[dm-crypt] Integrate cryptsetup in bootloader

Arno Wagner arno at wagner.name
Tue Nov 19 05:20:38 CET 2013

On Tue, Nov 19, 2013 at 04:42:55 CET, Ralf Ramsauer wrote:
> Hi,
> just an idea, but shouldn't it be possible to implement encryption
> algorithms incl. LUKS to GRUB?

Possible, yes. But it does not help. Instead of attacking the
kernel image or the initrd, an attacker could just attack the grub 
executable, which could then patch the kernel or the initrd.

> Then GRUB would be able to read the encryption kernel image and a
> initramfs.
> The initramfs itself could contain the symmetric Masterkey in order to
> decrypt the partition afterwards.  No further password prompts would be
> needed.   
> "All" that would be needed is to teach GRUB how to deal with encrypted
> partitions, what generally should be possible.
> The one and only parts that would stay unencrypted are the MBR and
> GRUB's stage2 or the modules.
> But that leads to the question if it is really necessary to hide your
> kernel and initrd?

If it is, then you need some other encryption scheme. Software-based
encryption will never be able to solve this issue. You can, for example,
have self-encrypting storage with keypad and display direcly on it
in the form of a trusted (and hopefully at least somewhat 
tamper-resistant) module.

This is not very good either, as tamper-resistance is basically 
a myth unless you go to large, expensive and elaborate HSMs,
with independent power, all kinds of sensors and that are 
designed by highly competent paranoids.

> Signing your kernel and/or initrd could also prove the integrity and
> authenticity of your system.

No, it cannot. At least as long as the verification mechanism
is also on that system. 

The bottom line ist the following: For systems like dm-crypt/LUKS, 
no additional protection for kernel and initrd is necessary, as 
attackers that can compromise these can compromise the any possible
protection mechanisms for them as well. You can make things a
bit more expensive for attackers by rolling your own kernel and 

But if you have this type of attackers, you need to step up your
protection to a different level, for example by investing 
50k-200k EUR for a real HSM that does your disk encryption.


> Regards,
>   Ralf
> On 11/19/2013 03:52 AM, Arno Wagner wrote:
> > Hi,
> >
> > this topic crops up from time to time. First, doing this yourself 
> > is hard, hard enough that if you have to ask how to do it, you 
> > will find it severely challenging. 
> >
> > That said, it has been done by several distros that can be installed
> > with "full root encryption". (Full disk encryption is not doable with
> > cryptsetup. That would need BIOS support.) Best get one of the
> > distros that do it. They usually just pack cryptsetup and its
> > libaries into the initrd and write some scripts around it.
> >
> > One example I use on a laptop is Linux Mint, which will just show
> > you a box to enter your encrytpion password before booting any futher. 
> > I expect Debian and Ubuntu can do something similar. 
> >
> > Best recommendation if you want to do something like this yourself 
> > is to analyze the initrd of a distro that has it working and go from 
> > there.
> >
> > Arno
> >
> > On Tue, Nov 19, 2013 at 03:20:43 CET, Trinh Van Thanh wrote:
> >> Hi all,
> >>
> >> Unencrypted boot partition is not safe for some special requirements. So I
> >> want to increase the secure level for full disk encryption using dm-crypt.
> >> Can I integrate cryptsetup in bootloader (example GRUB2) or is there any
> >> other solutions?
> >>
> >> Thanks in advanced,
> >>
> >> -- 
> >> ​Trinh Van Thanh​
> >> _______________________________________________
> >> dm-crypt mailing list
> >> dm-crypt at saout.de
> >> http://www.saout.de/mailman/listinfo/dm-crypt
> >
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Arno Wagner,     Dr. sc. techn., Dipl. Inform.,    Email: arno at wagner.name
GnuPG: ID: CB5D9718  FP: 12D6 C03B 1B30 33BB 13CF  B774 E35C 5FA1 CB5D 9718
There are two ways of constructing a software design: One way is to make it
so simple that there are obviously no deficiencies, and the other way is to
make it so complicated that there are no obvious deficiencies. The first
method is far more difficult.  --Tony Hoare

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