Debian packaging of the clevis automated encryption framework

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build dracut


Welcome to Clevis!

Clevis is a pluggable framework for automated decryption. It can be used to provide automated decryption of data or even automated unlocking of LUKS volumes.

Encrypting Data

What does this look like? Well, the first step is encrypting some data. We do this with a simple command:

$ clevis encrypt PIN CONFIG < PLAINTEXT > CIPHERTEXT.jwe

This command takes plaintext on standard input and produces an encrypted JWE object on standard output. Besides the plaintext, we need to specify two additional input parameters.

First, is the pin. In clevis terminology, a pin is a plugin which implements automated decryption. We simply pass the name of a pin here.

Second, is the config. The config is a JSON object which will be passed directly to the pin. It contains all the necessary configuration to perform encryption and setup automated decryption.

To decrypt our JWE, we simply perform the following:

$ clevis decrypt < CIPHERTEXT.jwe > PLAINTEXT

Notice that no additional input or interaction is required for the decrypt command. Let's look at some more concrete examples.

PIN: Tang

Tang is a server implementation which provides cryptographic binding services without the need for an escrow. Clevis has full support for Tang. Here is an example of how to use Clevis with Tang:

$ echo hi | clevis encrypt tang '{"url": "http://tang.local"}' > hi.jwe
The advertisement is signed with the following keys:

Do you wish to trust the advertisement? [yN] y

In this example, we encrypt the message "hi" using the Tang pin. The only parameter needed in this case is the URL of the Tang server. During the encryption process, the Tang pin requests the key advertisement from the server and asks you to trust the keys. This works similarly to SSH.

Alternatively, you can manually load the advertisement using the adv parameter. This parameter takes either a string referencing the file where the advertisement is stored, or the JSON contents of the advertisement itself. When the advertisement is specified manually like this, Clevis presumes that the advertisement is trusted.


Clevis provides support to encrypt a key in a Trusted Platform Module 2.0 (TPM2) chip. The cryptographically-strong, random key used for encryption is encrypted using the TPM2 chip, and then at decryption time is decrypted using the TPM2 to allow clevis to decrypt the secret stored in the JWE.

For example:

$ echo hi | clevis encrypt tpm2 '{}' > hi.jwe

Clevis store the public and private keys of the encrypted key in the JWE object, so those can be fetched on decryption to unseal the key encrypted using the TPM2.

PIN: Shamir Secret Sharing

Clevis provides a way to mix pins together to provide sophisticated unlocking policies. This is accomplished by using an algorithm called Shamir Secret Sharing (SSS).

SSS is a thresholding scheme. It creates a key and divides it into a number of pieces. Each piece is encrypted using another pin (possibly even SSS recursively). Additionally, you define the threshold t. If at least t pieces can be decrypted, then the encryption key can be recovered and decryption can succeed.

Here is an example where we use the SSS pin with both the Tang and HTTP pins:

$ echo hi | clevis encrypt sss \
'{"t": 2, "pins": {"http": {"url": "http://server.local/key"}, "tang": {"url": "http://tang.local"}}}' \
> hi.jwe

In the above example, we define two child pins and have a threshold of 2. This means that during decryption both child pins must succeed in order for SSS itself to succeed.

Here is another example where we use just the HTTP pin:

$ echo hi | clevis encrypt sss \
'{"t": 1, "pins": {"http": [{"url": "http://server1.local/key"}, {"url": "http://server1.local/key"}]}}' \
> hi.jwe

In this example, we define two child instances of the HTTP pin - each with its own configuration. Since we have a threshold of 1, if either of the HTTP pin instances succeed during decryption, SSS will succeed.

Binding LUKS Volumes

Clevis can be used to bind a LUKS volume using a pin so that it can be automatically unlocked.

How this works is rather simple. We generate a new, cryptographically strong key. This key is added to LUKS as an additional passphrase. We then encrypt this key using Clevis, and store the output JWE inside the LUKS header using LUKSMeta.

Here is an example where we bind /dev/sda1 using the Tang ping:

$ sudo clevis luks bind -d /dev/sda1 tang '{"url": "http://tang.local"}'
The advertisement is signed with the following keys:

Do you wish to trust the advertisement? [yN] y
Enter existing LUKS password:

Upon successful completion of this binding process, the disk can be unlocked using one of the provided unlockers.

Unlocker: Dracut

The Dracut unlocker attempts to automatically unlock volumes during early boot. This permits automated root volume encryption. Enabling the Dracut unlocker is easy. Just rebuild your initramfs after installing Clevis:

$ sudo dracut -f

Upon reboot, you will be prompted to unlock the volume using a password. In the background, Clevis will attempt to unlock the volume automatically. If it succeeds, the password prompt will be cancelled and boot will continue.

Unlocker: Initramfs-tools

When using Clevis with initramfs-tools, in order to rebuild your initramfs you will need to run:

sudo update-initramfs -u -k 'all'

Upon reboot it will behave exactly as if using Dracut.

Unlocker: UDisks2

Our UDisks2 unlocker runs in your desktop session. You should not need to manually enable it; just install the Clevis UDisks2 unlocker and restart your desktop session. The unlocker should be started automatically.

This unlocker works almost exactly the same as the Dracut unlocker. If you insert a removable storage device that has been bound with Clevis, we will attempt to unlock it automatically in parallel with a desktop password prompt. If automatic unlocking succeeds, the password prompt will be dismissed without user intervention.

Unlocker: Clevis command

A LUKS device bound to a Clevis policy can also be unlocked by using the clevis luks unlock command.

$ sudo clevis luks unlock -d /dev/sda1

Unbinding LUKS volumes

LUKS volumes can be unbound using the clevis luks unbind command. For example:

$ sudo clevis luks unbind -d /dev/sda1 -s 1

Listing pins bound to LUKS volumes

The pins that are bound to a given LUKS volume can be listed using the clevis luks list command. For example:

$ sudo clevis luks list -d /dev/sda1

Installing Clevis

Please don't install Clevis directly. Instead, use your preferred distribution's packages.

Fedora 24+

This command installs the core Clevis commands, the Dracut unlocker and the UDisks2 unlocker, respectively.

$ sudo dnf install clevis clevis-dracut clevis-udisks2