Passphrase

How Fedora protects your data with full disk encryption

FedoraDisk encryption in one of the most overlooked and underused security tools in computing. When most people think about securing a computer or the operating system that powers it, a firewall, anti-virus, and other anti-malware software comes to mind. Those are all good and necessary tools, but they are only concerned with network security. What about physical security? What happens if someone gains unauthorized, physical access to your computer? Even with all the fancy firewall and other network security tools running, If the disk is not encrypted, check mate! Your data is now shared.

In Linux, there are kernelspace and userland applications for encrypting partitions and directories. You could opt to configure disk encryption on a running system, but I very much prefer to do that during installation. When encrypting a disk, it is better to encrypt the whole disk rather than just the home directory or the swap space. Very few Linux distributions provide a facility to configure full disk encryption during installation. Fedora is one of those few, and no distro that I’ve used or reviewed makes it as easy and as simple as Fedora’s implementation.

If you are using Fedora, and opt to encrypt the disk, which is highly recommended, you will essentially be setting up encrypted LVM. This is because Fedora uses LVM as the default disk partitioning scheme. This rest of this short tutorial shows you how Fedora implements disk encryption and how that protects your computer if it ever falls into the wrong hands.

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When installing Fedora, this is one of the screens you will have to deal with. By default, disk encryption is not enabled. To instruct the installer to encrypt the disk, click on the check box next to “Encrypt system.” Verify the other options and click “Next.”

Encryption option

This is the next screen the installer presents. All it’s asking for here is the passphrase that will be used to encrypt and decrypt the disk. Pick a strong one and one that you will always remember. “Ok.” And that’s how Fedora encrypts your disk. Reboot when the installation is completed.

Passphrase

Here the installer requires you to type in the passphrase that will be used to encrypt and decrypt the disk

When you reboot the computer, and before the system partition is read, the system will request for the passphrase. Remember that this passphrase is not the same and should not be the same as the user account you created during installation. It should also not be the same as the root password. The system will continue with the boot process only after the correct passphrase is given.

Passphrase before booting

Now the system requests the passphrase before it reads the system partition.

It should be now fairly obvious how this protects your data if your computer is ever lost or stolen. When it comes to disk encryption, think ‘encrypt every computer.’ That is, do not just encrypt your notebook, netbook or other mobile computer that you own. Encrypt even the desktop. While it is not likely that you will forget your desktop at the airport or the local bookstore of coffee store, someone could easily break into your house or apartment and vanish with your desktop computer.

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That someone could be a guy or guys from the local police station, the local FBI office or their equivalents in your country. Don’t make it easy for them to access your data. Always encrypt your computer’s disk(s). There’s no downside to it. Use a distro with support for full disk encryption. Fedora is just one. Debian and Mandriva also. To paraphrase the late Johnnie Cochran, If you install, you must encrypt.

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