Secure Remote Access with SSH in FreeBSD

Jul 19, 2023 • FreeBSDSoftware

As the world increasingly moves towards remote work, the need for secure remote access to systems is paramount. If you use FreeBSD as a server or desktop, it’s important to have a reliable, secure way to access it remotely. This guide will review one of the most popular methods: SSH (Secure Shell).

Why Secure Shell (SSH)?

SSH is a network protocol that provides administrators with a secure way to access a remote computer. It provides an encrypted method of communication between your computer and your server. You can think of it as a safer version of the older protocols, such as Telnet, that did not encrypt its transport layer.

But SSH is not only about secure communication. It’s a Swiss Army knife for any system administrator providing features from copying files (via scp) to setting up secured network tunnels, or even mounting remote directories via sshfs.

For in-depth knowledge regarding network configuration and troubleshooting for FreeBSD, our FreeBSD Network Configuration and Troubleshooting post is a must-read.


Alright, now let’s jump into setting up Secure Shell on your system. FreeBSD comes with OpenSSH out of the box, so you generally will not need to install any extra packages. However, it’s always a good idea to keep your system up-to-date using the FreeBSD Ports or the pkg system.

Run the following commands to make sure your system is up-to-date:

sudo pkg update
sudo pkg upgrade

If for some reason you do not have OpenSSH, you can install it via pkg:

sudo pkg install openssh-portable

Configuring SSH

The main configuration file for SSH is located at /etc/ssh/sshd_config. This file controls all the settings for your SSH server.

Firstly, you will need to make sure the SSH server will start when the system boots. In order to do so, add the following line to /etc/rc.conf:


After this, the SSH server can be started using the service command: sudo service sshd start.

Let’s tweak a few settings in /etc/ssh/sshd_config to increase security. Remember to backup the original file before making any changes.

First, disable root logins by updating PermitRootLogin to no. This is a significant step to secure your system because it limits the risk of unauthorized access to the root user:

PermitRootLogin no

Next, you could modify the port SSH runs on, the default port is 22. Be careful here, though, because changing this may complicate the setup process, and merely obscurity is not the same as proper security practices.

While understanding these configurations is vital, it’s equally important to explore FreeBSD’s overall system configuration. Here’s our guide on Exploring FreeBSD System Configuration to help you with this.

Generating SSH Keys

SSH works by using cryptographic key pairs—a public key and a private key. SSH employs these to authenticate clients.

Run the command ssh-keygen -t rsa and follow the prompts. Be sure to protect your key with a strong password.

Log In To Your Remote Machine

With a running SSH server, you’re now ready to log in from another machine using your newly created key pair. On your local computer, run:

ssh user@server -p port

Replace user with your username, server with your server’s IP address or domain, and port with the port number SSH is running on.

Once connected, you’re now free to work on your FreeBSD system securely from virtually anywhere. You can trouble-shoot, manage files, or run terminal commands just like if you’re sitting in front of the server.

However, remember to maintain proper security practices as outlined in our guide on Best Practices For System Hardening and Security in FreeBSD.


This guide provided everything needed for setting up SSH on FreeBSD. With this secure method of remote communication, you can ensure your FreeBSD system’s security even while managing it remotely. Be sure not to overlook essential security practices and always keep your system up-to-date. Use these secure connections wisely and happy FreeBSD-ing!

Additional Reading

  1. Managing High Availability and Failover in FreeBSD
  2. User and Group Management in FreeBSD
  3. Configuring Network Interfaces in FreeBSD
  4. Common FreeBSD Errors and Solutions
  5. Implementing Firewalls and Security in FreeBSD

References and further reading are always helpful for a deep understanding. Happy FreeBSD journey!

Checkout these related ports: