Introducing Teleport

I'm happy to introduce Teleport, a new open source platform for managing SSH infrastructure. Teleport is built by Gravitational, a Y Combinator company that ships SaaS on any platform. While I'm not a part of Gravitational, I have been advising them on the Teleport project.

Most teams don't have a great authentication story. Some rely on passing passwords around haphazardly, while others rely on copying everyone's ~/.ssh/ to every new box. More complex homegrown systems quickly become unwieldy. These methods are problematic both operationally and from a security perspective: when security and usability are at odds, security tends to lose out. For a lot of teams, a single compromised key off of a developer machine spells disaster, on-boarding new team members is painful, and key rotation doesn't happen.

In the last few years, strong multi-factor authentication has become the norm. Tokens are only valid for a brief period of time, use challenge-response protocols, or both. Teleport helps bring the same level of sophistication to infrastructure. It helps system administrators leverage the security benefits of short-lived certificates, while keeping the operational benefits of decoupling server authentication from user authentication. It lets you run isolated clusters, so that a compromise of staging credentials doesn't lead to a compromise in production. It automatically maintains clear audit logs: who logged in, when and where they logged in, and what they did once they got there.

Teleport comes with a beautiful, usable UI, making it easy to visualize different clusters and the available machines within them. The UI is optional: many system administrators will prefer to use their existing SSH client, and Teleport supports that natively. Because it implements the SSH_AUTH_SOCK protocol, integrating your current CLI workflow is a simple matter of setting a single environment variable.

As someone with an open-source background, I'm glad to see this software released and developed out in the open. A decent SSH key management story should be available to everyone, and that's what Teleport does. I believe making this technology more accessible is good for everyone, including commercial vendors. Democratizing a decent DIY story helps turn their product into the battle-hardened and commercially supported version of industry best practice; and as such, I hope this helps grow that market. As a principal engineer at Rackspace Managed Security, I'm excited to start working towards better authentication stories, both internally and for our customers, with Teleport as the new baseline.

Releasing early and often is also an important part of open source culture. That can be at odds with doing due diligence when releasing security-critical systems like Teleport, especially when those systems have non-trivial cryptographic components. We feel Teleport is ready to show to the public now. To make sure we act as responsibly as possible, I've helped the Teleport team to join forces with a competent independent third-party auditor. We're not recommending that you bet the farm on Teleport by running it in production as your only authentication method just yet, but we do think it's ready for motivated individuals to start experimenting with it.

Some people might feel that a better SSH story means you're solving the wrong problem. It seems at odds with the ideas behind immutable infrastructure and treating servers as cattle, not pets. I don't think that's true. Firstly, even with immutable infrastructure, being able to SSH into a box to debug and monitor is still incredibly important. Being able to rapidly deploy a bunch of fixed images quickly may be good, but you still have to know what to fix first. Secondly, existing systems don't always work that way. It may not be possible, let alone economically rational, to "port" them effectively. It's easy to think of existing systems as legacy eyesores that only exist until you can eradicate them, but they do exist, they're typically here to stay, and they need a real security story, too.

Teleport is still in its early stages. It's usable today, and I'm convinced it has a bright future ahead of it. It's written in a beautiful, hackable Go codebase, and available on Github starting today.