am Jane, and i want to allow Joe to log in as me without my password, can we use ssh keys to allow this?

  • No, we definitely don't allow this.

See Also