I was inspired by a post on the Command Line Warriors blog to encrypt my /home directory. Unfortunately, the directions given in that post don’t quite work. Here is the process I followed to set everything up.

We’re setting up a basic LUKS volume encrypted with AES with a 256-bit key. This means we make a special “filesystem” on the disk partition which encrypts our real filesystem on disk, and makes it available unencrypted via the device-mapper interface (/dev/mapper/).

First, you need to have a partition available for your /home directory. In my case, I decided to nuke my Windows install, but most people will probably need to use parted to resize some existing partitions. If you’re resizing your root (“/”) partition, you’ll need to run it from a LiveCD. For the partition, I chose the “Linux” type, but I’m not sure that really matters.

Once you’ve allocated the partition, you’ll need to create the LUKS partition. You do this with the cryptsetup command. But, before you can use this, you’ll need to make sure you’ve compiled these settings into your kernel: CONFIG_DM_CRYPT, CONFIG_CRYPTO_CBC, CONFIG_CRYPTO_SHA256, and CONFIG_CRYPTO_AES.

After configuring your kernel and you’ve rebooting, if need be, you’ll need to install sys-fs/cryptsetup. Don’t install sys-fs/cryptsetup-luks… it’s old. The newest (>1.0) versions of cryptsetup are based on the -luks version, and are what you should be using.

Now, use cryptsetup to format the luks partition:

  cryptsetup luksFormat -c aes-cbc-essiv:sha256 /dev/hda4

Substitute /dev/hda4 with whatever partition you created earlier. It will ask you to enter a password. Use a strong one, and don’t just write it on a piece of paper by your computer, or you’ve defeated the whole point of this.

Now, we need to open the partition so we can create our encrypted data partition. We do this with the following:

  cryptsetup luksOpen /dev/hda4 crypt-home

This will make /dev/mapper/crypt-home, which is the device you use to mount your /home. Currently that partition is unformatted, so use your mkfs of choice to format it.

  mke2fs -j /dev/mapper/crypt-home

Next, make a temporary place to mount this so you can copy over your data, and mount it.

  mkdir /mnt/crypt-home
  mount /dev/mapper/crypt-home /mnt/crypt-home

And then, copy all your data from your current /home to the new one:

  rsync -tarv /home/* /mnt/crypt-home

Now would also be a good time to back up your important data to some other location.

Before we continue, we should configure the system to mount our new /home at boot. This requires editing /etc/fstab:

  # /etc/fstab
  # ... your other stuff ...
  /dev/mapper/crypt-home /home ext3 noatime 0 2

and /etc/conf.d/dmcrypt:

  # /etc/conf.d/dmcrypt
  # This file has all sorts of comments in it already
  # just uncomment the following:

  ## /home with passphrase

Now all that is left is to remove the unencrypted copy of /home. First, you should go through and rm -rf anything that doesn’t contain sensitive information, like open source project code, your mp3s, etc.

The last step is to use the shred command to securely delete all the remaining files. Shred works by overwriting a file many times with different patterns to make recovering them extremely difficult. Use the following commands to securely delete all the files in home, and then remove all the empty directories:

  find -H /home/*/ -type f -exec shred -u -v {} \;
  rm -rf /home/*/

Now, reboot and if everything went well, you should be prompted for your password, and then everything should just work as it did before.

Update: fixed links.