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Granting Users Access to SSH

This recipe explains how to enable Secure Shell (SSH) access on a firewall running pfSense® software.

SSH is typically used for debugging and troubleshooting, but has many other useful purposes. The SSH daemon is not required by the firewall for operation, so it is disabled by default.

Enable SSH via GUI

  • Navigate to System > Advanced, Admin Access tab

  • Check Enable Secure Shell

  • Set SSHd Key Only to Public Key Only to allow only key-based SSH authentication

  • Enter a port number in SSH Port if the SSH daemon should listen on a non-default port

    Leave the field blank for the daemon to use port 22

  • Click Save

SSH Keys

When the SSH daemon is set for key-based authentication, it uses the keys defined on user accounts. Add keys to individual user accounts under System > User Manager. The admin user and root user share keys.


Do not attempt to manage keys from the shell directly.

Enable SSH via Console

Connect to the console (VGA or Serial) and use option 14 to enable or disable SSH.

To change the port number or key authentication options, use the GUI as directed above.

SSH Daemon Security

With a default ruleset, SSH may only be accessed by clients on the LAN. If SSH access must be allowed for clients the WAN, the best practice is to restrict access to Key-based authentication to avoid issues with brute force attacks. Moving the daemon to an alternate port is also recommended, but moving the port alone is not sufficient protection.

The firewall will automatically block users that attempt to authenticate unsuccessfully. This behavior, and settings to control it, are described in Login Protection.

If password authentication is used, ensure that all user accounts with shell access have strong passwords that cannot be easily guessed.

See also

See Best Practices for SSH for more on SSH security.

User Access

By default only admin and root have SSH access. Additional users with limited access may be granted the User - System - Shell account access privilege to login via SSH.


Additional users do not have full root privileges in the shell, so the system does not display the console menu for those users. Many commands and other files are inaccessible as well. For a normal user to get much use from the shell, the Sudo Package can delegate additional privileges to run commands as root or other users.

SCP File Transfers

To connect to the firewall with SCP for file transfers, use the root account with the same credentials as admin, or a user account with sufficient privileges.

Users with shell access may transfer files, as well as users with the User - System - Copy files privilege.


Users other than root can only transfer or write files for which their account has permission to read or modify.

Any SCP/SFTP-compatible program may be used to transfer files. Popular choices include scp, FileZilla, and WinSCP.