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SSH Alternatives

Instructor: David Delony

David is a freelance writer specializing in technology. He holds a BA in communication.

The remote access of computers remotely is a very convenient facility. SSH is one of the more popular protocols, but in this lesson, we'll look at alternatives to SSH for remote access to computers. You'll learn about Telnet, Mosh and VPN, and why you might prefer one over the other.

SSH Alternatives

If you're in IT and are looking for ways to give remote access to computing resources to employees, there are a number of different technologies you can consider: SSH, Telnet, Mosh and VPN. But which one would you choose? Well, it depends on what you're trying to do.

Telnet

Telnet is one of the oldest remote access methods, as old as the Internet itself. Telnet dates back to 1969 and was designed for the fledgling ARPANET, establishing a standard way for users to connect to remote machines and use them as if they were using the computers there themselves. Telnet replaced dialing into computers over phone lines over modems, as it was much more convenient than dialing phone numbers and waiting to connect.

The main problem with Telnet is its lack of security. The connection is completely unencrypted, which means that anyone who managed to eavesdrop can see anything that is being sent back and forth over the connection, including usernames and passwords. Telnet should therefore be used carefully these days,

This kind of design is understandable when you realize that the ARPANET, which evolved into the modern Internet, was designed for researchers in universities and government research labs to be able to share information. There wasn't really a concept of malicious user or a hacker back then, because everybody on the network trusted each other. Security took a back seat to sharing resources with each other.

Even though SSH offers much better security these days, Telnet still persists. There are a number of embedded devices for industrial and scientific applications such as controlling factory machinery and laboratory equipment that only use Telnet.

Telnet's most visible use on the modern Internet is for recreational use for a more technical crowd. For example, some people have posted access to bulletin board systems, role playing games, even an ASCII art version of Star Wars over Telnet.

Going Mobile With Mosh

SSH is a very useful, reliable and secure tool for remote access, but it was designed for an era when most people used wired connections on desktop computers, but about 10 years after SSH came onto the scene, people started using mobile technology to connect.

Laptops, tablets, smartphones, Wi-Fi and cellular connections are great, but the connections aren't always reliable on mobile devices. Mosh, or Mobile Shell, makes remote connections more robust over unreliable connections. It piggybacks on SSH and adds some nifty features, such as the ability to reconnect when you close the laptop lid or your connection drops out, which makes it great for using over Wi-Fi or other mobile connections. It's available in most Linux distributions and even as a Google Chrome application, so you can connect right in your browser.

Like SSH and Telnet, Mosh caters to a more technical audience. A system administrator who works from home can use it to log in to remote machines and make changes, even if a Wi-Fi connection is interrupted. As soon as it comes back up, he or she can resume her work. The connection can even be changed from Wi-Fi to cellular to wired connections without missing a beat.

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