Friday, October 17, 2008

OpenSSH: Proxy Connections

prerequisite concepts: prelude, basic configuration, port forwarding

Network address translation (NAT) is a very common method of providing secure access to hosts on a private network. Given the limited amount of IPv4 addresses, computer networks with relatively few, very few, and even a single public IP address are common. A typical small business customer of my consulting practice has one or more Linux servers on an office network protected by a firewall. The following is a close look at Example Industries, the theoretical owners of; this customer receives support for two Linux servers, a mail server and a PBX, but only one public IP address between them. Through NAT, public services (namely mail and VoIP) on both servers are accessible via This works well for inbound mail and phone calls, which only need to access one or the other host, but SSH access is the lifeblood of remote system administration, and there's the rub-- when I enter ssh I land at the mail server. SSH access to the PBX would seemingly threaten to litter my command line with unsightly extra characters, if not subsequent commands outright.

My carpals are tunneled enough, I don't want to type more than ssh mail and ssh pbx to access these servers, and while I'm at it I want to have scripted log-ins as well-- securely, not those namby-pamby no-password keys. In fact, I don't even want to have private keys on either server.

Fear not! With the power of OpenSSH, I can fix this.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Open SSH: Port Forwarding

prerequisite concepts: prelude, basic configuration

Port forwarding is a versatile feature which informs several popular concepts, including X Forwarding and tunneling which are briefly explained below; more advanced port magic will be addressed elsewhere.

X Forwarding
At the end of the previous installment of this series is an example SSH client configuration file, usually located at ~/.ssh/conf; a more complete description of the global declarations shown was deferred until this section, where they are more relevant.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

I have seen the light.

Having discovered the advantages of á la carte VoIP pricing, I pondered how to extrapolate my experience for general discussion while avoiding the pitfalls of interpolation and abridgement. The Reference Book of Rates, Price Indices, and Household Expenditures for Telephone Service published by the FCC's Wireline Competition Bureau provides a rough estimate of wireline telephone expenses averaging $45 per month in 2007, based on market research by TNS Telecoms. This isn't too far from my own experience with residential VoIP plans which have tended to average about $35 monthly, including additional fees and charges, which can be significant: on BroadVoice's "Unlimited World" plan, for example, "Taxes & Surcharges" account for about 35% of the monthly total. Based on these data, I use an estimated $35-$45 for generic comparison of monthly residential phone bills, or an average average of $40. As I designed our current, á la carte plan, I surmised that after discounting business use, the residential remainder was unlikely to ever exceed $30 in a single month. As the plan took shape, however, I realized that intelligent planning could lower that even further; somewhere in the neighborhood of a $20 monthly average would certainly exemplify what custom VoIP plans can offer, and half the average isn't a bad talking point. ;-)