Installing Arch Linux with a fully-encrypted disk
On a typical GNU/Linux install, you won’t have disk encryption. Though you’re a keen user and you’ve chosen a very strong passphrase, your data is still stored openly. Should anyone steal, confiscate, buy, or otherwise obtain your hard drive, every bit of data is going to be readable. Should anyone boot into a live CD on your system and mount your drives, your data is readily available and your strong passphrase is none the wiser.
Varying degrees of encryption
It’s becoming more popular to encrypt certain files, perhaps using
GPG, and even home directories.
This still suffers, compared to full system encryption, since the entire root
of the file system is still open. Directories like
/etc, where the majority
of your system configurations exist (often including sensitive information),
/var, where sensitive data may be logged by running processes, and even
/tmp, where processes may store sensitive temporary data, are vulnerable.
Encrypt first, then install; use your system with more confidence.
Let this be a guide for your next bare-bones Arch setup. I assume you’re the root from here on out.
Head over to https://www.archlinux.org/download/ and download the latest ISO,
preferably via BitTorrent. Burn it to your external media in your preferred
manner; I have a 16GB USB drive at
/dev/sdb, in this example, and I’ll make my
live disk with one command.
$ dd if=archlinux-2016.07.01-dual.iso of=/dev/sdb bs=1M
Boot into your new live CD, choose your architecture, and you’ll be dropped at a root prompt. Now you’ll create your system.
I’m assuming you’re installing to
/dev/sda; the resulting partition table is
/dev/sda1 /boot 200MB /dev/sda2 / Rest
Spin up cfdisk and create a matching layout.
$ cfdisk /dev/sda
Now, before you install anything, you’re going to setup encryption for
/dev/sda2. Choose a strong passphrase, at least 32 characters long. I
recommend using a complete sentence with spaces, punctuation, and mixed case. As
the disk is encrypted, it’ll first be scrubbed with random data. You can
interrupt this, but you should not! Here’s why.
Typical data can be discovered by patterns that are inherent to its format. Video, audio, source code, etc, each looks different as a pattern of bits. Encrypted data typically looks like random garbage. As a result, if you only encrypt the data of this new system, there may be old data on the drive which will not look random; it’ll still be decipherable as video, audio, etc. If you randomize the whole drive first, then it’s substantially more difficult to tell where the encrypted data stops, since it all looks like random garbage.
$ cryptsetup --verbose --key-size 512 --hash sha512 --iter-time 5000 --use-random luksFormat /dev/sda2
Given an encrypted partition, which
/dev/sda2 now is, you can decrypt it into
a labeled volume. In this example, you’ll decrypt the fresh
$ cryptsetup open --type luks /dev/sda2 cryptroot
Once it’s there, you’re free to mount it, format it, or do just about anything you would with a normal disk partition.
Both of the partitions will just use Ext4, in this example. You’re welcome to use any file system you’d like.
$ mkfs.ext4 /dev/sda1 $ mkfs.ext4 /dev/mapper/cryptroot
Once you have your file systems formatted, they should be mounted in a local directory. You’ll change root into here soon.
$ mkdir -p mnt $ mount -t ext4 /dev/mapper/cryptroot mnt $ mkdir -p mnt/boot $ mount -t ext4 /dev/sda1 mnt/boot
Install the base system
The Arch live system comes with a couple of commands to help bootstrap your new
system. The first you’ll use is
pacstrap, which takes the directory in which
to install and an arbitrary number of packages. This requires network access and
I recommend installing some basic tools which will help as you build up your
system. Aside from the required
base-devel, I opt for
$ pacstrap -i mnt base base-devel vim tmux
Your current mount points will work as a starting point for the new system, so you can serialize them as an fstab now.
$ genfstab -U -p mnt >> mnt/etc/fstab
Enter the system
At this point, a working user-space is within
mnt and you an change root into
it. Arch provides
arch-chroot for this purpose; it’s a helper script around
chroot which also sets up certain API file systems and makes
$ arch-chroot mnt
Now that you’re in your new system’s environment, some essential information will need to be specified. For starters, a modern setup should default to UTF-8.
$ sed -i 's/^#\(en_US.UTF-8 UTF-8\)/\1/g' /etc/locale.gen $ locale-gen $ echo LANG=en_US.UTF-8 > /etc/locale.conf $ export LANG=en_US.UTF-8
Link in the appropriate time zone for you. I also recommend keeping the hardware clock on UTC.
$ ln -s /usr/share/zoneinfo/America/Los_Angeles /etc/localtime $ hwclock --systohc --utc
Your hostname can be whatever you want; it’s network-visible though, so keep it sane.
$ echo tofu-ninja > /etc/hostname
Root needs a password and you’ll need a normal user. Using root for anything but short-term administrative tasks is a dangerous habit.
$ passwd # enter root password $ useradd -m -g users -G wheel -s /bin/bash penny $ passwd penny # enter user's password $ visudo # uncomment wheel
You have other options for your bootloader, but GRUB is the most powerful around. I like that, in a pinch, the GRUB shell can be used to boot just about anything. The installation is straightforward, but you need to make sure that GRUB knows about our encrypted drive.
$ pacman -S grub-bios $ sed -i 's#^\(GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX="\)#\1cryptdevice=/dev/sda2:cryptroot#' /etc/default/grub $ grub-install --recheck /dev/sda $ grub-mkconfig --output /boot/grub/grub.cfg
The kernel needs to know about your encrypted setup, so you must instruct mkinitcpio to do some extra work.
$ sed -i 's/^\(HOOKS=".*\)\(filesystems.*\)/\1 encrypt \2/' /etc/mkinitcpio.conf $ mkinitcpio -p linux
At this point, your minimal setup is complete and your entire system, save for
/boot, is encrypted. You can exit the install environment and reboot into
GRUB and your new install.
$ exit $ umount -R mnt/boot $ umount -R mnt $ cryptsetup close cryptroot $ reboot
If you get locked out
If locked out of your system, for whatever reason, you’ll need to manually
decrypt your drives. You can do this by just manually opening and closing
cryptsetup, like you did for the install.
$ cryptsetup open --type luks /dev/sda2 cryptroot $ mkdir -p mnt $ mount -t ext4 /dev/mapper/cryptroot mnt $ mkdir -p mnt/boot $ mount -t ext4 /dev/sda1 mnt/boot # Do your work ... $ umount -R mnt/boot $ umount -R mnt $ cryptsetup close cryptroot
A starting point for filling out your new system would be the Arch General Recommendations.