Remote Access

Internet access to the Brown Computer Science Department network is restricted by a firewall. The firewall protects our computers from outside attackers, but it also limits the ways legitimate users can access the department.

This page describes how to get at department computing resources from outside the department.

What does remote access let me do?

You can:

  • Work in a shell
  • Read your mail
  • Display X client applications
  • Copy files to or from your CS account
  • Mount department filesystems via Windows (CIFS)

You cannot:

  • Mount department filesystems via NFS

Piercing the Firewall

There are two supported ways of getting through the firewall from a computer that isn't on the Brown CS network: SSH and OpenVPN.

Both alternatives provide a secure, encrypted connection to the department, and authenticate you so that you can securely access your files.

SSH provides a command shell. It also gives you port forwarding (e.g. X), and an easy way to copy files to and from your CS account. However, it requires some setup ahead of time.

OpenVPN gives your computer a virtual address inside the CS department, which gives you host-level access to the CS department network. Currently, it also requires some setup ahead of time, but this may change.

Setting Up For Remote Access

Each remote access method requires some setup. Here are step-by-step guides to setting up and logging in using each method:


All remote access methods authenticate you when you connect, so you never have to type your unix account password. As a rule, never type any important password remotely unless you trust the machine you are on AND you are using a secure connection (SSH or OpenVPN) to the CS Department.

Where to Connect to

The department has dedicated portals for each service. For SSH, connect to For OpenVPN, connect to

Running X Applications Remotely

If you have a reasonably fast connection, it is convenient to run X clients on department machines, and display them on your remote machine. To do this, you will need an X server on your remote machine. See the wiki for more information on X servers.

SSH handles X port forwarding automatically. Just run X clients in your SSH session, and they appear on your remote X display.

Reading Your Mail Securely

You can read your department email from a remote location either by logging into a department machine, as described above, or by using secure IMAP.

Copying Files

Once you've got SSH set up, you can use scp to copy files to and from the department. This the most convenient way to move files through the firewall. See the man page for details.

Using Anonymous FTP

If all you want to do is transfer files, you can use our anonymous FTP server. Anyone can ftp files from the outside in, but you will need to contact the tstaff to have a directory set up for outgoing transfers. See the FTP page.