This section covers how to manually utilize dm-crypt from the command line to encrypt a system.
- 1 Preparation
- 2 Cryptsetup usage
- 3 Encryption options with dm-crypt
- 4 Encrypting devices with cryptsetup
- 5 Cryptsetup actions specific for LUKS
- 6 Resizing encrypted devices
- 7 Keyfiles
- 7.1 Types of keyfiles
- 7.2 Creating a keyfile with random characters
- 7.3 Configuring LUKS to make use of the keyfile
- 7.4 Manually unlocking a partition using a keyfile
- 7.5 Unlocking a secondary partition at boot
- 7.6 Unlocking the root partition at boot
dm_crypt kernel module is loaded.
Cryptsetup is the command line tool to interface with dm-crypt for creating, accessing and managing encrypted devices. The tool was later expanded to support different encryption types that rely on the Linux kernel device-mapper and the cryptographic modules. The most notable expansion was for the Linux Unified Key Setup (LUKS) extension, which stores all of the needed setup information for dm-crypt on the disk itself and abstracts partition and key management in an attempt to improve ease of use. Devices accessed via the device-mapper are called blockdevices. For further information see Disk encryption#Block device encryption.
The tool is used as follows:
# cryptsetup <OPTIONS> <action> <action-specific-options> <device> <dmname>
It has compiled-in defaults for the options and the encryption mode, which will be used if no others are specified on the command line. Have a look at
$ cryptsetup --help
which lists options, actions and the default parameters for the encryption modes in that order. A full list of options can be found on the man page. Since different parameters are required or optional, depending on encryption mode and action, the following sections point out differences further. Blockdevice encryption is fast, but speed matters a lot too. Since changing an encryption cipher of a blockdevice after setup is difficult, it is important to check dm-crypt performance for the individual parameters in advance:
$ cryptsetup benchmark
can give guidance on deciding for an algorithm and key-size prior to installation. If certain AES ciphers excel with a considerable higher throughput, these are probably the ones with hardware support in the CPU.
Cryptsetup passphrases and keys
An encrypted blockdevice is protected by a key. A key is either:
Both key types have default maximum sizes: passphrases can be up to 512 characters and keyfiles up to 8192kiB.
An important distinction of LUKS to note at this point is that the key is used to unlock the master-key of a LUKS-encrypted device and can be changed with root access. Other encryption modes do not support changing the key after setup, because they do not employ a master-key for the encryption. See Disk encryption#Block device encryption for details.
Encryption options with dm-crypt
Cryptsetup supports different encryption operating modes to use with dm-crypt. The most common (and default) is
The other ones are
--type plainfor using dm-crypt plain mode,
--type loopaesfor a loopaes legacy mode, and
--type tcryptfor a TrueCrypt compatibility mode.
The basic cryptographic options for encryption cipher and hashes available can be used for all modes and rely on the kernel cryptographic backend features. All that are loaded at runtime can be viewed with
$ less /proc/crypto
and are available to use as options. If the list is short, execute
cryptsetup benchmark which will trigger loading available modules.
The following introduces encryption options for the first two modes. Note that the tables list options used in the respective examples in this article and not all available ones.
Encryption options for LUKS mode
The cryptsetup action to set up a new dm-crypt device in LUKS encryption mode is luksFormat. Unlike the name implies, it does not format the device, but sets up the LUKS device header and encrypts the master-key with the desired cryptographic options.
As LUKS is the default encryption mode,
# cryptsetup -v luksFormat device
is all that is needed to create a new LUKS device with default parameters (
-v is optional). For comparison, we can specify the default options manually too:
# cryptsetup -v --cipher aes-xts-plain64 --key-size 256 --hash sha256 --iter-time 2000 --use-urandom --verify-passphrase luksFormat device
Defaults are compared with a cryptographically higher specification example in the table below, with accompanying comments:
|Options||Cryptsetup 1.7.0 defaults||Example||Comment|
||Release 1.6.0 changed the defaults to an AES cipher in XTS mode (see item 5.16 of the FAQ). It is advised against using the previous default |
||By default a 256 bit key-size is used. Note however that XTS splits the supplied key in half, so to use AES-256 instead of AES-128 you have to set the XTS key-size to |
||Hash algorithm used for key derivation. Release 1.7.0 changed defaults from |
||Number of milliseconds to spend with PBKDF2 passphrase processing. Release 1.7.0 changed defaults from |
||Selects which random number generator to use. Quoting the cryptsetup manual page: "In a low-entropy situation (e.g. in an embedded system), both selections are problematic. Using /dev/urandom can lead to weak keys. Using /dev/random can block a long time, potentially forever, if not enough entropy can be harvested by the kernel."|
|Yes||-||Default only for luksFormat and luksAddKey. No need to type for Arch Linux with LUKS mode at the moment.|
If you want to deep-dive into cryptographic features of LUKS, the LUKS specification (e.g. its appendices) is a resource.
Encryption options for plain mode
In dm-crypt plain mode, there is no master-key on the device, hence, there is no need to set it up. Instead the encryption options to be employed are used directly to create the mapping between an encrypted disk and a named device. The mapping can be created against a partition or a full device. In the latter case not even a partition table is needed.
To create a plain mode mapping with cryptsetup's default parameters:
# cryptsetup <options> open --type plain <device> <dmname>
Executing it will prompt for a password, which should have very high entropy. Below a comparison of default parameters with the example in dm-crypt/Encrypting an entire system#Plain dm-crypt
|Option||Cryptsetup 1.7.0 defaults||Example||Comment|
||-||The hash is used to create the key from the passphrase; it is not used on a keyfile.|
||The cipher consists of three parts: cipher-chainmode-IV generator. Please see Disk encryption#Ciphers and modes of operation for an explanation of these settings, and the DMCrypt documentation for some of the options available.|
||The key size (in bits). The size will depend on the cipher being used and also the chainmode in use. Xts mode requires twice the key size of cbc.|
||The offset from the beginning of the target disk (in bytes) from which to start the mapping|
|default uses a passphrase||
||The device or file to be used as a key. See #Keyfiles for further details.|
||Offset from the beginning of the file where the key starts (in bytes). This option is supported from cryptsetup 1.6.7 onwards.|
||- (default applies)||Limits the bytes read from the key file. This option is supported from cryptsetup 1.6.7 onwards.|
Using the device
/dev/sdX, the above right column example results in:
# cryptsetup --cipher=twofish-xts-plain64 --offset=0 --key-file=/dev/sdZ --key-size=512 open --type=plain /dev/sdX enc
Unlike encrypting with LUKS, the above command must be executed in full whenever the mapping needs to be re-established, so it is important to remember the cipher, hash and key file details. We can now check that the mapping has been made:
# fdisk -l
An entry should now exist for
Encrypting devices with cryptsetup
This section shows how to employ the options for creating new encrypted blockdevices and accessing them manually.
luks2for the type parameter on encrypted boot partitions.
Encrypting devices with LUKS mode
Formatting LUKS partitions
In order to setup a partition as an encrypted LUKS partition execute:
# cryptsetup luksFormat --type luks2 device
You will then be prompted to enter a password and verify it.
See #Encryption options for LUKS mode for command line options.
You can check the results with:
# cryptsetup luksDump device
You will note that the dump not only shows the cipher header information, but also the key-slots in use for the LUKS partition.
The following example will create an encrypted root partition on
/dev/sda1 using the default AES cipher in XTS mode with an effective 256-bit encryption
# cryptsetup -s 512 luksFormat --type luks2 /dev/sda1
Using LUKS to format partitions with a keyfile
When creating a new LUKS encrypted partition, a keyfile may be associated with the partition on its creation using:
# cryptsetup luksFormat --type luks2 device /path/to/mykeyfile
See #Keyfiles for instructions on how to generate and manage keyfiles.
Unlocking/Mapping LUKS partitions with the device mapper
Once the LUKS partitions have been created, they can then be unlocked.
The unlocking process will map the partitions to a new device name using the device mapper. This alerts the kernel that
device is actually an encrypted device and should be addressed through LUKS using the
/dev/mapper/dm_name so as not to overwrite the encrypted data. To guard against accidental overwriting, read about the possibilities to backup the cryptheader after finishing setup.
In order to open an encrypted LUKS partition execute:
# cryptsetup open device dm_name
You will then be prompted for the password to unlock the partition. Usually the device mapped name is descriptive of the function of the partition that is mapped. For example the following unlocks a luks partition
/dev/sda1 and maps it to device mapper named
# cryptsetup open /dev/sda1 cryptroot
Once opened, the root partition device address would be
/dev/mapper/cryptroot instead of the partition (e.g.
For setting up LVM ontop the encryption layer the device file for the decrypted volume group would be anything like
/dev/mapper/cryptroot instead of
/dev/sda1. LVM will then give additional names to all logical volumes created, e.g.
In order to write encrypted data into the partition it must be accessed through the device mapped name. The first step of access will typically be to create a filesystem. For example:
# mkfs -t ext4 /dev/mapper/cryptroot
/dev/mapper/cryptroot can then be mounted like any other partition.
To close the luks container, unmount the partition and do:
# cryptsetup close cryptroot
Encrypting devices with plain mode
The creation and subsequent access of a dm-crypt plain mode encryption both require not more than using the cryptsetup
open action with correct parameters. The following shows that with two examples of non-root devices, but adds a quirk by stacking both (i.e. the second is created inside the first). Obviously, stacking the encryption doubles overhead. The usecase here is simply to illustrate another example of the cipher option usage.
A first mapper is created with cryptsetup's plain-mode defaults, as described in the table's left column above
# cryptsetup --type plain -v open /dev/sdaX plain1
Enter passphrase: Command successful.
Now we add the second blockdevice inside it, using different encryption parameters and with an (optional) offset, create a filesystem and mount it
# cryptsetup --type plain --cipher=serpent-xts-plain64 --hash=sha256 --key-size=256 --offset=10 open /dev/mapper/plain1 plain2
# lsblk -p
NAME /dev/sda ├─/dev/sdaX │ └─/dev/mapper/plain1 │ └─/dev/mapper/plain2 ...
# mkfs -t ext2 /dev/mapper/plain2 # mount -t ext2 /dev/mapper/plain2 /mnt # echo "This is stacked. one passphrase per foot to shoot." > /mnt/stacked.txt
We close the stack to check access works
# cryptsetup close plain2 # cryptsetup close plain1
First, let us try to open the filesystem directly:
# cryptsetup --type plain --cipher=serpent-xts-plain64 --hash=sha256 --key-size=256 --offset=10 open /dev/sdaX plain2
# mount -t ext2 /dev/mapper/plain2 /mnt
mount: wrong fs type, bad option, bad superblock on /dev/mapper/plain2, missing codepage or helper program, or other error
Why that did not work? Because the "plain2" starting block (
10) is still encrypted with the cipher from "plain1". It can only be accessed via the stacked mapper. The error is arbitrary though, trying a wrong passphrase or wrong options will yield the same. For dm-crypt plain mode, the
open action will not error out itself.
Trying again in correct order:
# cryptsetup close plain2 # dysfunctional mapper from previous try
# cryptsetup --type plain open /dev/sdaX plain1
# cryptsetup --type plain --cipher=serpent-xts-plain64 --hash=sha256 --key-size=256 --offset=10 open /dev/mapper/plain1 plain2
# mount /dev/mapper/plain2 /mnt && cat /mnt/stacked.txt
This is stacked. one passphrase per foot to shoot.
dm-crypt will handle stacked encryption with some mixed modes too. For example LUKS mode could be stacked on the "plain1" mapper. Its header would then be encrypted inside "plain1" when that is closed.
Available for plain mode only is the option
--shared. With it a single device can be segmented into different non-overlapping mappers. We do that in the next example, using a loopaes compatible cipher mode for "plain2" this time:
# cryptsetup --type plain --offset 0 --size 1000 open /dev/sdaX plain1
# cryptsetup --type plain --offset 1000 --size 1000 --shared --cipher=aes-cbc-lmk --hash=sha256 open /dev/sdaX plain2
# lsblk -p
NAME dev/sdaX ├─/dev/sdaX │ ├─/dev/mapper/plain1 │ └─/dev/mapper/plain2 ...
As the devicetree shows both reside on the same level, i.e. are not stacked and "plain2" can be opened individually.
Cryptsetup actions specific for LUKS
It is possible to define up to 8 different keys per LUKS partition. This enables the user to create access keys for save backup storage: In a so-called key escrow, one key is used for daily usage, another kept in escrow to gain access to the partition in case the daily passphrase is forgotten or a keyfile is lost/damaged. Also a different key-slot could be used to grant access to a partition to a user by issuing a second key and later revoking it again.
Once an encrypted partition has been created, the initial keyslot 0 is created (if no other was specified manually). Additional keyslots are numbered from 1 to 7. Which keyslots are used can be seen by issuing
# cryptsetup luksDump /dev/<device> | grep BLED
Key Slot 0: ENABLED Key Slot 1: ENABLED Key Slot 2: ENABLED Key Slot 3: DISABLED Key Slot 4: DISABLED Key Slot 5: DISABLED Key Slot 6: DISABLED Key Slot 7: DISABLED
Where <device> is the volume containing the LUKS header. This and all the following commands in this section work on header backup files as well.
Adding LUKS keys
Adding new keyslots is accomplished using cryptsetup with the
luksAddKey action. For safety it will always, i.e. also for already unlocked devices, ask for a valid existing key ("any passphrase") before a new one may be entered:
# cryptsetup luksAddKey /dev/<device> (/path/to/<additionalkeyfile>)
Enter any passphrase: Enter new passphrase for key slot: Verify passphrase:
/path/to/<additionalkeyfile> is given, cryptsetup will add a new keyslot for <additionalkeyfile>. Otherwise a new passphrase will be prompted for twice. For using an existing keyfile to authorize the action, the
-d option followed by the "old" <keyfile> will try to unlock all available keyfile keyslots:
# cryptsetup luksAddKey /dev/<device> (/path/to/<additionalkeyfile>) -d /path/to/<keyfile>
If it is intended to use multiple keys and change or revoke them, the
-S option may be used to specify the slot:
# cryptsetup luksAddKey /dev/<device> -S 6
Enter any passphrase: Enter new passphrase for key slot: Verify passphrase:
# cryptsetup luksDump /dev/sda8 | grep 'Slot 6'
Key Slot 6: ENABLED
To show an associated action in this example, we decide to change the key right away:
# cryptsetup luksChangeKey /dev/<device> -S 6
Enter LUKS passphrase to be changed: Enter new LUKS passphrase:
before continuing to remove it.
Removing LUKS keys
There are three different actions to remove keys from the header:
luksRemoveKeyis used to remove a key by specifying its passphrase/key-file.
luksKillSlotmay be used to remove a key from a specific key slot (using another key). Obviously, this is extremely useful if you have forgotten a passphrase, lost a key-file, or have no access to it.
luksEraseis used to quickly remove all active keys.
- All above actions can be used to irrevocably delete the last active key for an encrypted device!
luksErasecommand was added in version 1.6.4 to quickly nuke access to the device. This action will not prompt for a valid passphrase! It will not wipe the LUKS header, but all keyslots at once and you will, therefore, not be able to regain access unless you have a valid backup of the LUKS header.
For above warning it is good to know the key we want to keep is valid. An easy check is to unlock the device with the
-v option, which will specify which slot it occupies:
# cryptsetup -v open /dev/<device> testcrypt
Enter passphrase for /dev/<device>: Key slot 1 unlocked. Command successful.
Now we can remove the key added in the previous subsection using its passphrase:
# cryptsetup luksRemoveKey /dev/<device>
Enter LUKS passphrase to be deleted:
If we had used the same passphrase for two keyslots, the first slot would be wiped now. Only executing it again would remove the second one.
Alternatively, we can specify the key slot:
# cryptsetup luksKillSlot /dev/<device> 6
Enter any remaining LUKS passphrase:
Note that in both cases, no confirmation was required.
# cryptsetup luksDump /dev/sda8 | grep 'Slot 6'
Key Slot 6: DISABLED
To re-iterate the warning above: If the same passphrase had been used for key slots 1 and 6, both would be gone now.
Backup and restore
If the header of a LUKS encrypted partition gets destroyed, you will not be able to decrypt your data. It is just as much of a dilemma as forgetting the passphrase or damaging a key-file used to unlock the partition. Damage may occur by your own fault while re-partitioning the disk later or by third-party programs misinterpreting the partition table. Therefore, having a backup of the header and storing it on another disk might be a good idea.
Backup using cryptsetup
luksHeaderBackup action stores a binary backup of the LUKS header and keyslot area:
# cryptsetup luksHeaderBackup /dev/<device> --header-backup-file /mnt/<backup>/<file>.img
where <device> is the partition containing the LUKS volume.
# mkdir /root/<tmp>/ # mount ramfs /root/<tmp>/ -t ramfs # cryptsetup luksHeaderBackup /dev/<device> --header-backup-file /root/<tmp>/<file>.img # gpg2 --recipient <User ID> --encrypt /root/<tmp>/<file>.img # cp /root/<tmp>/<file>.img.gpg /mnt/<backup>/ # umount /root/<tmp>
Restore using cryptsetup
In order to evade restoring a wrong header, you can ensure it does work by using it as a remote
# cryptsetup -v --header /mnt/<backup>/<file>.img open /dev/<device> test
Key slot 0 unlocked. Command successful.
# mount /dev/mapper/test /mnt/test && ls /mnt/test # umount /mnt/test # cryptsetup close test
Now that the check succeeded, the restore may be performed:
# cryptsetup luksHeaderRestore /dev/<device> --header-backup-file ./mnt/<backup>/<file>.img
Now that all the keyslot areas are overwritten; only active keyslots from the backup file are available after issuing the command.
Manual backup and restore
The header always resides at the beginning of the device and a backup can be performed without access to cryptsetup as well. First you have to find out the payload offset of the crypted partition:
# cryptsetup luksDump /dev/<device> | grep "Payload offset"
Payload offset: 4040
Second check the sector size of the drive
# fdisk -l /dev/<device> | grep "Sector size"
Sector size (logical/physical): 512 bytes / 512 bytes
Now that you know the values, you can backup the header with a simple dd command:
# dd if=/dev/<device> of=/path/to/<file>.img bs=512 count=4040
and store it safely.
A restore can then be performed using the same values as when backing up:
# dd if=./<file>.img of=/dev/<device> bs=512 count=4040
--new) and permanently remove LUKS encryption (
--decrypt) from a device. As its name suggests it can also be used to re-encrypt an existing LUKS encrypted device, though, re-encryption is not possible for a detached LUKS header or other encryption modes (e.g. plain-mode). For re-encryption it is possible to change the #Encryption options for LUKS mode. cryptsetup-reencrypt actions can be performed to unmounted devices only. See for more information.
One application of re-encryption may be to secure the data again after a passphrase or keyfile has been compromised and one cannot be certain that no copy of the LUKS header has been obtained. For example, if only a passphrase has been shoulder-surfed but no physical/logical access to the device happened, it would be enough to change the respective passphrase/key only (#Key management).
The following shows an example to encrypt an unencrypted filesystem partition and a re-encryption of an existing LUKS device.
Encrypt an unencrypted filesystem
A LUKS encryption header is always stored at the beginning of the device. Since an existing filesystem will usually be allocated all partition sectors, the first step is to shrink it to make space for the LUKS header.
The default LUKS header encryption cipher requires
4096 512-byte sectors. We already checked space and keep it simple by shrinking the existing
ext4 filesystem on
/dev/sdaX to its current possible minimum:
# umount /mnt
# e2fsck -f /dev/sdaX
e2fsck 1.43-WIP (18-May-2015) Pass 1: Checking inodes, blocks, and sizes ... /dev/sda6: 12/166320 files (0.0% non-contiguous), 28783/665062 blocks
# resize2fs -M /dev/sdaX
resize2fs 1.43-WIP (18-May-2015) Resizing the filesystem on /dev/sdaX to 26347 (4k) blocks. The filesystem on /dev/sdaX is now 26347 (4k) blocks long.
Now we encrypt it, using the default cipher we do not have to specify it explicitly. Note there is no option (yet) to double-check the passphrase before encryption starts, be careful not to mistype:
# cryptsetup-reencrypt /dev/sdaX --new --reduce-device-size 4096S
WARNING: this is experimental code, it can completely break your data. Enter new passphrase: Progress: 100,0%, ETA 00:00, 2596 MiB written, speed 37,6 MiB/s
After it finished, the encryption was performed to the full partition, i.e. not only the space the filesystem was shrunk to (
2.6GiB and the CPU used in the example has no hardware AES instructions). As a final step we extend the filesystem of the now encrypted device again to occupy available space:
# cryptsetup open /dev/sdaX recrypt
Enter passphrase for /dev/sdaX: ...
# resize2fs /dev/mapper/recrypt
resize2fs 1.43-WIP (18-May-2015) Resizing the filesystem on /dev/mapper/recrypt to 664807 (4k) blocks. The filesystem on /dev/mapper/recrypt is now 664807 (4k) blocks long.
# mount /dev/mapper/recrypt /mnt
and are done.
Re-encrypting an existing LUKS partition
In this example an existing LUKS device is re-encrypted.
In order to re-encrypt a device with its existing encryption options, they do not need to be specified. A simple:
# cryptsetup-reencrypt /dev/sdaX
WARNING: this is experimental code, it can completely break your data. Enter passphrase for key slot 0: Progress: 100,0%, ETA 00:00, 2596 MiB written, speed 36,5 MiB/s
A possible usecase is to re-encrypt LUKS devices which have non-current encryption options. Apart from above warning on specifying options correctly, the ability to change the LUKS header may also be limited by its size. For example, if the device was initially encrypted using a CBC mode cipher and 128 bit key-size, the LUKS header will be half the size of above mentioned
# cryptsetup luksDump /dev/sdaX |grep -e "mode" -e "Payload" -e "MK bits"
Cipher mode: cbc-essiv:sha256 Payload offset: 2048 MK bits: 128
While it is possible to upgrade the encryption of such a device, it is currently only feasible in two steps. First, re-encrypting with the same encryption options, but using the
--reduce-device-size option to make further space for the larger LUKS header. Second, re-encypt the whole device again with the desired cipher. For this reason and the fact that a backup should be created in any case, creating a new, fresh encrypted device to restore into is always the faster option.
Resizing encrypted devices
If a storage device encrypted with dm-crypt is being cloned (with a tool like dd) to another larger device, the underlying dm-crypt device must be resized to use the whole space.
The destination device is /dev/sdX2 in this example, the whole available space adjacent to the partition will be used:
# cryptsetup luksOpen /dev/sdX2 sdX2 # cryptsetup resize sdX2
Then the underlying filesystem must be resized.
Assuming that an encrypted loopback filesystem is mounted on
/mnt/secret, for example following dm-crypt/Encrypting a non-root file system#Loop device, first unmount the encrypted container:
# umount /mnt/secret # cryptsetup close secret # losetup -d /dev/loop0
Next, expand the container file with the size of the data you want to add:
>, or you will override your current container.
# dd if=/dev/urandom bs=1M count=1024 | cat - >> /bigsecret
Now map the container to the loop device:
# losetup /dev/loop0 /bigsecret # cryptsetup open /dev/loop0 secret
After this, resize the encrypted part of the container to the maximum size of the container file:
# cryptsetup resize secret
Finally, perform a filesystem check and, if it is ok, resize it (example for ext2/3/4):
# e2fsck -f /dev/mapper/secret # resize2fs /dev/mapper/secret
You can now mount the container again:
# mount /dev/mapper/secret /mnt/secret
What is a keyfile?
A keyfile is a file whose data is used as the passphrase to unlock an encrypted volume. That means if such a file is lost or changed, decrypting the volume may no longer be possible.
Why use a keyfile?
There are many kinds of keyfiles. Each type of keyfile used has benefits and disadvantages summarized below:
Types of keyfiles
This is a keyfile containing a simple passphrase. The benefit of this type of keyfile is that if the file is lost the data it contained is known and hopefully easily remembered by the owner of the encrypted volume. However the disadvantage is that this does not add any security over entering a passphrase during the initial system start.
# echo -n 'your_passphrase' > /path/to/<keyfile> # chown root:root /path/to/<keyfile>; chmod 400 /path/to/<keyfile>
This is a keyfile containing a block of random characters. The benefit of this type of keyfile is that it is much more resistant to dictionary attacks than a simple passphrase. An additional strength of keyfiles can be utilized in this situation which is the length of data used. Since this is not a string meant to be memorized by a person for entry, it is trivial to create files containing thousands of random characters as the key. The disadvantage is that if this file is lost or changed, it will most likely not be possible to access the encrypted volume without a backup passphrase.
fjqweifj830149-57 819y4my1-38t1934yt8-91m 34co3;t8y;9p3y-
This is a binary file that has been defined as a keyfile. When identifying files as candidates for a keyfile, it is recommended to choose files that are relatively static such as photos, music, video clips. The benefit of these files is that they serve a dual function which can make them harder to identify as keyfiles. Instead of having a text file with a large amount of random text, the keyfile would look like a regular image file or music clip to the casual observer. The disadvantage is that if this file is lost or changed, it will most likely not be possible to access the encrypted volume without a backup passphrase. Additionally, there is a theoretical loss of randomness when compared to a randomly generated text file. This is due to the fact that images, videos and music have some intrinsic relationship between neighboring bits of data that does not exist for a text file. However this is controversial and has never been exploited publicly.
Example: images, text, video, ...
Creating a keyfile with random characters
Storing the keyfile on a filesystem
A keyfile can be of arbitrary content and size.
dd is used to generate a keyfile of 2048 random bytes, storing it in the file
# dd bs=512 count=4 if=/dev/urandom of=/etc/mykeyfile
If you are planning to store the keyfile on an external device, you can also simply change the outputfile to the corresponding directory:
# dd bs=512 count=4 if=/dev/urandom of=/media/usbstick/mykeyfile
To deny any access for other users then
# chmod 600 /etc/mykeyfile
Securely overwriting stored keyfiles
If you stored your temporary keyfile on a physical storage device, and want to delete it, remember to not just remove the keyfile later on, but use something like
# shred --remove --zero mykeyfile
to securely overwrite it. For overaged filesystems like FAT or ext2 this will suffice while in the case of journaling filesystems, flash memory hardware and other cases it is highly recommended to wipe the entire device.
Storing the keyfile in ramfs
Alternatively, you can mount a ramfs for storing the keyfile temporarily:
# mkdir /root/myramfs # mount ramfs /root/myramfs/ -t ramfs # cd /root/myramfs
The advantage is that it resides in RAM and not on a physical disk, therefore it can not be recovered after unmounting the ramfs. After copying the keyfile to another secure and persistent filesystem, unmount the ramfs again with
# umount /root/myramfs
Configuring LUKS to make use of the keyfile
Add a keyslot for the keyfile to the LUKS header:
# cryptsetup luksAddKey /dev/sda2 /etc/mykeyfile
Enter any LUKS passphrase: key slot 0 unlocked. Command successful.
Manually unlocking a partition using a keyfile
--key-file option when opening the LUKS device:
# cryptsetup open /dev/sda2 dm_name --key-file /etc/mykeyfile
Unlocking a secondary partition at boot
If the keyfile for a secondary file system is itself stored inside an encrypted root, it is safe while the system is powered off but can be sourced to automatically unlock the mount during with boot via crypttab. Following from the first example above using UUID:
home UUID=<UUID identifier> /etc/mykeyfile
is all needed for unlocking, and
/dev/mapper/home /home ext4 defaults 0 2
for mounting the LUKS blockdevice with the generated keyfile.
--plainmode blockdevice, the encryption options necessary to unlock it are specified in
/etc/crypttab. Take care to apply the systemd workaround mentioned in crypttab in this case.
Unlocking the root partition at boot
Two cases are covered below:
- Using a keyfile stored on an external media (here a USB stick)
- Using a keyfile embedded in the initramfs
With a keyfile stored on an external media
You have to add a module in your
/etc/mkinitcpio.conf for the drive's file system (
vfat module in the example below):
In this example it is assumed that you use a FAT formatted USB drive (
vfat module). Replace those module names if you use another file system on your USB stick (e.g.
ext2) or another codepage. If it complains of bad superblock and bad codepage at boot, then you need an extra codepage module to be loaded. For instance, you may need
nls_iso8859-1 module for
If you have a non-US keyboard, it might prove useful to load your keyboard layout before you are prompted to enter the password to unlock the root partition at boot. For this, you will need the
keymap hook before
Configuring the kernel parameters
Add the following options to the kernel parameters if using the
encrypt hook. If using
sd-encrypt see dm-crypt/System configuration#Using sd-encrypt hook.
Choosing a plain filename for your key provides a bit of 'security through obscurity', but be aware the kernel command line is recorded in the kernel's log (dmesg). The keyfile can not be a hidden file, that means the filename must not start with a dot, or the
encrypt hook will fail to find the keyfile during the boot process. Alternatively, one could hide the keyfile between the partitions and use:
As an advantage, it is harder to accidentally delete the key.
The naming of device nodes like
/dev/sdb1 is not guaranteed to stay the same across reboots. It is more reliable to access the device with udev's persistent block device naming instead. To assure that the
encrypt hook finds your keyfile when reading it from an external storage device, persistent block device names must be used. See the article persistent block device naming.
With a keyfile embedded in the initramfs
This method allows to use a specially named keyfile that will be embedded in the initramfs and picked up by the
encrypt hook to unlock the root filesystem (
cryptdevice) automatically. It may be useful to apply when using the GRUB early cryptodisk feature, in order to avoid entering two passphrases during boot.
encrypt hook lets the user specify a keyfile with the
cryptkey kernel parameter: in the case of initramfs, the syntax is
rootfs:path. See dm-crypt/System configuration#cryptkey. Besides, this kernel parameter defaults to use
/crypto_keyfile.bin, and if the initramfs contains a valid key with this name, decryption will occur automatically without the need to configure the
sd-encrypt instead of
encrypt, specify the location of the keyfile with the
rd.luks.key kernel parameter. See dm-crypt/System configuration#rd.luks.key.
# dd bs=512 count=4 if=/dev/urandom of=/crypto_keyfile.bin # chmod 000 /crypto_keyfile.bin # chmod 600 /boot/initramfs-linux* # cryptsetup luksAddKey /dev/sdX# /crypto_keyfile.bin
Include the key in mkinitcpio's FILES array:
Finally regenerate the initramfs.
On the next reboot you should only have to enter your container decryption passphrase once.