Encrypting your Linux system with LUKS and ZFS

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When a computer is lost, your data falling into the wrong hands is often more serious than the loss of hardware. In this article, we explain how to use LUKS and ZFS to encrypt a system so you can keep your privacy when you lose your laptop.

Most people would not dream of posting their company's business plan on Facebook. On laptops, however, people often carry their company's business plans around with them and leave them at a coffee shop. In a survey [1], 86 percent of IT security professionals revealed that at least one laptop had been stolen or lost in their company. In 56 percent of these cases, a data security breach occurred. Sixty-one percent of German IT professionals said that data loss is more serious than the material damage; only 13 percent would worry more about losing the hardware.

What Now?

Although conventional Linux laptops use modern filesystems like ext4 or XFS, which ensure the validity of the files, they store the data unencrypted – this is no obstacle to a data thief who has come into the possession of the device. Techniques such as TrueCrypt, however, store data in encrypted containers; in combination with a strong passphrase, this approach is considered safe. However, TrueCrypt cannot encrypt the entire Linux system.

In this article, I'll present a more-or-less fully encrypted system that runs on a heavily encrypted master partition. Only the small /boot partition with the kernel and initramfs remains unencrypted. The filesystem I'll be using is the feature-rich ZFS on Linux (ZoL [2]). The storage space can be distributed dynamically between all ZFS filesystems. ZFS also provides block checksums for data integrity and can compress files transparently, if needed.

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