Jigar Patel Driving fast in a slow lane!

Secure Browsing using SSH Tunnel

January 26, 2011 / Jigar Patel

SSH (Secure Shell) is a network protocol which allows secure communication between two secure devices. It has replaced crappy protocols like Telnet that use plaintext.

Apart from logging into a remote server, executing remote commands and file transfer, SSH can be used to forward a port or create a tunnel. This feature can be used to browse securely.

SSH tunnels can be exploited in several ways -

Secure Browsing- All traffic passing via SSH tunnel is encrypted. This renders tools like Firesheep and coffee shop sniffers useless.

Bypassing Firewalls - Most corporate or college firewalls filter traffic on port 80 but leave traffic on ports like 22, 24, 465, 993 etc unfiltered. Blocked ports can be accessed vis SSH tunnels through these ports.

Access restricted sites - Sites like Hulu.com are restricted to USA only. Luckily most cloud providers have their servers in USA. An SSH tunnel to a machine located in USA can be used to access such sites. This can be used to access USA only features provided by services like Google Voice.

How to create an SSH tunnel -

SSH Tunnel

Requirements -

  • SSH Server - Most developers have access to an SSH server. If not, you can get a micro instance of Amazon EC2 for free. http://aws.amazon.com/free/. Every stock linux server distro comes with an SSH server along with a daemon running.
  • SSH client - Linux and Macs come with a client. Windows users get a life putty.

Creating a Tunnel -

There are two ways of creating a tunnel. Forward single port or use dynamic port forwarding. I prefer dynamic port forwarding.

To set dynamic port forwarding use

ssh -C -N -D PORT user@server

-N  - Because we do not need to execute any remote commands

-D -  To specify dynamic port forwarding

-C -  To enable compression

When this command is executed, a socket is allocated to listen on specified port on local machine. In short, ssh will act as a proxy server (SOCKS proxy server to be precise). Web browser or any application capable of using a SOCKS proxy can be configured to use the tunnel.

Example of proxy configuration in Google Chrome

Chrome Proxy

Extra stuff - Encryption protocol can be changed by -c flag.