Not until last week, my ISP finally decided to change my home’s internet connection from IPoATM to PPPoE, and giving me a more direct access to the internet, thus using my router’s NAT configuration.

The Problem

Before they made the changes, I had to struggle with server applications or having to figure out how to access my home’s pc while I was at somewhere else. The only benefit I had from this was having a somewhat more secure network, only those connected to the same ATM bridge would have access to my home network. Asking my ISP to setup a port forwarding to my modem wasn’t a choice, since they would just want to try to sell me a public static IP service.

Using SSH Reverse Tunneling

Reading on the web I found out about reverse SSH tunnelling, which consists on creating a SSH connection from the destination machine behind the firewall to the source machine. Since an SSH connection was already open from the destination to the source, all it’s left is to connect through the same SSH connection.

The solution would be as shown below.

First, the destination has to create an SSH connection to the source

$ ssh -R 1234:localhost:22 [email protected]
  • The -R option specifies port forwarding
  • 1234 is the port to listen to, it can be any unused port
  • localhost is the host in which the port will be forwarded to
  • 22 is the port to which the listening port connection will be forwarded to, in this case the default port in which the SSH connection is made
  • user is the username at the source machine
  • sourceHost is the source machine’s domain or IP Address

So, here the port 1234 will be opened and listening at the remote machine, any connection made to this port will be forwarded to port 22 at the localhost through the SSH connection.

This works, but in this case, but both the source and destination machines would have to be on 24/7 in order to keep this connect, which wouldn’t be that convenient at all.

##My setup with Tomato and a VPS##

I have a VPS accesible from anywhere, and a WRT54GL with Tomato firmware at my home network which can access to my HomePC. Since both hosts do stay on 24/7 is possible to use them to keep an open SSH connection between them.

So, including those to the equation, the solution setup would be:

  • The router creates an SSH connection with port forwarding to the VPS
  • When needed, from my laptop I can connect from anywhere to my VPS
  • Then from the VPS, a reverse SSH tunnel is made from the listening port through the established connection
  • From the router I can just Wake on LAN my Home PC, and access through another ssh connection o any other way.

Because the router could be restarted once in a while, it would have to reconnect automatically after it’s up again, and that’s possible to do so with Tomato.

First, I had to make sure that Tomato is able to create the SSH connection without authentication, to do so, the router’s rsa public key should be added to the VPS’s /etc/authorized_keys file.

Keeping in mind that Tomato uses Dropbear SSH client/server, and not OpenSSH, the command to generate the key’s would be:

$ dropbearkey -t rsa -f /jffs/rsa_key 
  • The option -t specifies the type of encryption, and rsa is the encoding we want
  • -f /jffs/rsa_key specifies the file in which the private key will be written to. Notice that I am creating it in the /jffs directory. JFFS is a mounted filesystem part of the router’s flash internal memory; because everything else outside is on RAM, we want it to persist.

Once the keys are generated, the private will be written to the specified file and the public will be printed on the screen. This public key has to be placed inside the /.ssh/authorized_keys file on the VPS.

After setting up the keys, we can test if it works by trying to connect from the router’s command line:

$ ssh -y -f -N -i /jffs/rsa_key -R 1234: [email protected]
  • The -y option is to accept any remote host key. Since the .ssh/known_hosts file will always be lost after reboot, our VPS host would always be unknown
  • The -N option to not specify a remote command (This is dropbear SSH, and by default it seems to be used mostly to run remote commands instead of keeping an session)
  • The -i option to use our identity file, our private key to authenticate. /jffs/rsa_key is the private key file.
  • The -R to specify port forwarding
  • 1234 is the port to listen to, it can be any unused port
  • is the host in which the port will be forwarded to, is equal to any host, we can also replace this with the routers external IP address (which would be the same as the home PC’s IP address)
  • 22 is the port to which the 1234 port connection will be forwarded to
  • user is the username to use to login to the VPS
  • VPSHost is the VPS address

Update (2/14/16): As pointed out by our reader Frederic, for a more secure connection, we should drop the -y option and instead add an init script to the router to add our VPS public key to its known_hosts file. I’ll include the few extra steps later, but for now, check out his comment.

If a remote session in the VPS opens, then it worked.

Inside the Tomato web GUI, paste the above command to Administration->Scripts->WanUp section. This will make Tomato run open an SSH connection to the VPS once the internet connection is established after restarting.

That’s it, now you can open a reverse SSH connection on the VPS by using the command

 $ ssh [email protected]  -p 1234

Where user would be your router’s SSH user and 1234 the port you set to listen and forward.

You can wake your PC inside your routers network with ether-wake

 $ ether-wake 00:11:22:33:44:55

Where 00:11:22:33:44:55 would be your PC’s MAC address. For convenience, we can make Tomato to create a wake up script, paste the following line in Administration->Scripts->Init with the correct MAC address

 $ echo "/usr/bin/ether-wake 00:1C:DF:32:AC:41" > /home/root/ 

Viola! All it takes now is to run the script with ./ and access your PC once it finishes booting up.