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Microsoft Integrating OpenSSH into Windows and PowerShell

Microsoft's PowerShell team is now contributing to the development efforts of the open source OpenSSH community.

The aim is to tightly integrate the open source Secure Shell (SSH) protocol with Windows and PowerShell, according to Microsoft's announcement this week. The integration will happen on both the client and server side of Windows, according to Microsoft Distinguished Engineer Jeffrey Snover, in the comments section of Microsoft's announcement.

Many of those commenting about the announcement suggested that the integration should have been done 20 years ago. Snover, the inventor of Microsoft's PowerShell scripting tool, quipped that "while doing PowerShell, I used to joke that my job was to lead MSFT into the 1970's." PowerShell offers a command-line user interface for remotely managing servers, dispensing with the "more modern" graphical user interface approach.

OpenSSH is an open source protocol used mostly for Linux and Unix server management. It's steered by The OpenBSD Foundation, a Canadian nonprofit that also oversees the OpenBSD operating system, among other projects. Past contributors to the OpenBSD Foundation include notable tech companies such as Google and Facebook.

Microsoft was accepted as an OpenSSH contributor after demonstrating "compelling customer value" to the foundation, according to Microsoft's announcement. It was the third time that the PowerShell team had tried to become a contributor, the announcement indicated. While other solutions are available on the market that use SSH to connect with Windows Server, Microsoft's announcement described them as "limited implementations."

The integration of SSH has been a popular customer request among Windows users, according to Microsoft. The company is planning to enable two-way remote management, from Linux to Windows and vice versa:

A popular request the PowerShell team has received is to use Secure Shell protocol and Shell session (aka SSH) to interoperate between Windows and Linux -- both Linux connecting to and managing Windows via SSH and, vice versa, Windows connecting to and managing Linux via SSH. Thus, the combination of PowerShell and SSH will deliver a robust and secure solution to automate and to remotely manage Linux and Windows systems.

Microsoft's announcement this week may seem somewhat surprising since SSH integration has gone mentioned in preview descriptions of Windows 10 and Windows Server 2016. However, Microsoft did announce in May that System Center 2016 Configuration Manager will include "native" support for Linux Secure Shell, although the details weren't described.

Microsoft recently scrapped its wholly owned subsidiary devoted to integrating open source technologies, which was called "Microsoft Open Technologies Inc." That move was done to bring its open source integration efforts closer to in-house development teams at Microsoft.

OpenSSH was created because early remoting protocols lacked security. It was first released back in 1999. The protocol is designed as a replacement for Telnet, rlogin and SCP and adds client-server authentication using RSA or DSA keys. This approach is designed to prevent things like DNS spoofing and man-in-the-middle interceptions, according to an OpenSSH FAQ.

A report by Der Spiegel, based on Edward Snowden-leaked documents, noted that the U.S. National Security Agency has claimed to be able to decrypt SSH. In 2010, the OpenBSD operating system was described as compromised, with backdoor access installed by the FBI, although a developer involved with the project denied the allegation.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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