Eleven SSH Tricks
SSH is the descendant of rsh and rlogin, which are non-encrypted programs for remote shell logins. Rsh and rlogin, like telnet, have a long lineage but now are outdated and insecure. However, these programs evolved a surprising number of nifty features over two decades of UNIX development, and the best of them made their way into SSH. Following are the 11 tricks I have found useful for squeezing the most power out of SSH.
OpenSSH is the most common free version of SSH and is available for virtually all UNIX-like operating systems. It is included by default with Debian, SuSE, Red Hat, Mandrake, Slackware, Caldera and Gentoo Linux, as well as OpenBSD, Cygwin for Windows and Mac OS X. This article is based on OpenSSH, so if you are using some other version, check your documentation before trying these tricks.
You can encrypt X sessions over SSH. Not only is the traffic encrypted, but the DISPLAY environment variable on the remote system is set properly. So, if you are running X on your local computer, your remote X applications magically appear on your local screen.
Turn on X11 forwarding with ssh -X host. You should use X11 forwarding only for remote computers where you trust the administrators. Otherwise, you open yourself up to X11-based attacks.
A nifty trick using X11 forwarding displays images within an xterm window. Run the web browser w3m with the in-line image extension on the remote machine; see the Debian package w3m-img or the RPM w3m-imgdisplay. It uses X11 forwarding to open a borderless window on top of your xterm. If you read your e-mail remotely using SSH and a text-based client, it then is possible to bring up in-line images over the same xterm window.
SSH looks for the user config file in ~/.ssh/config. A sample might look like:
ForwardX11 yes Protocol 2,1
Using ForwardX11 yes is the same as specifying -X on the command line. The Protocol line tells SSH to try SSH2 first and then fall back to SSH1. If you want to use only SSH2, delete the ,1.
The config file can include sections that take effect only for certain remote hosts by using the Host option. Another useful config file option is User, which specifies the remote user name. If you often log in to a machine with ssh -l remoteuser remotehost or ssh remoteuser@remotehost, you can shorten this by placing the following lines in your config file:
Host remotehost ForwardX11 yes User remoteuser Host * ForwardX11 no
Now, you can type ssh remotehost to log on as user remoteuser with the ForwardX11 option turned on. Otherwise, ForwardX11 is turned off, as recommended above. The asterisk matches all hosts, including hosts already matched in a Host section, but only the first matching option is used. Put specific Host sections before generic sections in your config file.
A system-wide SSH config file, /etc/ssh/ssh_config, also is available. SSH obtains configuration data in the following order: command-line options, user's configuration file and system-wide configuration file. All of the options can be explored by browsing man ssh_config.
SSH can use gzip compression on any connection. The default compression level is equivalent to approximately 4× compression for text. Compression is a great idea if you are forwarding X sessions on a dial-up or slow network. Turn on compression with ssh -C or put Compression yes in your config file.
Another speed tweak involves changing your encryption cipher. The default cipher on many older systems is triple DES (3DES), which is slower than Blowfish and AES. New versions of OpenSSH default to Blowfish. You can change the cipher to blowfish with ssh -c blowfish.
Cipher changes to your config file depend on whether you are connecting with SSH1 or SSH2. For SSH1, use Cipher blowfish; for SSH2, use: