Skip to content


Repository files navigation

Kestrel Logo

File encryption done right


Kestrel is a data-at-rest file encryption program that lets you encrypt files to anyone with a public key.

Features and Advantages

  • Encrypt files using a public key or a password.
  • Strong security and privacy guarantees. Uses X25519, ChaCha20-Poly1305 and the Noise Protocol. Guarantees sender authentication.
  • Secure defaults with zero configuration needed.
  • Supports files of any size.
  • Keys are simple strings that are easy to manage and copy-paste.
  • Private keys are always encrypted.
  • Single binary that is easy to run anywhere.
  • Supports Linux, macOS, Windows.


  • Does not handle signatures. You can't sign files with this. However, sender authentication is guaranteed.
  • Does not solve the key distribution problem. You have to acquire known-good public keys through some other means.

Security Properties

  • Sender authentication: When you successfully decrypt a file, you can be certain that it came from someone that you know and that it hasn't been tampered with in any way.
  • Metadata protection: Encrypted files contain absolutely zero information about the sender or recipient.
  • Deniability: Unlike using a digital signature for authentication, Kestrel provides sender authentication without non-repudiation. You are not cryptographically bound to the messages that you send. If the recipient tries to reveal a message, you are able to deny that you sent that message.
  • Partial forward secrecy: An attacker must compromise the recipient's private key in order to decrypt a file. Someone else getting their private key compromised doesn't affect the files that they had previously sent to you.

Kestrel uses a combination of the Noise Protocol and a chunked file encryption scheme. Read the security documentation for more details.

Advantages compared to other applications


GPG is a massively complex tool with many use cases, features, and shortcomings. In general, Kestrel provides better default security guarantees with no configuration required. In particular, by default, GPG does not provide sender authentication or metadata protection. Sender authentication can be added by including signatures, but this removes deniability. In contrast, Kestrel includes sender authentication while preserving deniability and protecting metadata.


age is a newer tool with strong defaults and is much less complex than GPG. However, age does not provide sender authentication. A successfully decrypted file could have come from anyone, including from an attacker that replaced the file with a malicious copy. Kestrel fixes this by showing you the exact sender of a file.


Tested on Linux, macOS, Windows

Download from the Official Site

Or grab the GitHub release

If you have cargo you can also use cargo install --locked kestrel-cli

Usage Examples

Generate a new private key

$ kestrel key gen -o keyring.txt
Key name: alice
New password:
Confirm password:
$ cat keyring.txt
Name = alice
PublicKey = D7ZZstGYF6okKKEV2rwoUza/tK3iUa8IMY+l5tuirmzzkEog
PrivateKey = ZWdrMPEp09tKN3rAutCDQTshrNqoh0MLPnEERRCm5KFxvXcTo+s/Sf2ze0fKebVsQilImvLzfIHRcJuX8kGetyAQL1VchvzHR28vFhdKeq+NY2KT

Encrypt a file

$ kestrel encrypt example.txt --to alice --from alice -o example.txt.ktl -k keyring.txt

Decrypt a file

$ kestrel decrypt example.txt.ktl -t alice -o example.txt -k keyring.txt

Encrypt a file using a password

$ kestrel pass enc example.txt -o example.txt.ktl

Set the environment variable KESTREL_KEYRING to use a default keyring file.


    kestrel encrypt [FILE] -t NAME -f NAME [-o FILE] [-k KEYRING]
    kestrel decrypt [FILE] -t NAME [-o FILE] [-k KEYRING]
    kestrel key generate [-o FILE]
    kestrel key change-pass PRIVATE-KEY
    kestrel key extract-pub PRIVATE-KEY
    kestrel password encrypt|decrypt [FILE] [-o FILE]

    Aliases enc, dec, pass, and gen can be used as encrypt, decrypt,
    password, and generate respectively.
    Option -k is required unless KESTREL_KEYRING env var is set.

    -t, --to      NAME    Recipient key name. Decrypt requires a private key.
    -f, --from    NAME    Sender key name. Must be a private key.
    -o, --output  FILE    Output file name.
    -k, --keyring KEYRING Location of a keyring file.
    -h, --help            Print help information.
    -v, --version         Print version information.
    --env-pass            Read password from KESTREL_PASSWORD env var


View the documentation

Source code for the documentation can be found in the kestrel-doc repository.


Patches welcome. Please send feedback and bug reports for any issues that you may have.


BSD 3 Clause

Unless you explicitly state otherwise, any contribution intentionally submitted for inclusion in this project by you, shall be licensed as BSD-3-Clause, without any additonal terms or conditions.


To the best of my knowledge, Kestrel is secure. However, this software has not yet undergone a formal security audit. Swim at your own risk.