[dm-crypt] Prepare SSD for encrypted linux install

David Christensen dpchrist at holgerdanske.com
Wed Nov 8 22:45:25 CET 2017

On 11/08/17 09:36, Merlin Büge wrote:
> I want to use an SSD (Samsung 850 PRO 512GB) for a fully encrypted Linux
> system. I've read the cryptsetup FAQ and various posts in the
> internet and I'm familiar with the common problems/pitfalls regarding
> dm-crypt on SSDs.
> To avoid information leakage about the storage device's usage patterns,
> it is generally recommended to fill the entire device with random data
> before setting up encryption. It is also recommended to issue an 'ATA
> secure erase' to SSDs before using it to avoid performance issues.
> But doing these two things, either my (1) random data gets 'deleted' via
> the (2) 'ATA secure erase' (the SSD will report all zeros), or I end up
> with degraded performance when (1) issuing 'ATA secure erase' before
> (2) putting random data on it.
> I thought of TRIMing the SSD via 'blkdiscard' instead of using
> 'ATA secure erase' after putting random data on it (twice, see [0]),
> but that should make no difference, since the SSD will most probably
> report all zeros for TRIMed sectors. Either way, the flash chips will
> contain all random data (making it impossible to distinguish encrypted
> data from free space) but the drive controller will still report all
> zeros for the entire SSD (making it possible to distinguish encrypted
> data from free space).
> (Note: I'm assuming that an 'ATA secure erase' does not actually empty
> the flash cells, but merely changes the internal encryption key. I'm not
> sure on this, but it doesn't really matter.)
> Any solution/thoughts on this?

Choosing between randomizing, secure erase, trim, zerofree, etc., is a 
matter of balancing conflicting goals -- security, performance, 
longevity, maintenance, etc..

Filling an SSD with random bytes and then doing a secure erase will 
produce nearly the same result as doing a secure erase alone (a drive 
full of zero's), but wastes one erase/write cycle of the cells written.

Doing a secure erase and then filling an SSD with random bytes will 
produce nearly the same result as filling the drive with random bytes 
alone (a drive full of random bytes), but wastes one write/erase cycle 
of all drive storage cells and limits available erased cells to those 
kept in reserve by the SSD controller (see below).

Random filling unused blocks is a form of steganography [1], which some 
believe makes brute-force attacks harder.  (Finding weaknesses in the 
science or technology makes brute-force attacks easier.)  But, it is my 
understanding that successful brute-force attacks are uncommon -- most 
successful attacks involve obtaining the passphrase (through psychology, 
espionage, interrogation, blackmail, extortion, torture, etc.).

SSD's require erased cells to write data.  The SSD controller maps drive 
blocks to cells.  There are more cells than there are drive blocks.  The 
difference is hidden from your operating system by the controller.  This 
allows the controller to erase dirty cells in the background and 
maintain a pool of erased cells for future writes.  If your operating 
system is doing a lot of writes and the pool of erased cells runs out, 
writes will stall while dirty blocks are erased.  This can cause 
operating system write timeout failures, and can easily snowball if the 
device is a system drive and/or swap device.  If your workload involves 
heavy writes and/or swapping, use devices separate from your system 
drive and consider "over-provisioning" [2]

Cells are rated for a finite number of erase/write cycles, so it is best 
to conserve them.

Drive imaging is a useful technique for system provisioning and disaster 
preparedness/ recovery.  Trimmed blocks read as zeros, which compress 
nicely; thus saving time and storage requirements.

I use Debian 9 GNU/Linux for my SOHO network, as described below.

For my system drives:

1.  I prefer 16~60 GB SSD's for workstations.  For headless servers, USB 
3.0 flash drives are a cheap alternative.

2.  I backup the data and/or take an image.

3.  If the device supports secure erase and I have the right tool, I 
erase the device.

4.  I use the Debian installer:

     a.  MBR partition table/ boot block (default).

     b.  ~1 GB partition with btrfs for /boot.

     c.  ~1 GB partition with LUKS (random key) for swap.  If the device 
does not support trim, I randomize the partition.

     d.  10~12 GB partition with LUKS (passphrase) and btrfs for root. 
If the device does not support trim, I randomize the partition.

I was using 1.5 TB HDD, LUKS, and btrfs for data drives.  I believe I 
created them with Debian 7.  I have experienced weirdness using these 
drives with Debian 9.  The btrfs on my Debian 9 system drives was 
created by Debian 9, and I haven't seen any weirdness yet, but I'm 
having doubts about btrfs.

I recently migrated the data in my primary file server to two 1.5 TB 
HDD's in mdadm RAID 1, LUKS, and ext4.  So far, it has been very stable.

My backups, archives, and images are on 3 TB HDD's, GPT, LUKS, and ext4. 
  The drives are mounted in mobile docks and I use a rotation scheme. 
These are also very stable.




[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steganography

[2] https://duckduckgo.com/?q=ssd+over+provisioning&t=ffsb&ia=web

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