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Related pages: SSHThroughHTTPProxy

SSH Through or Over Proxy

In today's cruel networked world, we're too often hampered behind (evil) company proxies that restricts how we can use the internet while at work, at a customers' place or even in some cases while at home or at friends'.

Not only do proxies restrict what you can do, what protocols that are accepted, what sites you can visit and what TCP ports that are let through, it also allows your company or friend to log and supervise you.

Note that even when you use HTTPS through the proxy, the server name is exposed so a logging proxy will see what HTTPS servers you connect to.

I'll show you some easy steps that help you circumvent the boundaries of most proxy setups, and that also will bring you more freedom and prevent peeking eyes to investigate your browsing habits!

What You Need

You need software installed and running in a location outside of where you are. I call that place 'home' in this document.

The place you want to get out from is what I call 'work' in this document. At 'work' you're behind the evil proxy.

At Home

You need a HTTP proxy running, and you really only need it to accept connections to proxy from localhost. Lots of people already have an Apache running and making it load the proxy module and configure it for localhost is very easy and quickly done. Of course you can opt for another proxy software, such as squid if you prefer that. In this example, we assume that the proxy runs on port 80 - the same as the typical apache install uses.

You may want to enable HTTPS and FTP and other protocols in the proxy config.

You need sshd running on port 443. Almost everyone already have sshd running already, you just need to make it also listen for connections on port 443. 443 is typically used for HTTPS and that's why we use it - most proxies are configured to allow connections to 443 since companies want to allow their employees to be able to use banks and other HTTPS web services on the net.

Perhaps needless to say, but you must make sure that your Apache or other httpd server doesn't use the 443 port for HTTPS.

At Work
picture trying to show the desrcibed scenario

You need an SSH client that can issue CONNECT requests through the company HTTP proxy. If you're on Windows, using Putty is fine as it has built-in support for tunneling through a HTTP proxy. If you're on unix/linux (or cywgin) you can use openssh with corkscrew to go through the proxy to your home computer's port 443.

If using openssh, you'd add the following line to your ~/.ssh/config file:

ProxyCommand /usr/local/bin/corkscrew 80 %h %p

You config the ssh client to port-forward a local port, say 8080, to the remote's localhost:80. Now you have a channel established to your home computer, over a securely encrypted connection. Of course you also get a SSH login and you can start your X-programs from home to pop up at work etc...

The openssh command line to connect and port-foward the proxy could then look like this:

ssh -L 8080:localhost:80 -p 443

Configure your browser at work to use "localhost:8080" as proxy, for all the protocols you have enabled in your proxy at home.

All subsequent browser requests are then sent over the SSH connection, through the proxy, to the ssh server at home and from there to your proxy, and out in the world...

The SOCKS proxy way

Instead of running a HTTP proxy at home to reach the internet with, you can use the tunnel as a SOCKS proxy. This basically allows you to not run anything at all at home apart from the ssh server.

If you have openssh in both ends, you can opt to use this simpler approach. It lets you fire up the tunnel to your home machine and use that tunnel as a SOCKS proxy rather than using a HTTP one at the other end of the tunnel. This way, you don't need to run any other software at home than the ssh server itself.

You can start up the tunnel/SOCKS proxy from the work side by issuing a command like:

ssh -D 8080 -p 443

You may still need the "ProxyCommand" line mentioned above to make sure your ssh client can reach your ssh server at home.

Subsequently, you need to configure your work browser to use the SOCKS proxy now running at localhost port 8080.


For cases when CONNECT is not allowed to port 443 of your home computer, you can of course try another port - if any at all are allowed, and then you may need to move your proxy/web server from 80 if that's the only way for you.

If you cannot find any useful port or if CONNECT is not allowed at all, you need to establish a tunnel using normal HTTP, using for example httptunnel. httptunnel is a client/server application, and you want the server ("hts") to run on your home computer, listening on port 80, and you run the client ("htc") on your work computer setting up the tunnel.

At home, take an incoming connection on port 80 and forward it to port 22 (ssh):

hts -F localhost:22 80

At work, connect to home over the company proxy and forward a local port (8022 in this example) to SSH to home over:

htc -P -F 8022
Additional Comments

For other protocols you can of course just make sure that your work-ssh session forwards more ports to your home machine. It then differs between the protocols how you get them to work. If you want to IRC at work through this setup, you need a "IRC bouncer" (like muh) running on your home machine since IRC cannot work properly otherwise.

For cases when your work doesn't actually lock you behind a proxy, you can still use this approach (although you can skip the part with doing CONNECT and your home computer doesn't have to run ssh on port 443) to prevent your work admins from snooping on your network traffic.

Changelog: I added the SOCKS proxy details in June 2010.

Updated: September 3, 2021 15:12 (Central European, Stockholm Sweden)