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Tools for CLI Road Warriors: Remote Shells //at 19:44 //by abe

from the OTR-not-only-means-Off-The-Record dept.

Most of my private online life happens on netbooks and besides the web browser, SSH is my most used program — especially on netbooks. Accordingly I also have hosts on the net to which I connect via SSH. My most used program there is GNU Screen.

So yes, for things like e-mail, IRC, and Jabber I connect to a running screen session on some host with a permanent internet connection. On those hosts there is usually one GNU Screen instance running permanently with either mutt or irssi (which is also my Jabber client via a Bitlbee gateway).

But there are some other less well-known tools which I regard as useful in such a setup. The following two tools can both be seen as SSH for special occassions.


I already blogged about autossh, even twice, so I’ll just recap the most important features here:

autossh is a wrapper around SSH which regularily checks via two tunnels connect to each other on the remote side if the connection is still alive, and if not, it kills the ssh and starts a new one with the same parameters (i.e. tunnels, port forwardings, commands to call, etc.).

It’s quite obvious that this is perfect to be combined with screen’s -R and -d options.

I use autossh so often that I even adopted its Debian package.


Since last week there’s a new kid in town^WDebian Unstable: mosh targets the same problems as autossh (unreliable networks, roaming, suspending the computer, etc.) just with a completely different approach which partially even obsoletes the usage of GNU Screen or tmux:

While mosh uses plain SSH for authentication, authorization and key exchange the final connection is an AES-128 encrypted UDP connection on a random port and is independent of the client’s IP address.

This allows mosh to have the following advantages: The connection stays even if you’re switching networks or suspending your netbook. So if you’re just running a single text-mode application you don’t even need GNU Screen or tmux. (You still do if you want the terminal multiplexing feature of GNU Screen or tmux.)

Another nice feature, especially on unreliable WLAN connections or laggy GSM or UMTS connections is mosh’s output prediction based on its input (i.e. what is typed). Per line it tries to guess which server reaction a key press would cause and if it detects a lagging connection, it shows the predicted result underlined until it gets the real result from the server. This eases writing mails in a remote mutt or chatting in a remote irssi, especially if you noticed that you made a typo, but can’t remember how many backspaces you would have to type to fix it.

Mosh needs to be installed on both, client and server, but the server is only activated via SSH, so it has no port open unless a connection is started. And despite that (in Debian) mosh is currently just available in Unstable, the package builds fine on Squeeze, too. There’s also an PPA for Ubuntu and of course you can also get the source code, e.g. as git checkout from GitHub.

mosh is still under heavy development and new features and bug fixes get added nearly every day.

Thanks to Christine Spang for sponsoring and mentoring Keith’s mosh package in Debian.

Update: I gave a lightning talk about Mosh and AutoSSH in German at Easterhegg 2012. The slides are available online.


Tools for CLI Road Warriors: Hidden Terminals //at 00:57 //by abe

from the Terminals-where-you-don't-expect-them dept.

Some networks have no connection to the outside except that they allow surfing through an HTTP(S) proxy. Sometimes you are happy and the HTTPS port (443) is unrestricted. The following server-side tools allow you to exploit these weaknesses and get you a shell on your server.


sslh is an SSH/SSL multiplexor. If a client connects to sslh, it checks if the clients speaks the SSH or the SSL protocol and then passes the connection to the according real port of SSL or some SSL enabled service, e.g. an HTTPS, OpenVPN, Tinc or XMPP server. That way it’s possible to connect to one of these services and SSH on the same port.

The usual scenario where this daemon is useful are firewalls which block SSH, force HTTP to go through a proxy, but allow HTTPS connections without restriction. In that case you let sslh listen on the HTTPS port (443) and to move the real HTTPS server (e.g. Apache) to listen on either a different port number (e.g. 442, 444 or 8443) or on another IP address, e.g. on localhost, port 443.

On an Debian or Ubuntu based Apache HTTPS server, you just have to do the following to run Apache on port 442 and sslh on port 443 instead:

  1. apt-get install sslh as root.
  2. Edit /etc/default/sslh, change RUN=no to RUN=yes and --ssl to --ssl
  3. Edit /etc/apache2/ports.conf and all files in /etc/apache2/sites-available/ which contain a reference to port 443 (which is only /etc/apache2/sites-available/default-ssl.conf in the default configuration) and change all occurrences of 443 to 442.
  4. service apache2 restart
  5. service sslh start

Now you should be able to ssh to your server on port 443 (ssh -p 443 while still being able to surf to

sslh works as threaded or as preforking daemon, or via inetd. It also honors tcpwrapper configurations for sshd in /etc/hosts.allow and /etc/hosts.deny.

sslh is available as port or package at least in Gentoo, in FreeBSD, in Debian and in Ubuntu.


A completely different approach takes AjaxTerm. It provides a terminal inside a web browser with login and ssh being its server-side backend.

Properly safe-guarded by HTTPS plus maybe HTTP based authentication this can be an interesting emergency alternative to the more common — but also more often blocked — remote login mechanisms.

AjaxTerm is available as package at least in Debian and in Ubuntu.

Happily I never were forced to use either of them myself. :-)


Tools for CLI Road Warriors: Tunnels //at 19:49 //by abe

from the I'll-Tunnel-My-Way-Home dept.

Sometime the network you’re connected to is either untrusted (e.g. wireless) or castrated in some way. In both cases you want a tunnel to your trusted home base.

Following I’ll show you three completely different tunneling tools which may helpful while travelling.


sshuttle is a tool somewhere in between of automatic port forward and VPN. It tunnels arbitrary TCP connections and DNS through an SSH tunnel without requiring root access on the remote end of the SSH connection.

So it’s perfect for redirecting most of your traffic through an SSH tunnel to your favourite SSH server, e.g. to ensure your local privacy when you are online via a public, unencrypted WLAN (i.e. easy to sniff for everyone).

It runs on Linux and MacOS X and only needs a Python interpreter on the remote side. Requires root access (usually via sudo) on the client side, though.

It’s currently available at least in Debian Unstable and Testing (Wheezy) as well as in Ubuntu since 11.04 Natty.


Miredo is an free and open-source implementation of Microsoft’s NAT-traversing Teredo IPv6 tunneling protocol for at least Linux, FreeBSD, NetBSD and MacOS X.

Miredo includes not only a Teredo client but also a Teredo server implementation. The developer of Miredo also runs a public Miredo server, so you don’t even need to install a server somewhere. If you run Debian or Ubuntu you just need to do apt-get install miredo as root and you have IPv6 connectivity. It’s that easy.

So it’s perfect to get a dynamic IPv6 tunnel for your laptop or mobile phone independently where you are and without the need to register any IPv6 tunnel or configure the Miredo client.

I usually use Miredo on my netbooks to be able to access my boxes at home (which are behind an IPv4 NAT router which is also an SixXS IPv6 tunnel endpoint) from whereever I am.


iodine is likely the most undermining tool in this set. It tunnels IPv4 over DNS, allowing you to make arbitrary network connections if you are on a network where nothing but DNS requests is allowed (i.e. only DNS packets reach the internet).

This is often the case on wireless LANs with landing page. They redirect all web traffic to the landing page. But the network’s routers try to avoid poisoning the client’s DNS cache with different DNS replies as they would get after the user is logged in. So DNS packets usually pass even the local network’s DNS servers unchanged, just TCP and other UDP packets are redirected until logging in.

With an iodine tunnel, it is possible get a network connection to the outside on such a network anyway. On startup iodine tries to automatically find the best parameters (MTU, request type, etc.) for the current environmenent. However that may fail if any DNS server in between imposes DNS request rate limits.

To be able to start such a tunnel you need to set up an iodine daemon somewhere on the internet. Choose a server which is not already a DNS server.

iodine is available in many distributions, e.g. in Debian and in Ubuntu.


I changed my mind. I want a camera mobile phone. //at 02:29 //by abe

from the considerations dept.

Today I read and wrote about Semapedia, a service respective toolset to encode Wikipedia URLs (and also others) as dot-matrix barcode, print them out on leaflets together with mentioning Wikipedia and the URL. Then any visitor with a modern camera cell phone can take an image of the barcode, decode it with the right software on your phone, which passes the decoded URL directly to the phones webbrowser.

This is the first useful application of camera phones I ever heard about. But I see it as so useful that I may consider buying me a camera cell phone with the next contract renewal, although until now, I focused all my search for a worthy successor to my Nokia 6310i on non-camera phones. (Update: And I’m not alone with the wish for a useful mobile phone.)

The 6310i had nearly everything I needed: A big memory, long standby times (1.5 to 2 weeks), WAP incl. WAP browser for reading Symlink on the road, GPRS, GSM 900/1800, T9, Infrared, gnokii support, the same battery bay than my former mobile phones (Nokia 6210 and 6130) and the Nokia typical, very intuïtive and blindly usable user interface. (Siemens mobiles suck!). It also had some things, I didn’t need yet, but sounded useful: Voice dialing and voice recording, Java for playing with own programs, Bluetooth for a cableless headset or so and GSM-1900 because perhaps also other countries than the USA use that frequency band. (I refuse to travel to the USA, so I won’t need the GSM-1900 there.)

It had nothing I didn’t want to have in a mobile phone: Camera, radio, MP3 player, standby time munching color display, e-mail client, MMS, MP3 ring tones or flip covers. The only thing I missed, was a more modern Java VM and even more memory when Opera Mini came out and maybe polyphone ring tones, so I could have the Monkey Island theme as ring tone. ;-)

So what now? Being able to use Opera Mini and Semapedia means to have a mobile phone with camera and — and that’s the drawback — a color display. Anyone knows a Nokia camera phone on which Opera Mini runs but without color display? And with the battery bay from the 6x10 series? No?

Or maybe I should just stay with the 6310i and get me a second one in better condition (no broken case) from eBay or so? There were also (yet unconfirmed) rumours that my GSM provider E-Plus will have the Linux based internet tablet Nokia 770 for a contract renewal plus 80€ to 90€… Difficult decision…

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This is the blog or weblog of Axel Stefan Beckert (aka abe or XTaran) who thought, he would never start blogging... (He also once thought, that there is no reason to switch to this new ugly Netscape thing because Mosaïc works fine. That was about 1996.) Well, times change...

He was born 1975 at Villingen-Schwenningen, made his Abitur at Schwäbisch Hall, studied Computer Science with minor Biology at University of Saarland at Saarbrücken (Germany) and now lives in Zürich (Switzerland), working at the IT Support Group (ISG) of the Departement of Physics at ETH Zurich.

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