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SSH The Secure Shell: The Definitive Guide Daniel J Barrett, Richard E Silverman and Robert G Byrnes
Published by O'Reilly Media
ISBN:0-596-00895-3
400 pages
£ 28.50
Published: 20th May 2005
reviewed by John Collins
   in the September 2005 issue (pdf), (html)
bookcover  

SSH is a suite of servers and clients which replace telnet, FTP and rlogin with much more secure equivalents. Not only is the authentication required to establish a connection more secure, but all the data traffic, including to and from X servers, is transparently encrypted.

SSH, after its free beginnings as a project by Tatu Ylonen, a researcher at Helsinki, has split into two versions, OpenSSH, which continues to be Open Source, now in release 4.1 (although this book describes 3.9) and is supplied with most Linux distributions and a number of Unix distributions, and a commercial version called SSH Tectia (abbreviated to Tectia). The command-line options and many of the keywords in configuration files are subtly different between the two versions. The commercial version can be obtained from www.ssh.org and the Open Source version downloaded from www.openssh.com (I find this contrast slightly amusing!).

This book attempts to describe both versions, with tables in places explaining the differences. I rather had the feeling that the authors preferred Tectia to OpenSSH although I am sure that almost all the readers and all of the writers of this review will have no intention of buying Tectia. The appendices are primarily focused on Tectia and its options and benefits.

That said, I did learn quite a lot about SSH which I didn't know before from this book, and one or two things I was actually doing wrong. It covers all aspects of SSH in great detail. Starting from an overview and discussion of basic usage, it talks about internals, compiling and installing the sources, configuring servers, key management, advanced options for clients and servers, port forwarding, recommended setups, case studies of particular requirements and troubleshooting. It then talks about a variety of non-Unix implementations from various sources, with particular attention to Tectia under Windows. The five appendices deal with options and features, although mostly emphasising Tectia.

I think that this book is well-written and comprehensive despite it talking so much about the Tectia product with its subtly different options, although most of the time it does make clear where it is talking about Tectia rather than OpenSSH. If you are going to be doing a lot of work with SSH and want to be sure you've covered security issues, port forwarding and so forth properly, I'm sure this book will be extremely helpful to you.

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