Using an old BlackBerry as a portable SSH (or Telnet) terminal

2020-08-15

You used to see BlackBerries everywhere. Sites such as CrackBerry detailed sightings of celebrities using them constantly. Nowadays, not so much. However, I believe they still have some usecases today. One of these is as a portable terminal. Here's why one might want to use one of these devices as a terminal:

I've been using a BlackBerry 7290 on the US Mobile network, which still supports GSM for now. It's notable that the SSH negotiation is decently slow (~30-45 seconds), but is decently usable after connected (things are still a little sluggish however). Furthermore, I had to reenable the weak DSA public key algorithm as well. This doesn't bother me so much as I basically have a middleman server that allows this weak standard that I talk to everything else through rather than enabling it on every server.

To make things easier on myself, I wrote an interactive script that is sourced by .bashrc upon logging in that asks what I actually want to connect to and then does so for me.

In the future, I might move to a BlackBerry 8700(c/g) as they support EDGE (much faster network speed), have much faster CPUs, and a higher standby time. I am not sure what I am going to do in the long run, as 2G networks in the US will probably all be shut down by the end of the year with 3G soon to follow. I guess I can just enjoy it while it lasts.

Here are the lines I added to my sshd config for the BlackBerry to be able to connect:

HostKeyAlgorithms +ssh-dss
PubkeyAcceptedKeyTypes +ssh-dss
KexAlgorithms +diffie-hellman-group1-sha1
Ciphers +3des-cbc

And here are some pictures!

Connected and at the interactive prompt

top output from one server

htop output from another server

Spare batteries kept in an Altoids tin