Chapter 3. Inside SSH
SSH secures your data while it passes over a network, but how exactly does it work ? In this chapter, we move firmly onto technical ground and explain the inner workings of SSH. Let's roll up our sleeves and dive into the bits and bytes. This chapter is written for system administrators, network administrators, and security professionals. Our goal is to teach you enough about SSH to make an intelligent, technically sound decision about using it. We cover the SSH-1 and SSH-2 protocols separately since they have important differences. Of course, the ultimate references on SSH are the protocol standards and the source code of an implementation. We don't completely analyze the protocols or recapitulate every step taken by the software. Rather, we summarize them to provide a solid, technical overview of their operation. If you need more specifics, you should refer to the standards documents. The SSH Version 2 protocol is in draft status on the IETF standards track; it is available at:
Contents:Overview of Features
A Cryptography Primer
The Architecture of an SSH System
As-User Access (userfile)
SSH and File Transfers (scp and sftp)
Algorithms Used by SSH
Threats SSH Can Counter
Threats SSH Doesn't Prevent
3.1. Overview of FeaturesThe major features and guarantees of the SSH protocol are:
3.1.1. Privacy (Encryption)Privacy means protecting data from disclosure. Typical computer networks don't guarantee privacy; anyone with access to the network hardware, or to hosts connected to the network may be able to read (or sniff ) all data passing over the network. Although modern switched networks have reduced this problem in local area networks, it is still a serious issue; passwords are regularly stolen by such sniffing attacks. SSH provides privacy by encrypting data that passes over the network. This end-to-end encryption is based on random keys that are securely negotiated for that session and then destroyed when the session is over. SSH supports a variety of encryption algorithms for session data, including such standard ciphers as ARCFOUR, Blowfish, DES, IDEA, and triple-DES (3DES).
3.1.2. IntegrityIntegrity means assuring that data transmitted from one end of a network connection arrives unaltered on the other side. The underlying transport of SSH, TCP/IP, does have integrity checking to detect alteration due to network problems (electrical noise, lost packets due to excessive traffic, etc.). Nevertheless, these methods are ineffective against deliberate tampering and can be fooled by a clever attacker. Even though SSH encrypts the data stream so an attacker can't easily change selected parts to achieve a specific result, TCP/IP's integrity checking alone can't prevent, say, an attacker's deliberate injection of garbage into your session. A more complex example is a replay attack. Imagine that Attila the Attacker is monitoring your SSH session and also simultaneously watching over your shoulder (either physically, or by monitoring your keystrokes at your terminal). In the course of your work, Attila sees you type the command rm -rf * within a small directory. He can't read the encrypted SSH session data, of course, but he could correlate a burst of activity on that connection with your typing the command and capture the packets containing the encrypted version of your command. Later, when you're working in your home directory, Attila inserts the captured bits into your SSH session, and your terminal mysteriously erases all your files! Attila's replay attack succeeds because the packets he inserted are valid; he could not have produced them himself (due to the encryption), but he can copy and replay them later. TCP/IP's integrity check is performed only on a per-packet basis, so it can't detect Attila's attack. Clearly, the integrity check must apply to the data stream as a whole, ensuring that the bits arrive as they were sent: in order and with no duplication. The SSH-2 protocol uses cryptographic integrity checking, which verifies both that transmitted data hasn't been altered and that it truly comes from the other end of the connection. SSH-2 uses keyed hash algorithms based on MD5 and SHA-1 for this purpose: well known and widely trusted algorithms. SSH-1, on the other hand, uses a comparatively weak method: a 32-bit cyclic redundancy check (CRC-32) on the unencrypted data in each packet. [Section 3.9.3, "Hash Functions"]
3.1.3. AuthenticationAuthentication means verifying someone's identity. Suppose I claim to be Richard Silverman, and you want to authenticate that claim. If not much is at stake, you might just take my word for it. If you're a little concerned, you might ask for my driver's license or other photo ID. If you're a bank officer deciding whether to open a safe-deposit box for me, you might also require that I possess a physical key, and so on. It all depends on how sure you want to be. The arsenal of high-tech authentication techniques is growing constantly and includes DNA-testing microchips, retina and hand scanners, and voice-print analyzers. Every SSH connection involves two authentications: the client verifies the identity of the SSH server (server authentication), and the server verifies the identity of the user requesting access (user authentication). Server authentication ensures that the SSH server is genuine, not an impostor, guarding against an attacker's redirecting your network connection to a different machine. Server authentication also protects against man-in-the-middle attacks, wherein the attacker sits invisibly between you and the server, pretending to be the client on one side and the server on the other, fooling both sides and reading all your traffic in the process! There is difference of opinion as to the granularity of server authentication: should it be distinguish between different server hosts, or between individual instances of the SSH server? That is, must all SSH servers running on a particular host have the same host key, or might they have different ones? The term "host key," of course, reflects a bias towards the first interpretation, which SSH1 and OpenSSH follow: their known-hosts lists can only associate a single key with any particular hostname. SSH2, on the other hand, uses the second approach: "host keys" are actually associated with individual listening sockets, allowing multiple keys per host. This may reflect a pragmatic need rather than a considered change in principle. When SSH2 first appeared, it supported only DSA host keys, whereas SSH-1 supports only RSA keys. It was therefore impossible, as a matter of implementation, for a single host to run both SSH-1 and SSH2 servers and have them share a host key. User authentication is traditionally done with passwords, which unfortunately are a weak authentication scheme. To prove your identity you have to reveal the password, exposing it to possible theft. Additionally, in order to remember a password, people are likely to keep it short and meaningful, which makes the password easier for third parties to guess. For longer passwords, some people choose words or sentences in their native languages, and these passwords are likely to be crackable. From the standpoint of information theory, grammatical sentences contain little real information (technically known as entropy): generally less than two bits per character in English text, far less than the 8 -16 bits per character found in computer encodings. SSH supports authentication by password, encrypting the password as it travels over the network. This is a vast improvement over other common remote-access protocols (Telnet, FTP) which generally send your password in the clear (i.e., unencrypted) over the network, where anyone with sufficient network access can steal it! Nevertheless, it's still only simple password authentication, so SSH provides other stronger and more manageable mechanisms: per-user public-key signatures, and an improved rlogin-style authentication, with host identity verified by public key. In addition, various SSH implementations support some other systems, including Kerberos, RSA Security's SecurID tokens, S/Key one-time passwords, and the Pluggable Authentication Modules (PAM) system. An SSH client and server negotiate to determine which authentication mechanism to use, based on their configurations. SSH2 can even require multiple forms of authentication.
3.1.4. AuthorizationAuthorization means deciding what someone may or may not do. It occurs after authentication, since you can't grant someone privileges until you know who she is. SSH servers have various ways of restricting clients' actions. Access to interactive login sessions, TCP port and X window forwarding, key agent forwarding, etc., can all be controlled, though not all these features are available in all SSH implementations, and they aren't always as general or flexible as you might want. Authorization may be controlled at a serverwide level (e.g., the /etc/sshd_config file for SSH1), or per account, depending on the authentication method used (e.g., each user's files ~/.ssh/authorized_keys, ~/.ssh2/authorization, ~/.shosts, ~/.k5login, etc.).
3.1.5. Forwarding ( Tunneling)Forwarding or tunneling means encapsulating another TCP-based service, such as Telnet or IMAP, within an SSH session. This brings the security benefits of SSH (privacy, integrity, authentication, authorization) to other TCP-based services. For example, an ordinary Telnet connection transmits your username, password, and the rest of your login session in the clear. By forwarding telnet through SSH, all of this data is automatically encrypted and integrity-checked, and you may authenticate using SSH credentials. SSH supports three types of forwarding. General TCP port forwarding operates as described earlier for any TCP-based service. [Section 9.2, "Port Forwarding"] X forwarding comprises additional features for securing the X protocol (i.e., X windows). [Section 9.3, "X Forwarding"] The third type, agent forwarding, permits SSH clients to access SSH public keys on remote machines. [Section 6.3.5, "Agent Forwarding"]
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