Why you shouldn’t use Telnet for remote connections

Want to access remote servers but don’t want to risk your online privacy? Use SSH or Mosh instead of Telnet.

Network switch

If you need to connect to a remote computer using 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 will discuss the reasons why you shouldn’t use Telnet and other secure protocols you can use to connect to servers remotely.

Telnet is not secure

The main problem with Telnet is that it is not secure. All text sent between computers using Telnet is plain text. This also includes usernames and passwords. If you are using Telnet, someone can easily intercept the connection and will be able to see any credentials you send using a “man-in-the-middle attack”.

WSL Ubuntu Telnet man page

This is an example of the different cultures under which Arpanet, the original network that became the Internet, was developed. As a U.S. government research project in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Arpanet was experimental and had no ambition to become the massive global network that is the modern Internet today.

The developers were academics connecting the country’s leading research universities and they trusted each other. Surely, no one would ever try to break into a computer.

Instead, use SSH and Mosh

One such password theft attack motivated Tatu Ylönen, then at Helsinki University of Technology in Finland, to create Secure Shell or SSH. The OpenBSD project OpenSSH is one of the most widely deployed on modern Unix and Linux systems. Even Windows 10 has a native version of OpenSSH built in.

This is not surprising, because SSH solves the problem that makes Telnet so dangerous. SSH encrypts the connection between two or more computers, which means that even if an attacker manages to gain access to the connection, he will not be able to understand its meaning.

OpenSSH Home Page

Even as useful as SSH is, like Telnet, the main technical assumptions in its development meant that subsequent deployments of the network exposed its shortcomings. SSH assumes the use of always-on wired connections. Try closing your laptop cover while logged in and see what happens. Your SSH connection will freeze.

Another project, Mosh, has arisen to solve problems using SSH on laptops, mobile devices and wireless connections. Mosh keeps you connected even if a Wi-Fi network is down and lets you move between different networks efficiently.

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

Connect to remote servers securely

With SSH and Mosh, you can ditch Telnet altogether, protecting your login credentials while accessing remote computers. To ensure your privacy online, you should be aware of the limitations of any technology or software you use.

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

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