Forward ports with a reverse SSH tunnel


  • no port forwarding needed on the LAN of the host
  • encrypted connection
  • hides the IP of the host from the public


  • a Virtual Private Server (VPS) - eg. a minimal package on Lunanode for ~3.5$/month
  • root access on the VPS - only root can forward ports under no. 1000
  • ssh access to the host computer (where the ports will be forwarded from)

On the host computer

  • login as root or run:
    $ sudo su -

  • Check for an ssh public key:
    # cat ./.ssh/*.pub

  • if there is none generate one (keep pressing ENTER):
    # ssh-keygen -t rsa -b 4096
    • keep pressing [ENTER] to use the default values:
        Generating public/private rsa key pair.
        Enter file in which to save the key (/root/.ssh/id_rsa): 
        Enter passphrase (empty for no passphrase): 
        Enter same passphrase again: 
        Your identification has been saved in /root/.ssh/id_rsa.
        Your public key has been saved in /root/.ssh/
        The key fingerprint is:
        SHA256:xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx root@hostname
        The key's randomart image is:
        +---[RSA 4096]----+
        |            xxxx |
        |           xxxxx |
        |           xxxxx |
        |          xxxxxx |
        |       xxxxxxxxx |
        |      xxxxxxxx   |
        |     xxxxxxxxxx  |
        |     xxxxxxxxxxx |
        |      xxxxxxxxxx |
  • copy the ssh public key over to the VPS (fill in the VPS_IP_ADDRESS).
    Will be prompted for the root password of the VPS.
    # ssh-copy-id root@VPS_IP_ADDRESS

Working on the VPS

  • login as root or run:
    $ sudo su -

  • edit the sshd config:
    # nano /etc/ssh/sshd_config

    • make sure these entries are active (uncommented, meaning there is no # at the beggining of the line).
      Can just paste these on the end of the file:
        RSAAuthentication yes
        PubkeyAuthentication yes
        GatewayPorts yes
        AllowTcpForwarding yes
        ClientAliveInterval 60

      CTRL+O, ENTER to save, CTRL+X to exit.

  • restart the sshd service (WARNING: you can lose access at this point if the config is wrong):
    # systemctl restart sshd

Back to the host computer

Set up a systemd service

  • create the service file:
    # nano /etc/systemd/system/autossh-tunnel.service

    • Paste the following and fill in the VPS_IP_ADDRESS.
      Add or remove ports as required.
      Description=AutoSSH tunnel service
      ExecStart=/usr/bin/autossh -C -M 0 -v -N -o "ServerAliveInterval=60" -R 9735:localhost:9735 -R 443:localhost:443 -R 80:localhost:80 root@VPS_IP_ADDRESS
  • Enable and start the service:
    # systemctl enable autossh-tunnel
    # systemctl start autossh-tunnel

  • The port forwarding with a reverse ssh-tunnel is now complete. You should be able access the ports/services of the host computer through the IP of the VPS.


  • Check if there are any errors on the host computer:
    # sudo journalctl -f -n 20 -u autossh-tunnel
    • Look for the lines:
        debug1: Authentication succeeded (publickey).
        debug1: Remote connections from LOCALHOST:9735 forwarded to local address localhost:9735
        debug1: Remote connections from LOCALHOST:443 forwarded to local address localhost:443
        debug1: Remote connections from LOCALHOST:80 forwarded to local address localhost:80
        debug1: remote forward success for: listen 9735, connect localhost:9735
        debug1: remote forward success for: listen 443, connect localhost:443
        debug1: remote forward success for: listen 80, connect localhost:80
        debug1: All remote forwarding requests processed
  • To check if tunnel is active on the VPS:
    # netstat -tulpn

    • Look for the lines:
        Active Internet connections (only servers)
        Proto Recv-Q Send-Q Local Address           Foreign Address         State       PID/Program name    
        tcp        0      0    *               LISTEN      7694/sshd: root     
        tcp        0      0   *               LISTEN      7694/sshd: root     
        tcp        0      0  *               LISTEN      7694/sshd: root     
        tcp6       0      0 :::80                   :::*                    LISTEN      7694/sshd: root     
        tcp6       0      0 :::443                  :::*                    LISTEN      7694/sshd: root     
        tcp6       0      0 :::9735                 :::*                    LISTEN      7694/sshd: root