reverse_ssh for remote support

Overview

Consider a system doesn’t work anymore and it is in a remote location you can’t easily get to. Users on site only have limited knowledge and can be instructed over telephone to do simple tasks, like boot a prepared SystemRescue or enter basic commands, but not diagnose and fix the actual problem. You can not directly connect to it via SSH because the system is behind a NAT router or firewall.

reverse_ssh will help to get around that by opening the SSH connection from within SystemRescue to a remote host. This outgoing TCP connection has a much better chance to pass through the NAT router or firewall.

Preparation

  • Boot SystemRescue (reverse_ssh is included in SystemRescue since version 7.01)
  • Make sure the system is connected to internet. SystemRescue uses and enables DHCP by default, but depending on local network setup you may have to do some tweaks like setting a different default gateway or configuring VLAN tagging.
  • Set a root password to allow the remote session to authenticate. You can use the passwd command or set the rootpass= or rootcryptpass= boot parameters. Public keys in /root/.ssh/authorized_key are supported too.
  • Run reverse_ssh on the shell, see below for details

Using reverse_ssh on SystemRescue (SSH server)

reverse_ssh [-h] [-d] [-b] [-t TRIES] hostname port

positional arguments:
  hostname              hostname (or IP) to connect to
  port                  TCP port number to connect to

optional arguments:
  -h, --help               show this help message and exit
  -d, --debug              enable debug output
  -b, --background         fork to background once the connection is established
  -t TRIES, --tries TRIES  connection tries (0: endless, this is the default)

reverse_ssh will output messages about the connection status (like connection errors) to the console. Once a connection is made it blocks by default. In this state the remote connection can be disconnected with Ctrl-C. If used with the --background option, it forks into background once a connection is established, so the shell can be used for other commands.

Receiving reverse_ssh connections on the ssh client

If your client is accessible from the internet, either directly or via port forwarding, you can receive the reverse_ssh connection with these commands:

export RECEIVEPORT=2222
ssh -l root -o "ProxyCommand socat - TCP4-LISTEN:${RECEIVEPORT},reuseaddr" -o StrictHostKeyChecking=no none

StrictHostKeyChecking is disabled here because SystemRescue uses randomly generated host keys. Also when using the ProxyCommand like this, ssh can’t associate the host key to a specific remote host anymore.

You need to have socat installed and maybe have to open a local firewall (e.g. iptables, nftables) to allow the inbound connection.

Receiving reverse_ssh connections with a bounce host

If your ssh client is also behind a NAT router or firewall and thus not directly accessible from the internet, you can use a bounce host to “catch” the connection and forward it to your client machine.

The requirements for such a bounce host are minimal, so this can be anything from a OpenWRT router to virtual machine in a data centre:

  • Accessible from the internet with SSH and some other arbitrary TCP port number
  • You have the credentials to log in via SSH as an ordinary user
  • The option GatewayPorts yes is set in /etc/ssh/sshd_config

To receive the connection use these commands:

export RECEIVEPORT=2222
ssh -R ${RECEIVEPORT}:/tmp/reverse_ssh -N -f bouncehost.example.com
ssh -l root -o "ProxyCommand socat - UNIX-LISTEN:/tmp/reverse_ssh" -o StrictHostKeyChecking=no none

You need to have socat installed on your client machine (it is not necessary on the bounce host). If the bounce host has a local firewall (e.g. iptables, nftables), you may need to open it for the TCP port you receive the connection on.

The SSH connection to the bounce host will be forked into the background by the “-f” parameter. You should kill the process when you are done. Alternatively, remove the “-f” and call the second ssh in a separate shell.

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