Looking into hard disk encryption. the go to solution seems to be dm-crypt with LUKS using a password. I work with multiple independent hard disks mounted into a disk pool for reading. In this case, I have to type a password multiple times.

Is there a way for me to encrypt the hard disks with a key file, maybe put it on a USB drive and just plug it in when necessary??


One of the best ways to do this is to use a smart card with a crypto key on it to unlock the keys for your encrypted block devices. You will only need to enter the passphrase (called "PIN" by the tools but it's really a passphrase) once, after which it will be cached. This has the added advantage of protecting the encrypted data with something-you-have (the smart card itself, out of which the private key cannot be extracted) and something-you-know (the passphrase).

Format your /etc/crypttab like this:

mapper-name /dev/disk/raw-device /var/lib/filename-containing-encrypted-key \

In Debian and derivatives, the initramfs-tools will notice the keyscript and copy all of the necessary tools and daemons for accessing the smart card to the initramfs automatically.

Information on setting up the smart card and creating (and encrypting) the keys is found in /usr/share/doc/cryptsetup/README.opensc.gz.

You can use a Yubikey 4 or Yubikey NEO among others for this purpose.

Implementation notes: This feature has rough edges and apparently doesn't work out of the box so YMMV. The last time I successfully achieved it, I had to add the following hacks:

  • Disable systemd because it disastrously tries to take over the whole process of setting up encrypted devices from /etc/crypttab but it knows nothing about keyscript which leads to a big FAIL. Luckily, in Debian, you can still opt out of systemd.
  • Install this fixer-upper script as /etc/initramfs-tools/hooks/yubipin because the built-in feature didn't install quite enough support to get the Yubikey to be usable from the initramfs. You may need to adjust this.

        echo "$PREREQ"
    case $1 in
        exit 0
    # /scripts/local-top/cryptopensc calls pcscd with the wrong path
    ln -s ../usr/sbin/pcscd ${DESTDIR}/sbin/pcscd
    mkdir -p "${DESTDIR}/usr/lib/x86_64-linux-gnu"
    # opensc-tool wants this dynamically, copy_exec doesn't know that
    cp -pL /usr/lib/x86_64-linux-gnu/libpcsclite.so.1 "${DESTDIR}/usr/lib/x86_64-linux-gnu/libpcsclite.so.1"
    mkdir -p "${DESTDIR}/lib/x86_64-linux-gnu"
    # without this, pcscd aborts with a pthread_cancel error
    cp -pL /lib/x86_64-linux-gnu/libgcc_s.so.1 "${DESTDIR}/lib/x86_64-linux-gnu/libgcc_s.so.1"
    # this gets copied as a dangling symlink, fix it
    rm "${DESTDIR}/usr/lib/pcsc/drivers/ifd-ccid.bundle/Contents/Info.plist"
    cp -pL /usr/lib/pcsc/drivers/ifd-ccid.bundle/Contents/Info.plist "${DESTDIR}/usr/lib/pcsc/drivers/ifd-ccid.bundle/Contents/Info.plist"
    # pcscd needs this to open the reader once it has found it
    cp -pL /lib/x86_64-linux-gnu/libusb-1.0.so.0 "${DESTDIR}/lib/x86_64-linux-gnu/libusb-1.0.so.0"
  • Install another script as /etc/initramfs-tools/scripts/local-bottom/killpcscd to clean up:

    set -e
        echo "$PREREQ"
    case $1 in
            exit 0
    # because cryptopensc does not do it properly
    killall pcscd
  • 1
    Very nice incentive to use smart-cards and kudos for achieving that, but I'd say a distribution-specific method which involves changing init system and third-party hack scripts shoved into system directories with unreadable paths cannot be deemed as an answer to how to use passkey files question. Highlights the incredible mess these software are, tho. – dbanet Sep 25 '16 at 17:07
  • @dbanet, I fully agree and I hope that someone else will come along and add an answer describing how to do this in some other simpler way. Then the OP can choose their favorite. – Celada Sep 25 '16 at 20:41
  • dbanet and @Celada, exactly my thoughts. This is far too complicated and even if I manage to do this, its proprietary, meaning another vendor would have another method. :( – Nithin Sep 26 '16 at 5:26

It's possible to simply store the luks password in a file.

I use this on my home computer; The root file system lives on a regular luks volume which I unlock with my passphrase at boot. An additional drive contains a luks volume with a generated password.

This additional volume is unlocked by a password file which lives on the encrypted root file system. It is automatically unlocked during boot if the root file system is unlocked.

My /etc/crypttab looks like this:

crypt-root UUID=c5a2cf25-0aae-457e-874f-fca7ea3d5742 none luks
crypt-data UUID=96d79323-246d-49e0-9149-ec3a4cfc1c1e /etc/crypt-data.key luks

The third field is the keyfile, none for the root filesystem, but /etc/crypt-data.key for the data filesystem. /etc/crypt-data.key contains the luks password:


Note, a newline or any other white space will be taken as part of the password! Take care to generate this file without trailing newline. Also, ensure it has strict permissions:

-rw------- 1 root root 59 Sep 14 23:57 /etc/crypt-data.key

You should be able to duplicate this approach for multiple volumes (either with distinct passwords or one shared password, your choice).

  • can you also mention how to configure LUKS to use the keyfile instead of the password? – Nithin Sep 26 '16 at 5:31
  • @Nithin The keyfile is the third field in my example /etc/crypttab. I added a little extra text to make that clearer. – marcelm Sep 26 '16 at 9:32

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