Why You Ought to Not Use Telnet for Distant Connections

Would you like to access remote servers but not risk your online privacy? Use SSH or Mosh instead of Telnet.

If you need to connect to a remote computer from the command line, you might be tempted to use Telnet, one of the oldest protocols still in use on the Internet. But you shouldn't, because it's not safe for your digital privacy.

This article explains the reasons why you shouldn't use Telnet and what other secure protocols you can use to connect to servers remotely.

Telnet is insecure

The main problem with Telnet is that it is not secure. All text sent between computers over Telnet is in clear text. This also includes usernames and passwords. If you're using Telnet, someone can easily intercept the connection and see all of the credentials you send with a "man-in-the-middle attack".

This is an example of the different cultures under which Arpanet, the original network that gave rise to the Internet, was developed. As a US government research project in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Arpanet was experimental with no ambitions to become the massive global network that the modern Internet is today.

The developers were academics who linked the major research universities in the country and they trusted each other. Certainly no one would ever try to break into a computer.

Use SSH and Mosh instead

Such a password theft attack motivated Tatu Ylönen to develop Secure Shell or SSH at the Helsinki University of Technology in Finland. The OpenBSD project OpenSSH is one of the most widespread projects on modern Unix and Linux systems. Even Windows 10 has a native version of OpenSSH built in.

No wonder, because SSH solves the problem that made Telnet so dangerous. SSH encrypts the connection between two or more computers, which means that even if an attacker can tap into the connection, they cannot understand it.

As useful as SSH is as Telnet, the key technical assumptions behind its development meant that later network deployments revealed its shortcomings. SSH assumes that wired, always-on connections are used. Try closing your laptop lid when connected and see what happens. Your SSH connection freezes.

Another project, Mosh, came up to address the issues of using SSH on laptops, mobile devices, and wireless connections. Mosh keeps you connected even if a Wi-Fi network goes down and enables efficient roaming between different networks.

Related: Get Better Remote Sessions on Linux with Mosh and Tmux Linux

Securely log in to remote servers

SSH and Mosh allow you to completely give up Telnet and protect your credentials while accessing remote computers. To ensure your privacy online, you should be aware of the limitations of any technology or software you use.

SSH is no exception either. Knowing what the technology is and how attackers can use it against you can help protect your digital security.

What is SSH and what does it stand for?

Heard about SSH but never knew what it is? Here's what you need to know.

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About the author

David Delony
(32 published articles)

David is a freelance writer living in the Pacific Northwest but originally from the Bay Area. He has been passionate about technology since childhood. David's interests include reading, watching quality TV shows and movies, retro games, and collecting records.

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By David Delony

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