Use YubiKey to unlock a LUKS partition
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YubiKey Full Disk Encryption

This project leverages a YubiKey HMAC-SHA1 Challenge-Response mode for creating strong LUKS encrypted volume passphrases. It can be used in intramfs stage during boot process as well as on running system.

Be aware that this was only tested and intended for:

There is similar project targeting Debian/Ubuntu based systems: yubikey-luks

Table of contents


The passphrase for unlocking LUKS encrypted volumes can be created in two ways:

Automatic mode with stored challenge (1FA)

In Automatic mode you create custom challenge with 0-64 byte length and store it in cleartext in /etc/ykfde.conf and inside the initramfs image.

Example challenge:123456abcdef

The YubiKey response is a HMAC-SHA1 40 byte length string created from your provided challenge and 20 byte length secret key stored inside the token. It will be used as your LUKS encrypted volume passphrase.

Example response (ykfde passphrase): bd438575f4e8df965c80363f8aa6fe1debbe9ea9

In this mode possession of your YubiKey is enough to unlock a LUKS encrypted volume (1FA). It allows for the easy unlocking of encrypted volumes when YubiKey is present without need for user action.

Manual mode with secret challenge (2FA)

In Secret mode you will be asked to provide a custom challenge every time you want to unlock your LUKS encrypted volume as it will never be stored anywhere on system.

Example challenge: 123456abcdef

It will be hashed using the SHA256 algorithm to achieve the maximum byte length (64) for any given challenge. The hash will be used as the final challenge provided for YubiKey.

Hashing function:

printf 123456abcdef | sha256sum | awk '{print $1}'

Example hashed challenge: 8fa0acf6233b92d2d48a30a315cd213748d48f28eaa63d7590509392316b3016

The YubiKey response is a HMAC-SHA1 40 byte length string created from your provided challenge and 20 byte length secret key stored inside the token. It will be concatenated with the challenge and used as your LUKS encrypted volume passphrase for a total length of 104 (64+40) bytes.

Example response: bd438575f4e8df965c80363f8aa6fe1debbe9ea9

Example ykfde passphrase: 8d969eef6ecad3c29a3a629280e686cf0c3f5d5a86aff3ca12020c923adc6c92bd438575f4e8df965c80363f8aa6fe1debbe9ea9

This strong passphrase cannot be broken by brute force. To recreate it one would need both your passphrase (something you know) and your YubiKey (something you have) which means it works like 2FA.

Keep in mind that the above doesn't protect you from physical tampering like evil maid attack and from malware running after you unlock and boot your system. Use security tools designed to prevent those attacks.


Create and install package through pacman (recommended)

makepkg -srci

Download and install manually

git clone
sudo make install

When doing manual installation you also need to install yubikey-personalization and expect packages.


Configure HMAC-SHA1 Challenge-Response slot in YubiKey

First of all you need to setup a configuration slot for YubiKey HMAC-SHA1 Challenge-Response mode using a command similar to:

ykpersonalize -v -2 -ochal-resp -ochal-hmac -ohmac-lt64 -oserial-api-visible -ochal-btn-trig

Above arguments mean:

  • Verbose output (-v)
  • Use slot 2 (-2)
  • Set Challenge-Response mode (-ochal-resp)
  • Generate HMAC-SHA1 challenge responses (-ochal-hmac)
  • Calculate HMAC on less than 64 bytes input (-ohmac-lt64)
  • Allow YubiKey serial number to be read using an API call (-oserial-api-visible)
  • Require touching YubiKey before issue response (-ochal-btn-trig) (optional)

This command will enable HMAC-SHA1 Challenge-Response mode on a chosen slot and write random 20 byte length secret key to your YubiKey which will be used for creating ykfde passphrases.

Warning: choosing YubiKey slot already configured for HMAC-SHA1 Challenge-Response mode will overwrite secret key with the new one which means ykfde passphrases created with the old key will be unrecoverable.

You may instead enable HMAC-SHA1 Challenge-Response mode using graphical interface through yubikey-personalization-gui package. It allows for customization of the secret key, creation of secret key backup and writing the same secret key to multpile YubiKeys which allows for using them interchangeably for creating same ykfde passphrases.

Edit /etc/ykfde.conf file

Open the /etc/ykfde.conf file and adjust it for your needs. Alternatively to setting YKFDE_DISK_UUID and YKFDE_LUKS_NAME, you can use cryptdevice kernel parameter. The syntax is compatible with Arch's encrypt hook. After making your changes regenerate initramfs:

sudo mkinitcpio -P


Format new LUKS encrypted volume using ykfde passphrase

To format new LUKS encrypted volume, you can use ykfde-format script which is wrapper over cryptsetup luksFormat command, see ykfde-format -h for help:

ykfde-format --cipher aes-xts-plain64 --key-size 512 --hash sha512 /dev/<device>

Enroll ykfde passphrase to existing LUKS encrypted volume

To enroll new ykfde passphrase to existing LUKS encrypted volume you can use ykfde-enroll script, see ykfde-enroll -h for help:

ykfde-enroll -d /dev/<device> -s <keyslot_number>

Warning: having a weaker non-ykfde passphrase(s) on the same LUKS encrypted volume undermines the ykfde passphrase value as potential attacker will always try to break the weaker passphrase. Make sure the other non-ykfde passphrases are similarly strong or remove them.

Unlock LUKS encrypted volume protected by ykfde passphrase

To unlock LUKS encrypted volume on a running system, you can use ykfde-open script, see ykfde-open -h for help.

As unprivileged user using udisksctl (recommended):

ykfde-open -d /dev/<device>

As root using cryptsetup (when udisks is not available):

ykfde-open -d /dev/<device> -n <volume_name>

To print only the ykfde passphrase to the console without unlocking any volumes:

ykfde-open -p

Enable ykfde initramfs hook

Warning: It's recommended to have already working encrypted system setup with encrypt hook and non-ykfde passphrase before starting to use ykfde hook with ykfde passphrase to avoid potential misconfigurations.

Edit /etc/mkinitcpio.conf and add the ykfde hook before or instead of encrypt hook as provided in example. Adding ykfde hook before encrypt hook will allow for a safe fallback in case of ykfde misconfiguration. You can remove encrypt hook later when you confim that everything is working correctly. After making your changes regenerate initramfs:

sudo mkinitcpio -P

Reboot and test your configuration.

Enable ykfde suspend service (experimental)

You can enable the ykfde-suspend service which allows for automatically locking encrypted LUKS volumes and wiping keys from memory on suspend and unlocking them on resume by using cryptsetup luksSuspend and cryptsetup luksResume commands.

Warning: RAM storage stays unencrypted in that case.

Edit /etc/mkinitcpio.conf and add shutdown hook as the last in HOOKS array. After making your changes regenerate initramfs:

sudo mkinitcpio -P

Enable related systemd service:

systemctl enable ykfde-suspend.service

Reboot and test your configuration.


Copyright 2017 Andrei Gherzan

Licensed under the Apache License, Version 2.0 (the "License"); you may not use this file except in compliance with the License. You may obtain a copy of the License at

Unless required by applicable law or agreed to in writing, software distributed under the License is distributed on an "AS IS" BASIS, WITHOUT WARRANTIES OR CONDITIONS OF ANY KIND, either express or implied. See the License for the specific language governing permissions and limitations under the License.