What is SSH Protocol? & How works?

Published June 5, 2024
What is SSH Protocol & How works
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What is SSH Protocol? & How works?


In today’s interconnected world, managing remote servers efficiently and securely is crucial. The Secure Shell (SSH) protocol stands out as a vital tool for this purpose, providing encrypted communications and robust authentication mechanisms. This blog delves into what SSH is, how it works, and why it’s an essential part of modern IT infrastructure.

What is SSH?

SSH, or Secure Shell, is a cryptographic network protocol used for operating network services securely over an unsecured network. The primary use of SSH is to access and manage remote servers and devices securely, typically over the internet. It was designed as a replacement for older, insecure protocols such as Telnet, rlogin, and rsh, which transmit data, including passwords, in plaintext.

Key Features of SSH

  1. Encryption: SSH ensures that all data transmitted between the client and server is encrypted, protecting it from eavesdropping and man-in-the-middle attacks.
  2. Authentication: SSH supports various authentication methods, including password-based and public key authentication, enhancing security.
  3. Integrity: Data integrity checks are performed to ensure that data has not been altered during transmission.
  4. Port Forwarding: SSH can tunnel network services, allowing secure access to remote services.
  5. SFTP: SSH includes Secure File Transfer Protocol (SFTP) for secure file transfers.

How SSH Works

SSH operates on a client-server model. Here’s a step-by-step overview of how it works:

1. Initiating the Connection

The process begins when an SSH client initiates a connection to an SSH server. The client sends a connection request to the server, typically on port 22.

2. Handshake and Key Exchange

Upon receiving the request, the server responds with a greeting and its supported protocol versions. The client and server then negotiate the SSH protocol version and agree on the encryption algorithms to use. They perform a key exchange to generate a shared secret, which is used to encrypt the session.

3. Authentication

After the key exchange, the client must authenticate itself to the server. Common authentication methods include:

  • Password Authentication: The client provides a password, which is securely transmitted to the server for verification.
  • Public Key Authentication: The client uses a pair of cryptographic keys – a private key (kept secret) and a public key (shared with the server). The server verifies that the client possesses the private key corresponding to the public key.

4. Establishing the Secure Channel

Once authentication is successful, a secure channel is established. All data exchanged between the client and server is encrypted using symmetric encryption algorithms. This secure channel ensures confidentiality and integrity.

5. Data Transfer

With the secure channel in place, the client can execute commands, transfer files, and manage the remote server as if they were physically present. All actions and data are encrypted, protecting them from interception.

SSH Components

SSH consists of three main components:

  1. ssh (Client): The command used to connect to remote systems.
  2. sshd (Server): The daemon that runs on the server and responds to connection requests from clients.
  3. ssh-keygen (Key Generation Tool): A tool for creating new authentication keys.

Public Key Infrastructure in SSH

Public key infrastructure (PKI) is a crucial aspect of SSH. It involves creating and managing pairs of cryptographic keys (private and public). Here’s how it works:

  • Generating Keys: Users generate a pair of keys using ssh-keygen. The private key remains on the client machine, while the public key is copied to the server.
  • Key-Based Authentication: When the client attempts to connect, the server uses the public key to challenge the client. If the client can respond correctly (using the private key), the server authenticates the client.

Common Use Cases

SSH is widely used for:

  • Remote Server Management: Administrators use SSH to manage servers, perform maintenance, and deploy applications remotely.
  • Secure File Transfers: SFTP and SCP (Secure Copy Protocol) facilitate secure file transfers between machines.
  • Tunneling and Port Forwarding: SSH tunnels can securely forward ports, enabling access to services behind firewalls or NAT.


The SSH protocol is a cornerstone of secure network communications, offering robust encryption, authentication, and data integrity. Its versatility and security make it indispensable for remote server management, secure file transfers, and more. By understanding how SSH works and leveraging its features, you can ensure that your remote communications are both efficient and secure.


What is SSH Protocol? & How works? ​(F.A.Q)

What is the difference between SSH and SSL/TLS?

SSH (Secure Shell) and SSL/TLS (Secure Sockets Layer / Transport Layer Security) are both cryptographic protocols designed to secure communications over a network. However, they serve different purposes and operate in different contexts:

  • SSH: Primarily used for secure remote login, command execution, and file transfer between a client and a server. It provides a secure channel for managing remote servers and devices.
  • SSL/TLS: Used to secure data transmission over the web. It is commonly used in HTTPS to secure web traffic, ensuring that data exchanged between a web browser and a server is encrypted and authenticated.

How do I set up SSH key-based authentication?

Setting up SSH key-based authentication involves generating a pair of cryptographic keys (private and public) and configuring the server to recognize your public key. Here’s a simplified step-by-step guide:

  1. Generate Key Pair: Use the ssh-keygen command on your client machine to generate a new key pair:
    ssh-keygen -t rsa -b 4096 -C "your_email@example.com"

    This creates a private key (e.g., id_rsa) and a public key (e.g., id_rsa.pub).

  2. Copy Public Key to Server: Use the ssh-copy-id command to copy your public key to the server:
    ssh-copy-id user@remote_server

    Alternatively, you can manually append the contents of id_rsa.pub to the ~/.ssh/authorized_keys file on the server.

  3. Connect Using SSH: Now, you can connect to the server without a password:
    ssh user@remote_server

What are the security best practices for using SSH?

To ensure the security of your SSH connections, follow these best practices:

  • Use Strong Encryption Algorithms: Ensure that your SSH server is configured to use strong encryption algorithms and key exchange methods.
  • Disable Root Login: Prevent direct root access by setting PermitRootLogin no in the SSH server configuration file (/etc/ssh/sshd_config).
  • Implement Key-Based Authentication: Use SSH key-based authentication instead of password-based authentication to enhance security.
  • Use SSH Agent Forwarding Carefully: Only use SSH agent forwarding when necessary, and be aware of the potential security risks.
  • Regularly Update SSH Software: Keep your SSH client and server software up to date to protect against known vulnerabilities.

How can I troubleshoot SSH connection issues?

Troubleshooting SSH connection issues can involve several steps:

  • Check Network Connectivity: Ensure that your client machine can reach the server by pinging it or using other network diagnostic tools.
  • Verify SSH Service: Make sure the SSH service is running on the server:
    sudo systemctl status sshd
  • Examine SSH Configuration: Check the server’s SSH configuration file (/etc/ssh/sshd_config) for any misconfigurations.
  • Check Firewall Settings: Ensure that the firewall on the server allows incoming SSH connections (typically on port 22).
  • Review Logs: Examine the SSH logs on both the client and server for error messages. On the server, check /var/log/auth.log (or /var/log/secure on some distributions) for relevant entries.