Encrypted root on debian part 2: unattended boot

I want my debian boot to work as follows:

  1. If it’s in my house, it can boot without my being there. To make that happen, I’ll put the root disk key on a USB stick, which I keep in the computer.
  2. If it’s not in my house, it needs a password to boot. This is the normal boot process.

As in part 1, this guide is debian-specific. To learn more about the Linux boot process, see part 1.

First, we need to prepare the USB stick. Use ‘dmesg’ and/or ‘lsblk’ to make a note of the USB stick’s path (/dev/sdae for me). I chose to write to a filesystem rather than a raw block device.

sudo mkfs.ext4 /dev/sdae # Make a filesystem directly on the device. No partition table.
sudo blkid /dev/sdae # Make a note of the filesystem UUID for later

Next, we’ll generate a key.

sudo mount /dev/sdae /mnt
sudo dd if=/dev/urandom of=/mnt/root-disk.key bs=1000 count=8

Add the key to your root so it can actually decrypt things. You’ll be prompted for your password:

sudo cryptsetup luksAddKey ROOT_DISK_DEVICE /mnt/root-disk.key

Make a script at /usr/local/sbin/unlockusbkey.sh

#!/bin/sh
USB_DEVICE=/dev/disk/by-uuid/a4b190b8-39d0-43cd-b3c9-7f13d807da48 # copy from blkid's output UUID=XXXX

if [ -b $USB_DEVICE ]; then
  # if device exists then output the keyfile from the usb key
  mkdir -p /usb
  mount $USB_DEVICE -t ext4 -o ro /usb
  cat /usb/root-disk.key
  umount /usb
  rmdir /usb
  echo "Loaded decryption key from USB key." >&2
else
  echo "FAILED to get USB key file ..." >&2
  /lib/cryptsetup/askpass "Enter passphrase"
fi

Mark the script as executable, and optionally test it.

chmod +x /usr/local/sbin/unlockusbkey.sh
sudo /usr/local/sbin/unlockusbkey.sh | cmp /mnt/root-disk.key

Edit /etc/crypttab to add the script.

root PARTLABEL=root_cipher none luks,keyscript=/usr/local/sbin/unlockusbkey.sh

Finally, re-generate your initramfs. I recommend either having a live USB or keeping a backup initramfs.

sudo update-initramfs -u

[1] This post is loosely based on a chain of tutorials based on each other, including this
[2] However, those collectively looked both out of date and like they were written without true understanding, and I wanted to clean up the mess. More definitive information was sourced from the actual cryptsetup documentation.

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