The underlying encryption mechanism in the kernel, which is integrated into the above file systems, is also sometimes called "fscrypt". To avoid ambiguity, this article calls the kernel feature "Linux native file encryption". With Linux native file encryption, different directories can use different encryption keys. In an encrypted directory, all file contents, filenames, and symlinks are encrypted. All subdirectories are encrypted too. Non-filename metadata, such as timestamps, the sizes and number of files, and extended attributes, is not encrypted.
As this article assumes the use of the fscrypt tool (and optionally pam_fscrypt, which goes along with fscrypt), most of it is not applicable to other userspace tools that can set up Linux native file encryption, for example systemd-homed.
Alternatives to consider
To protect an entire file system with one password, block device encryption with dm-crypt (LUKS) is generally a better option, as it ensures that all files on the file system are encrypted, and also that all file system metadata is encrypted. fscrypt is most useful to encrypt specific directories, or to enable different encrypted directories to be unlockable independently—for example, per-user encrypted home directories.
Compared to eCryptfs, the Linux native file encryption controlled by fscrypt does not use file system stacking, which makes it more memory-efficient. It also uses more up-to-date cryptography and does not require root privileges to set up, which avoids the need for setuid binaries. eCryptfs is also no longer being actively developed, and its largest users (Ubuntu and Chrome OS) have migrated to other solutions.
See data-at-rest encryption for more information about other encryption solutions, and about what encryption does and does not do.
- It is possible to use fscrypt in combination with dm-crypt, with each encryption layer serving a different purpose. For example, the file system itself could be protected by dm-crypt using a less secure method, like a TPM tied into "secure boot" or a password known to all the system's users, while each user's home directory could also be protected by fscrypt using a password known only to that user.
- The e4crypt tool from can be used as an alternative to the fscrypt tool. However, this is not recommended since e4crypt is missing many basic features and is no longer being actively developed.
- f2fscrypt from is just a copy of e4crypt and likewise is not recommended.
All officially supported kernels support native file encryption on ext4, F2FS, and UBIFS.
Users of custom kernels, make sure
CONFIG_FS_ENCRYPTION=y is set.
For ext4, the file system on which encryption is to be used must have the
encrypt feature flag enabled. To enable it, run:
# tune2fs -O encrypt /dev/device
encrypt feature immediately with
mkfs.ext4 -O encrypt.
For F2FS, use
mkfs.f2fs -O encrypt when creating the file system or
fsck.f2fs -O encrypt at a later time.
Install the package. Then run:
# fscrypt setup
This creates the file
/etc/fscrypt.conf and the directory
Then, if the file system on which encryption is to be used is not the root file system, also run:
# fscrypt setup mountpoint
mountpoint is where the file system is mounted, e.g.
This creates the directory
mountpoint/.fscrypt to store fscrypt policies and protectors.
.fscrypt directory; otherwise ALL access to encrypted files will be lost!
To unlock login passphrase-protected directories automatically at login, and to keep login passphrase-protected directories in sync with changes to the login passphrase, adjust the system PAM configuration to enable pam_fscrypt.
Append the following line to the auth section in
auth optional pam_fscrypt.so
Insert the following lines before
session include system-auth in the session section:
session [success=1 default=ignore] pam_succeed_if.so service = systemd-user quiet session optional pam_fscrypt.so
systemd --user session which does not properly close its PAM session and would otherwise block the locking on logout.
Finally, append the following line to
password optional pam_fscrypt.so
Encrypt a directory
To encrypt an empty directory, run:
$ fscrypt encrypt dir
Follow the prompts to create or choose a "protector". A protector is the secret or information that protects the directory's encryption key. The types of protectors include:
- "custom_passphrase". This is exactly what it sounds like, a user defined passphrase.
- "pam_passphrase". This is the login passphrase for a particular user. Directories using this type of protector will be automatically unlocked by pam_fscrypt (if enabled) when that user logs in. Be sure to follow the security recommendations before using this type of protector.
In both cases, the passphrase can be changed later, or the directory can be re-protected with another method.
Example for custom passphrase:
$ fscrypt encrypt private/
Should we create a new protector? [y/N] y Your data can be protected with one of the following sources: 1 - Your login passphrase (pam_passphrase) 2 - A custom passphrase (custom_passphrase) 3 - A raw 256-bit key (raw_key) Enter the source number for the new protector [2 - custom_passphrase]: 2 Enter a name for the new protector: Super Secret Enter custom passphrase for protector "Super Secret": Confirm passphrase: "private/" is now encrypted, unlocked, and ready for use.
Example for PAM passphrase:
$ fscrypt encrypt private/
Should we create a new protector? [y/N] y Your data can be protected with one of the following sources: 1 - Your login passphrase (pam_passphrase) 2 - A custom passphrase (custom_passphrase) 3 - A raw 256-bit key (raw_key) Enter the source number for the new protector [2 - custom_passphrase]: 1 Enter login passphrase for testuser: "private/" is now encrypted, unlocked, and ready for use.
$ mkdir new_dir $ fscrypt encrypt new_dir $ cp -a -T old_dir new_dir $ find old_dir -type f -print0 | xargs -0 shred -n1 --remove=unlink $ rm -rf old_dirBeware that the original unencrypted files may still be forensically recoverable from disk even after being shredded and deleted, especially if using an SSD. It is better to encrypt data from the start.
Lock/unlock a directory
To unlock an encrypted directory, run:
$ fscrypt unlock dir
fscrypt will prompt for the passphrase.
To lock an encrypted directory, run:
$ fscrypt lock dir
Encrypt a home directory
To encrypt a user's home directory, first ensure that all preparations have been completed, including enabling pam_fscrypt.
Then, create a new encrypted directory for the user:
# mkdir /home/newhome # chown user:user /home/newhome # fscrypt encrypt /home/newhome --user=user
Select the option to protect the directory with the user's login passphrase.
Then copy the contents of the user's old home directory into the encrypted directory:
# cp -a -T /home/user /home/newhome
mv -T /home/user /home/newhome instead. However, this is unsafe. Making a backup first is strongly recommended.
If the cp method was used, check whether the directory is being automatically unlocked on login before actually switching to using it. The simplest way to do this is to reboot and log in as that user. Afterwards, run:
$ fscrypt status /home/newhome
"/home/newhome" is encrypted with fscrypt. Policy: d80f252996aae181204403043b0ada25 Options: padding:32 contents:AES_256_XTS filenames:AES_256_CTS policy_version:2 Unlocked: Yes Protected with 1 protector: PROTECTOR LINKED DESCRIPTION 5952c84ebaf0f98d No login protector for testuser
If it says
Unlocked: No instead, then something is wrong with the PAM configuration, or the incorrect type of protector was selected.
Otherwise, replace the home directory:
# mv /home/user /home/oldhome # mv /home/newhome /home/user # reboot
If everything is working as expected, delete the old home directory:
# find /home/oldhome -type f -print0 | xargs -0 shred -n1 --remove=unlink # rm -rf /home/oldhome
Encryption within Linux Containers (lxc)
Support to use fscrypt inside Linux Containers (lxc), or more generally in where the file system's root directory is not visible has been added in v0.2.8.
Lock directory when container is stopped
A systemd/User unit within the container can lock an encrypted directory when the container is stopped:
[Unit] Description=lock encrypted directory on shutdown DefaultDependencies=no Before=shutdown.target [Service] Type=oneshot ExecStart=/bin/sh -c "/usr/bin/fscrypt lock /home/facade/target" TimeoutStartSec=0 [Install] WantedBy=shutdown.target
See https://github.com/google/fscrypt/blob/master/README.md#troubleshooting for solutions to some common problems and also the open issues on Github.