Win10XPE : Enable SSH Server with Public Key Authentication  

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  1. Posts : 39
    Win10 Enterprise 22H2

    Win10XPE : How to enable SSH Server with Public Key Authentication

    Hello TenForums Friends,

    I've been thinking about enabling SSH Server on WinPE for quite some time. I was pleasently surprised to see a thriving community for Win10XPE on this forum. So I took this opportunity to explore further.

    Normally for a full fledged modern Windows 10, I would just enable the SSH Server feature. However, I could not do so for Win10XPE. Nor I could find any plugin. Maybe I didn't search hard enough. So I decided to give it a try myself. Let me see how far I can go, that was my approach. I am pleased to say that I could enable the SSH Server and successfully connect from a remote client using public key authentication.

    I would like to share my experience and detailed instructions. If you are a developer or a hobbyist who likes tinkering around, this one is definitely for you. Of course, this is a funtime code and shouldn't be viewed as a professional production software.

    For brevity, I call SSH Server feature as sshd. I used XPE version 2022-01-07 with Win10 Pro 20H2 x64 source for installing sshd. My host is Win10 Enterprise 22H2 x64.

    So, here it goes :

    0. Prerequisites and convention :
    sshd runs on the top of an existing and functioning Win10XPE. I assume you are already familier with building and using it. Preferably use WinBuilder version released on 2022-01-07 and sourced in 64-bit Windows10 version 20H2.

    I also assume you are familier with SSH and public key authentication technique. You will need a pair of public and private keys generated. Type ed25519 is supported. The command on ssh-client windows is :

    ssh-keygen.exe -t ed25519 -f id_ed25519_win10xpe

    This will create two files : This is the public key file. We will need it in step 3.2 below.
    id_ed25519_win10xpe : This is the private key file. Keep it with you. Do not share this file. We use this file in step 7 below.

    Convention :

    %basedir% : This is the directory on building host where Win10XPE.exe is located. This is a buildtime host variable.
    %WinDir% : This is a runtime Win10XPE Environment Variable. Usually it is 'X:\Windows'.
    %programdata% : This is a runtime Win10XPE Environment Variable. Usually it is 'X:\ProgramData'.

    1. Registry additions :
    Create firewall rules file : Create a text file fw-rules-ssh.script. Paste from the source below :

    // fw rules sshd
    RegWrite,HKLM,0x1,Tmp_System\ControlSet001\Services\SharedAccess\Parameters\FirewallPolicy\FirewallRules,sshd-udpm,"v2.30|Action=Allow|Active=TRUE|Dir=In|Protocol=17|LPort=22|App=#$pWinDir#$p\system32\OpenSSH\sshd.exe|Name=OpenSSH Server (sshd) udp|Desc=Inbound UDP rule for OpenSSH SSH Server (sshd) over port 22.|EmbedCtxt=OpenSSH Server|"
    RegWrite,HKLM,0x1,Tmp_System\ControlSet001\Services\SharedAccess\Parameters\FirewallPolicy\FirewallRules,sshd-tcpm,"v2.30|Action=Allow|Active=TRUE|Dir=In|Protocol=6|LPort=22|App=#$pWinDir#$p\system32\OpenSSH\sshd.exe|Name=OpenSSH Server (sshd) tcp|Desc=Inbound TCP rule for OpenSSH SSH Server (sshd) over port 22.|EmbedCtxt=OpenSSH Server|"

    Add the created file : Now go to WinBuilder, open " Win10XPE --> Additions " panel and tick the 'run this script after' option and choose the above created file fw-rules-ssh.script. Press the little blue arrow button next to the select dialogue button so as to play the selected script. Please see the pic below :

    Win10XPE : Enable SSH Server with Public Key Authentication-rtsa.jpg

    2. Resources gathering :
    OpenSSH package : Download OpenSSH zip file from :

    The webpage is : GitHub - PowerShell/Win32-OpenSSH: Win32 port of OpenSSH

    The zip file has only 1 top level folder named : OpenSSH-Win64. Extract this folder alongwith its contents to %basedir%\Custom\x64\AdditionalFiles\Windows\System32 . Rename the folder to OpenSSH.

    Pecmd files : Create a folder pecmd-files in %basedir%\Custom\x64\AdditionalFiles\Windows\System32\OpenSSH. Create two files in the newly created folder. Paste the files's contents from :

    file 1 : acl-ssh-tree.txt source below :


    file 2 : pecmd-sshd.bat source below :

    @echo off
    mkdir.exe %programdata%\ssh\logs\
    %WinDir%\system32\sc.exe create sshd binPath= "%WinDir%\system32\OpenSSH\sshd.exe" start= auto DisplayName= "OpenSSH Server for WinPE" obj= .\administrator password= ""
    %WinDir%\system32\ntrights.exe -u administrator +r SeServiceLogonRight
    %WinDir%\system32\OpenSSH\ssh-keygen.exe -A
    %WinDir%\system32\icacls.exe %programdata% /restore %WinDir%\system32\OpenSSH\pecmd-files\acl-ssh-tree.txt /c
    %WinDir%\system32\net.exe start sshd
    ) 1>> %programdata%\ssh\logs\pecmd-sshd.log 2>&1

    ntrights : Download from here :

    Extract ntrights.exe from above zip file and save it to : %basedir%\Custom\x64\AdditionalFiles\Windows\System32

    3. Configure OpenSSH files and folders :
    Open %basedir%\Custom\x64\AdditionalFiles\Windows\System32\OpenSSH\sshd_config_default in a text editor such as notepad and save it as %basedir%\Custom\x64\AdditionalFiles\ProgramData\ssh\sshd_config . After saving continue editing the same file.

    Please note that any line starting with # is a comment.

    Locate the Logging section and add these two lines :

    SyslogFacility LOCAL0
    LogLevel DEBUG3

    These log options will generate a verbose log useful for debugging ( if needed ). You may leave the old lines commented.

    Similarly add this line to Authentication section :

    AuthorizedKeysFile %programdata%\ssh\authorized_keys

    You need to comment out the old line.

    Now save and close the sshd_config file editing.

    Now in a text editor (such as notepad ) open a new blank file named : %basedir%\Custom\x64\AdditionalFiles\ProgramData\ssh\administrators_authorized_keys

    Paste the public key file contents ( from step 0.2 ) into the new file, save it and close the editor.

    4. Amend pecmd.ini :

    Please open file %basedir%\Custom\Pecmdini\pecmd.ini in a text editor such as notepad. Please locate the line : CALL NetInit

    After this add the following line :


    Save and close the file.

    5. Now all resources are in place. You may build the Win10XPE_x64.ISO by clicking the BigBlueButton.

    6. When the build is complete, you may run the Win10XPE. Use a virtual machine or deploy it to a real machine. Boot the Win10XPE. Do not switch to administrator account. During the logon processes sshd will start automatically. You can check that in next step below.

    7. Grab a remote ssh-client. Make sure you have the private key created in step 0.2 above available over there. Open a command prompt and type :

    ssh.exe administrator@<ip address or hostname of the Win10XPE> -i id_ed25519_win10xpe

    Now you are in Win10XPE's shell at X:\Windows

    Enjoy !

    Disclaimers :

    1. This is a funcode exercise. Please do not use it as a production software.

    2. ntrights.exe is an obsolete tool. But it works.

    3. Security implications : There could be some. I do not know. Please use this facility at your risk.

    Credits :

    1. : I owe a ton of thanks to TenForums website for obvious reasons. I am using their forum to write this article.

    2. : That's how I became interested in building WinPEs.

    3. ChrisR : a.k.a. The Legend. His colossal efforts and acute insights made Win10XPE project live and running. The 'Quick Start Guide' he wrote is an extremely useful resource.

    4. Kyhi : He is enthusiastically maintaining the project here : Win10XPE - Build Your Own Rescue Media [2]

    His tips are indispensible.

    5. I am thankful to Win10XPE community members such as APT38, Megahertz, SIW2, doudiii and many more for building a thriving community. That really triggered my sustained interest.

    6. Last but not the least, it's me. Yes, I take all the credit for putting all the credits together ! ;-)

    Hope you enjoyed my ride. Let me know your views.

    Thank you!

    Last edited by GammaP; 14 Oct 2022 at 11:53.
      My Computer

  2. Posts : 4,002
    Windows 3.1 to Windows 11

    You do realize that (when I understand and can follow the processes you used) this could be scripted for Win10XPE....
    The "Quick Start Guide" was created by KYHI as were most of the Application Scripts...
      My Computer

  3. Posts : 39
    Win10 Enterprise 22H2
    Thread Starter

    Hi Kyhi,

    Kyhi said:
    You do realize that (when I understand and can follow the processes you used) this could be scripted for Win10XPE....
    The script I made was from : Win10XPE --> Additions --> Reg Convert PE

    I found that button quite intuitive. And the end product looked very similar to other scripts. But I am not sure if that's the correct way to do the things. As such I never wrote any Win10XPE script before.

    The "Quick Start Guide" was created by KYHI as were most of the Application Scripts...
    Oh, my ignorence! Thanks for enlightening. You too are a Legend for me !!

      My Computer

  4. Posts : 39
    Win10 Enterprise 22H2
    Thread Starter

    Test successful with 22H2 source

    Hello Friends,

    I tested the above procedure on latest WinBuilder ver 2022-09-24 using source Win11_22H2_x64 Pro version 22621.382. The test was successful. I could connect from as ssh-client to Win10XPE iso Virtual Machine. Thanks.

      My Computer

  5. Posts : 5
    10 x64

    Since this is the thread that got me started on OpenSSH in Win10XPE
    I thought it appropriate to post here, thanks for the push.

    I have a working OpenSSH_XPE.Script and I need some testers.
    Please PM me.

    Win10XPE : Enable SSH Server with Public Key Authentication-screenshot00001.jpg

    Win10XPE : Enable SSH Server with Public Key Authentication-openssh2.jpg

    Win10XPE : Enable SSH Server with Public Key Authentication-openssh3.jpg

    Win10XPE : Enable SSH Server with Public Key Authentication-openssh4.jpg
    Last edited by RoyM; 01 Jan 2023 at 00:27.
      My Computer

  6. Posts : 5
    10 x64

    Hi GammaP
    I got your PM, it seems I don't have permissions for a private PM.

    Win10XPE : Enable SSH Server with Public Key Authentication-privatepmproblem.jpg
      My Computer

  7. Posts : 39
    Win10 Enterprise 22H2
    Thread Starter

    Got Roy's script

    RoyM said:
    Hi GammaP
    I got your PM, it seems I don't have permissions for a private PM.

    No worries! Here is my message to you :

    Hi Roy,

    Thanks for the link to your ssh script. Will test on the latest win10xpe release. I will need to install the latest Win10XPE, so it might take some time. I plan to do it over the comng weekend. Will let you know if I need or find something.

      My Computer

  8. Posts : 5
    10 x64

    Sounds like a plan.
    Have a good weekend GammaP

      My Computer

  9. Posts : 39
    Win10 Enterprise 22H2
    Thread Starter

    Hello RoyM,

    I built the xpe with your script. I am pleased to say that your script is working perfectly. But I had to disable the firewall. Then I could log in using password. The only thing missing was public key login.

    I saw the log file and immediately spotted that the program was looking for the public key at X:\Windows\.ssh\authorized_keys. But the path did not exist. So it threw up an error and reverted to password login.

    I created the missing folder and the file and pasted the public key. And the authentication was through. Yaay!

    Later I found that the netsh advfirewall context is not available. That's the reason the firewall rules are not added.

    A big thank you for your efforts.


    Edit : fw context
    Last edited by GammaP; 06 Jan 2023 at 14:29.
      My Computer

  10. Posts : 4,002
    Windows 3.1 to Windows 11

    If this is something you would to see as part of the project - please forward the script
      My Computer


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