12 Dec 2014

Tags: linux,systemd,ecryptfs

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How to encrypt home directory. For dummies


This paper is about encryption home directory using ecryptfs and automount settins using systemd and key on flash card.

Step 0: Preparation

  1. Logout as user.
  2. Login as root on tty. The following actions should be done as root.
  3. Move your home directory and create empty directory (s/$USER/user name/):

     mv /home/{$USER,$USER-org}
     mkdir /home/$USER
     chmod 700 /home/$USER
     chown $USER:users /home/$USER

Step 1: Encryption

The widespread solution in the Internet is to use automatic utilities to do it. However in our case they are not suitable, since we need to import key / password signature, which is not possible in this case.

The encryption can be done by the following command (lol):

mount -t ecryptfs /home/$USER /home/$USER

While process it asks some question (I suggest to do first mounting in the interactive mode). The answers may be like following (see the comments), please note that if you change something, it will be changed in some lines below too:

# key or certificate. The second one is more reliable while you don't lose it %)
Select key type to use for newly created files:
 1) passphrase
 2) openssl
Selection: 1
# password
# cipher, select default
Select cipher:
 1) aes: blocksize = 16; min keysize = 16; max keysize = 32
 2) blowfish: blocksize = 8; min keysize = 16; max keysize = 56
 3) des3_ede: blocksize = 8; min keysize = 24; max keysize = 24
 4) twofish: blocksize = 16; min keysize = 16; max keysize = 32
 5) cast6: blocksize = 16; min keysize = 16; max keysize = 32
 6) cast5: blocksize = 8; min keysize = 5; max keysize = 16
Selection [aes]: 1
# key size, select default
Select key bytes:
 1) 16
 2) 32
 3) 24
Selection [16]: 1
# enable reading/writing to the non-encrypted files
Enable plaintext passthrough (y/n) [n]: n
# enable filename encryption
Enable filename encryption (y/n) [n]: y
Filename Encryption Key (FNEK) Signature [XXXXX]:
# toolongdontread
Attempting to mount with the following options:
WARNING: Based on the contents of [/root/.ecryptfs/sig-cache.txt],
it looks like you have never mounted with this key
before. This could mean that you have typed your
passphrase wrong.

# accept, quit
Would you like to proceed with the mount (yes/no)? : yes
Would you like to append sig [XXXXX] to
in order to avoid this warning in the future (yes/no)? : yes
Successfully appended new sig to user sig cache file
Mounted eCryptfs

Then copy files from home directory to encrypted one:

cp -a /home/$USER-org/. /home/$USER

Step 2: systemd automounting

Create file on flash card (I’ve used microSD) with the following text (you should insert your password):


Add card automount (mount point is /mnt/key) to fstab with option ro, for example:

UUID=dc3ecb41-bc40-400a-b6bf-65c5beeb01d7    /mnt/key ext2     ro,defaults       0 0

Let’s configure home directory mounting. The mount options can be found in the following output:

mount | grep ecryptfs

I should note that there are not all options there, you need add key, no_sig_cache, ecryptfs_passthrough too. Thus systemd mount-unit should be like the following (if you are systemd-hater you can write the own daemon, because it doesn’t work over fstab without modification (see below)).

# cat /etc/systemd/system/home-$USER.mount



XXXXX should be replaced to signature from options with which directory are currently mounting. Also you need to insert user name and edit path to file with password (and unit name) if it is needed. Autoload:

systemctl enable home-$USER.mount

Here is a service to unmount flash card when it will be unneeded:

# cat /etc/systemd/system/umount-key.service
Description=Unmount key card

ExecStart=/usr/bin/umount /mnt/key



systemctl enable umount-key.service

Reboot. Remove backups if all is ok. If not then you did a mistake, resurrect system from emergency mode.

Why not fstab?

In my case I could not to make flash mounting before home decryption. Thus I saw emergency mode on load in which I should just continue loading. There are two solutions in the Internet:

In my opinion both of them are workarounds too much.

Why not pam?

Other solution is to mount using pam entry. In my case I have authentication without password on fingerprint so it doesn’t work for me.