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Helper tool for connecting to jumpboxes in AWS.
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vpcjump is a helper tool to make it as easy as possible to connect to a jumpbox in an AWS VPC.

What makes vpcjump unique is that your jumpbox doesn't need a public IP nor needs to open any ports in a security group. What it does need is outbound Internet connectivity on port 443 - whether via a NAT instance, Amazon-managed NAT gateway or some custom solution.


  • Install the tool: gem install vpcjump
  • Sign up for ngrok and note down your authentication token
  • Start an instance in EC2 - this only needs to be done once.

You can launch the EC2 instance from the AWS web console. Amazon Linux on a t2.nano is sufficient. The t2.nano is less than $5/month (as little as $2.16/month if paid upfront!) so leaving it always up is quite affordable.

When on step 3 (Configure Instance Details), expand Advanced Details and paste the following into User data:

REGION=`curl|grep region|awk -F\" '{print $4}'`
cd /tmp
curl https://amazon-ssm-${REGION} -o amazon-ssm-agent.rpm
yum install -y amazon-ssm-agent.rpm
curl -o
mv ngrok /usr/bin/

You will also need to create and select an IAM Role for this instance to grant it permission to use SSM. To do this, you:

  • Click Create new IAM role
  • Click Create New Role
  • Specify a role name of your choice, e.g.SSMForVpcjump, then hit next.
  • Under AWS Service Roles, select Amazon EC2 Role for Simple Systems Manager, then hit next.
  • Tick the checkbox for AmazonEC2RoleforSSM, then next.
  • Click Create Role.
  • Return to the instance creation screen, hit refresh next to IAM Role, then select the role you just created.

You can now proceed through the instance creation process - all the default values are fine. You can delete the security group rule opening up access to port 22 if you wish, this is unneeded. Once the instance has launched, note down the instance ID (looks like i-abcdef) as you will use it later.


Invocation can be as simple as vpcjump --ngrok-token <auth token> --instance-id i-abc123 ssh. This takes about 30 seconds and will SSH you into the jumpbox instance. The complete list of options is:

$ vpcjump --help
    vpcjump [OPTIONS] SUBCOMMAND [ARG] ...

    SUBCOMMAND                    subcommand
    [ARG] ...                     subcommand arguments

    kill                          Terminate ngrok tunnel
    ssh                           SSH into the jumpbox
    sshuttle                      Use jumpbox for sshuttle VPN

    --instance-id INSTANCE ID     EC2 instance id of jump box (e.g. i-abc123)
    --name INSTANCE NAME          EC2 instance name of jump box
    --ngrok-token NGROK TOKEN     ngrok auth token
    --ngrok-region NGROK REGION   ngrok region (default: "us")
    --ssh-user SSH USER           SSH user (default: "ec2-user")
    -v, --verbose                 Output AWS API calls
    -h, --help                    print help
$ vpcjump ssh --help
    vpcjump ssh [OPTIONS] [SSHPARAMS] ...

    [SSHPARAMS] ...               Arguments to pass to SSH

Often you will want to use the jumpbox as an intermediary in order to connect to a second instance. This can be done using SSH port forwarding, e.g. vpcjump --ngrok-token <auth token> --instance-id i-abc123 ssh -- -L 3389: - This will let you to connect to Microsoft Remote Desktop on and it will connect to the remote instance.

Even better is sshuttle. It transparently creates a VPN-like connection over SSH and allows you to connect to resources within the VPC directly. Simply type vpcjump --ngrok-token <auth token> --instance-id i-abc123 sshuttle. Then you can type something like ssh ec2-user@ in another window and you're in. 👍

Finally, you may wish to terminate the jumpbox tunnel early. This can be done as such: vpcjump --instance-id i-abc123 kill.

How it works

vpcjump uses AWS SSM to remotely execute shell commands on your jumpbox. You can see the precise SSM and SSH commands it executes on your behalf by passing the --verbose flag during execution. It does the following:

  • Use SSM to execute ngrok tcp 22 with your provided auth token. This creates a tunnel over HTTPS between the instance and ngrok's tunnelling service.
  • Use SSM to query ngrok's local API: curl -s http://localhost:4040/api/tunnels. This returns the ngrok hostname and port that are forwarded to port 22 on your jump box.
  • Execute ssh -p <ngrok port> <ssh user>@<ngrok host> to log into your jumpbox through the ngrok tunnel.
  • Use SSM to execute killall ngrok on the remote instance when you explicitly terminate the tunnel. If you don't do this, the SSM agent process on the remote instance will terminate the ngrok tunnel after a predefined period.

Required permissions

To use vpcjump once you have a jumpbox up and running you will need the following permissions:

  • ssm:SendCommand
  • ssm:ListCommandInvocations
  • ec2:DescribeInstances
  • ec2:DescribeVpcs

The last two are only required for the sshuttle subcommand to determine the VPC CIDR block that you are jumping into.

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