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Signed/Encrypted ARchive: always-encrypted tar-like archive tool with optional signature support
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sear: signed/encrypted archive 📦iqlusion

An always-encrypted tar-like file archive format with support for Ed25519 digital signatures.

What is sear?

sear is a command-line tool and Rust library for producing tar-like archives containing multiple files and potentially preserving attributes including file ownership, modes/permissions, access control lists, SELinux security contexts, and extended attributes (a.k.a. xattrs).

Additionally, sear integrates functionality traditionally provided by a separate additional encryption tool such as gpg. However, where gpg attempts to be a one-size-fits-all encryption which includes a large number of complicated features (web-of-trust security model, messaging/encrypted email support), sear is laser-focused on encrypting and authenticating (via digital signatures) archives of files.

Installation Requirements

  • Rust 1.31+

File Format

NOTE: This description is presently expert-oriented. We'll have a simpler description up later!

sear archives have the following high-level structure:

| file 1 | file 2 | file 3 | ... | file N | footer |

...where each of the files consist of segmented AEAD-encrypted ciphertexts of the original file. No additional framing is added to files, although each segment of a file includes an individual authentication tag (i.e. MAC).


When constructing the archive, all plaintexts are first concatenated, and then encrypted as a single message stream, under a single key/nonce. This means individual segments may span multiple files - a separate stream per file is NOT used. This provides the most space efficient means of storing files, and can gracefully handle many small files without adding an undue number of authentication tags.

Segmented AEAD encryption allows for streaming encryption/decryption of individual files and archives, and also seekability within the archive. To facilitate such encryption securely, a construction from the new Google Tink cryptography is leveraged, which combines the following:

The STREAM construction has a rigorous and provable security definition: it provides a Nonce-based Online Authenticated Encryption (nOAE) scheme and defends against reordering and truncation attacks which are often possible with naive streaming encryption schemes. However, it also provides seekability, allowing individual files within the archive to be decrypted, in addition to seeking within those files.


File metadata is buffered during archive creation, and serialized at the end of the file as a footer using Protocol Buffers.

The footer itself is split into an encrypted portion at the beginning followed by a minimal plaintext portion at the very end of the file. It contains the following attributes - ones with ℰ next to them are in the encrypted portion of the footer:

  • UUID: random identifier for this file, and also the nonce for encryption.
  • Chunk size: granularity at which streaming encryption/decryption occurs. Files are split apart into fixed-sized chunks prior to encryption.
  • Encryption key fingerprint: (optional) fingerprint of the encryption key as a CryptoURI.
  • Signing key fingerprint: (optional) fingerprint of the signing key as a CryptoURI.
  • Signature: (optional) a signature over the contents of the file. See below for more information on how this is computed.
  • Creator: (optional, ℰ) username and hostname where archive was created
  • Date: (ℰ) timestamp for when the archive was created
  • File attributes: (ℰ) each entry in the file can have the following attributes:
    • Path: location of the file
    • Length: length of the file in bytes. Offsets within the ciphertext are computed as a running total of these values (and offset by the AEAD tags on each file segment).
    • Owner: username and groupname who own the file (TODO: UID/GID?)
    • Permissions: access control attributes consisting of the following:
      • UNIX mode: the chmod-style mode of the file with user, group, and world permission attributes
      • POSIX ACLs: expressive ACLs on file ownership
      • SELinux Labels: SELinux policy-related metadata
      • xattr: extended attributes


Signatures are optional, and computed over a Merkle tree of the ciphertexts of the message segments (note that each message segment is further authenticated by an AEAD tag). This allows for the signature to authenticate any individual segment within the archive without the entire file being present on disk.

Signature keys are generated and stored as CryptoURIs. The only signature algorithm presently supported by this tool is Ed25519. One of the goals for the tool is to allow signatures to be computed by a YubiHSM2, allowing the signature to be hardware-backed.

Encryption Keys

sear supports the following keys, which are all serialized in CryptoURI format:

  • Symmetric: raw input key material for Tink HKDF-AES-GCM-STREAM
  • Asymmetric derive IKM from static public key + ephemeral scalar using a Noise NK-like key exchange pattern
  • Password: generate and store a random salt, and use it together with the password as input to Argon2i to derive a password.
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