Easy Encryption with SSDs and HDDs in the same machine

The Blog of Tom Webster

  2015-09-20 13:12:35 PDT

If you have a Linux machine with and SSD for one part of the filesystem, but need HDDs for the large storage capacity, encryption can become a pretty huge pain.

If you encrypt multiple filesystems across multiple disks, LVM is the proper choice, but you have a solid state disk you want to keep for it’s intended purpose: Booting your system quickly and making applications launch as fast as possible. If you keep all drives in LVM, some data will end up on physical volumes and slow your rig down.

So how do we boot our system without needing two or more LUKS passphrases on boot? How do we make it so one password rules them all?

Enter crypttab.

/etc/crypttab is like fstab for your encrypted filesystem components, and it’s really easy to get the hang of. Just a disclaimer: Using a single LUKS passphrase to unlock all drives is technically less safe than using a different passphrase for each drive, but it is way more convenient. That’s the ever-long battle: Convenience vs Security.

If you have cryptsetup installed, you should have /etc/crypttab in place already, just with everything commented out. The provided examples make this pretty easy to figure out:

# <name>       <device>                                     <password>              <options>
# home         UUID=b8ad5c18-f445-495d-9095-c9ec4f9d2f37    /etc/mypassword1
# data1        /dev/sda3                                    /etc/mypassword2
# data2        /dev/sda5                                    /etc/cryptfs.key
# swap         /dev/sdx4                                    /dev/urandom            swap,cipher=aes-cbc-essiv:sha256,size=256
# vol          /dev/sdb7                                    none

From this file, we can see that the LUKS volume named home has a specific UUID and a keyfile located at /etc/mypasswd1. The swap LUKS volume is encrypted randomly on each boot by /dev/urandom. The vol LUKS volume has none in the password field, meaning it will ask you for a password at mount time.

With crypttab, we can use the combination of a single passphrase for the root drive (your SSD), then keyfiles for the rest of the encrypted hard drives.

  1. Install your Linux system normally, on an encrypted LVM on the SSD.
  2. Create a new key file for your new drive. We’re going to use /dev/urandom and make a 5MB base64-encoded keyfile. While it would be more secure to use /dev/random, this will take a very very long time. Use it if you feel it is neccessary, but keep in mind, this is a single-passphrase boot, if your passphrase is poor, no amount of /dev/random will save you.
    • dd if=/dev/urandom bs=1M count=5 | base64 > ~/.HDDkey
  3. Now we need to format your hard drive with the key you just created:
    • cryptsetup luksFormat -d ~/.HDDkey /dev/sde
  4. Now map it, format it, then unmap it:
    • cryptsetup luksOpen -d ~/.HDDkey /dev/sdd BigStorage
    • mkfs.ext4 -L BigStorage /dev/mapper/BigStorage
    • cryptsetup luksClose BigStorage
  5. Now find the UUID of your drive:
    • blkid
    • Find the device identifier of your new encrypted drive, in my case, mine is /dev/sde.
    • Copy out the UUID, mine is c7792c2a-78fb-425a-8971-6df1c5d5b79c.
  6. Now, let’s add this line to /etc/crypttab so it will automatically unlock /dev/sde when the /etc filesystem is available:
    • BigStorage UUID=c7792c2a-78fb-425a-8971-6df1c5d5b79c /home/samurailink3/.HDDkey
    • BigStorage is going to be the name of the LUKS device exposed in /dev/mapper.
  7. Now the device will be mapped on boot and ready to mount. Here’s what a line in your /etc/fstab should look like if you want to mount it somewhere specific, with user and exec access.
    • /dev/mapper/BigStorage /run/media/samurailink3/BigStorage ext4 user,exec 0 0
  8. Now all that’s left is to use the device. If you’re treating it like an external drive, there’s nothing you need to do now, the device will be available at /run/media/samurailink3/BigStorage/. What I like to do is symlink out folders from my existing home directory to the larger drive for big files that don’t need fast access, like video files or music. Here’s an ls -l ~ for an example:
lrwxrwxrwx  1 samurailink3 samurailink3      44 May 24 09:33 SteamLibrary -> /run/media/samurailink3/BigData/SteamLibrary
lrwxrwxrwx  1 samurailink3 samurailink3      35 May 24 09:33 tmp -> /run/media/samurailink3/BigData/tmp
lrwxrwxrwx  1 samurailink3 samurailink3      38 May 24 09:33 Videos -> /run/media/samurailink3/BigData/Videos

Now you have all of your system drives encrypted, with one passphrase. Pretty convenient and way more secure than running with just one drive encrypted.