Using Kerberos (GSSAPI) Auth with OpenSSH in Cygwin on Windows

On my Windows machines at both work and home, I like to run Cygwin to get a UNIX-like environment on Windows: screen, ssh, grep, etc. I use SSH's public key authentication pretty extensively to get password-less authentication to make it dead-easy (and quick!) to SSH around to different machines.

On some of the non-UNIX machines at work, I couldn't get SSH public-key auth working, but those machines do support Kerberos auth (binding to Active Directory). Based on my Google searches, all I could find were articles talking about compiling OpenSSH from source to get a working Kerberos-enabled version of OpenSSH on Cygwin. So, that made it sound like it would be a pain to get this working. But, after doing some more playing around, I found this was actually easy to setup once you understand the various pieces. Since I couldn't find any helpful information online when I first tried to get this working, I figured I'd write up what worked for me in case that helps other people.


Step 1 - Install the "openssh" package

Install the openssh package. This gets you the OpenSSH client tools, e.g. ssh, ssh-agent, etc.

Step 2 - Install the "heimdal" package

Install the heimdal package, which supplies an implementation of the Kerberos tools. This gets you things like kinit, klist, etc.

Step 3 - (Optional) Configure your "krb5.conf" file

You may want to configure your /etc/krb5.conf file to list a default realm so that you don't need to specify it when doing the kinit later on:

default_realm = REALM_NAME

Alternatively, rather than fiddling with /etc/krb5.conf on my Cygwin install, I opted to use the KRB5_CONFIG environment variable (see the kinit manpage) to point to a ~/.krb5.conf file instead to keep my Kerberos config confined to my $HOME directory (since I keep my $HOME directory under version control).

Step 4 - Modify your ".ssh/config" file

Modify your ~/.ssh/config file to enable GSSAPI authentication:

GSSAPIAuthentication yes


  • Before you ssh to a remote machine where you want to use Kerberized credentials, simply run kinit to acquire a new Kerberos ticket. (Pro tip: you can run klist to list all your active Kerberos tickets and their expiration dates.)
  • With the GSSAPIAuthentication directive in your .ssh/config file, that should enable GSSAPI authentication for free. There's also a -K param to the ssh command which talks about enabling GSSAPI auth and forwarding, which I'm not entirely sure what that controls, but my guess is that it's for opting into GSSAPI auth mode if you don't have that directive in your .ssh/config file.

I hope this helps someone else who's trying to get Kerberized SSH working on Cygwin. Happy SSH'ing!