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booting from USB for security

Sune Vuorela asks about how to secure important data such as GPG keys on laptops.

I believe that the ideal solution involves booting from a USB device with an encrypted root filesystem to make subversion of the machine more difficult (note that physically subverting the machine is still possible – EG through monitoring the keyboard hardware).

The idea is that you boot from the USB device which contains the kernel, initrd, and the decryption key for the root filesystem. The advantage of having the key on a USB device is that it can be longer and more random than anything you might memorise.

In my previous posts about a good security design for an office, more about securing an office, and biometrics and passwords I covered some of the details of this.

My latest idea however is to have the root filesystem encrypted with both a password that is entered and by a password stored on the USB device. This means that someone who steals both my laptop and my USB key will still have some difficulty in getting at my data, but also someone who steals just the laptop will find that it is encrypted with a key that can not be brute-forced with any hardware that doesn’t involve quantum-computing.

Also coincidentally also on Planet Debian in the same day Michael Prokop documents how to solve some of the problems relating to booting from a USB flash device.

1 comment to booting from USB for security

  • who steals both my laptop and my USB key will still have some difficulty in getting at my data, but also someone who steals just the laptop will find that it is encrypted with a key that can not be brute-forced with any hardware that doesn’t involve quantum-computing.