Because FLOSS is handy, isn’t it?

X forwarding through SSH

Posted by isilanes on September 17, 2007

Already out of ideas for blog posts, I will shamelessly copy some material from my web site.

When connecting to a remote machine (called, e.g., Orpheus), we used to do the following to open a remote X client application:

localmachine> xhost +orpheus
localmachine> ssh orpheus
orpheus> setenv DISPLAY localmachine:0.0
orpheus> xeyes

Doing so is insecure, because 1) all the info sent from/to Orpheus through the xeyes process is transported unencripted (maybe not a big concern with xeyes, but what if the remote application is a dialog where we insert some password?) and 2) xhost only checks for the IP we atribute to Orpheus to accept X input. Any user connected to Orpheus, or even any cracker who knows how to fake a different IP address (that of Orpheus) can send us X input that our computer will accept (e.g., move our mouse, close windows, simulate keystrokes, and display unwanted images in our screen).

The solution would be to forward X traffic over SSH. What we do is basically connect to a machine through SSH, and then accept locally only the X input coming from the remote machine that originates from the SSH process we started.

To do so we must insert the following line into the ~/.ssh/config file in our “localmachine” computer (create the file if it doesn’t exist):

ForwardX11 yes

The next step is more complex, since only the administrator of the remote machine can acomplish it. As root, we have to open the /etc/ssh/sshd_config file (notice the “d”) in the remote machine (e.g. Orpheus), and search for the lines:

#X11Forwarding no
#X11DisplayOffset 10

And set them to:

X11Forwarding yes
X11DisplayOffset 10

After that, we have to restart the SSH daemon. On Debian:

% /etc/init.d/ssh restart

On Slackware:

% /etc/rc.d/rc.sshd restart

A couple of final notes:

The environment variable DISPLAY should NOT be set by ~/.login or some other login script, because this would override the above procedure, and make the X client run over regular TCP. To use the SSH tunneling:

localmachine> ssh -X orpheus
orpheus> xeyes

et voilà!

To take advantage of this system, and make our computer more secure, no machine should be allowed to send X input through xhost, that is, issueing the xhost command should output the following:

localmachine> xhost
access control enabled, only authorized clients can connect

with no "INET:Orpheus.sq.ehu.es"-like lines.

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