Unable to login because of a ESXi root account lockout

When starting one of my VMware ESXi 6.5 lab hosts I was unable to login using the vSphere Host Client. I tried to make an SSH session to the host but got an “Access Denied” message.

When Using the Direct Console Interface (DCUI) I was able to login using the root account. In the log folder (under /var/log) I found that the root account is locked because of many failed attempt by investigate the following log files:

vobd.log

2018-01-02T10:57:00.003Z: [GenericCorrelator] 5612887277us: [vob.user.account.locked] Remote access for ESXi local user account 'root' has been locked for 900 seconds after 58 failed login attempts.
2018-01-02T10:57:00.003Z: [UserLevelCorrelator] 5612887277us: [vob.user.account.locked] Remote access for ESXi local user account 'root' has been locked for 900 seconds after 58 failed login attempts.
2018-01-02T10:57:00.003Z: [UserLevelCorrelator] 5612887502us: [esx.audit.account.locked] Remote access for ESXi local user account 'root' has been locked for 900 seconds after 58 failed login attempts.

auth.log

2018-01-02T11:02:08Z sshd[117700]: Connection from 192.168.249.23 port 63449
2018-01-02T11:02:09Z sshd[117701]: pam_tally2(sshd:auth): user root (0) tally 72, deny 5
2018-01-02T11:02:14Z sshd[117700]: error: PAM: Authentication failure for root from 192.168.249.23
2018-01-02T11:02:14Z sshd[117710]: pam_tally2(sshd:auth): user root (0) tally 73, deny 5

By default the ESXi 6.x password requirements for lockout behavior are:

  • A maximum of ten failed attempts is allowed before the account is locked
  • Password lockout is active on SSH and the vSphere Web Service SDK
  • Password lockout is not active on the┬áDirect Console Interface (DCUI) and the ESXi Shell

To view the number of failed login attempt use the following command:


pam_tally2 --user root

In my example the there were 58 failed root login attempts:


Login Failures Latest failure From
root 58 01/02/18 10:56:59 unknown

The clear the the password lockout use the following command:


pam_tally2 --user root --reset

After this command I was able to login the vSphere Host Client. In the vSphere Host Client I found the VM that is causing the root account lockout:

The VM was monitoring the vSphere ESXi host with the wrong root password. After changing the password the account lockout problem was solved.

3 thoughts on “Unable to login because of a ESXi root account lockout”

  1. Good article – I came across this when a VM host would not allow logins from ssh but local console was fine.

    When connecting via ssh I got the message :

    /usr/lib/vmware/misc/bin/tally_vob.sh failed: exit code 1

    after I type the username via a putty connection.

    Checked the logs and found the acocunt was locked out by backup software which had been setup with the wrong root password.

  2. Just wondering what the leaky bucket algorithm is. If only 8 incorrect login attempts are entered, how long is ESXi holding on to that information, i.e., 900 seconds (15 minutes)? In other words, if there are 8 incorrect login attempts, I’m wondering what happens 5 minutes later if there are 5 more incorrect login attempts. Make sense? When does ESXi clear memory of the incorrect attempts, if ever?

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