The CryptoGraphic Disk Driver

We present the design and implementation of CGD, the CryptoGraphic Disk driver. CGD is a pseudo-device driver that sits below the buffer cache, and provides an encrypted view of an underlying raw partition. It was designed with high performance and ease of use in mind. CGD is aimed at laptops, other single-user computers or removable storage, where protection from other concurrent users is not essential, but protection against loss or theft is important.


NOTE: The PDFs turned out quite well, but the HTML leaves a little to be desired.

Random Conversation Topics

Choosing an IV method for CBC mode

Some concern has been expressed about using the encrypted block number as the IV by various parties. So, let's have a quick discussion about what an IV actually is and what properties that you want it to have:
  1. the IV is never repeated,
  2. the IV has most of the properties you expect of a cryptographically secure PRNG such as the hamming distance between IVs is high, etc., and
  3. if an attacker can choose chosen plaintext then they don't also know the IV while making the choice.
In general, the IV is transmitted in the clear along with the ciphertext (e.g. in network protocols.) In this case, IVs are pseudo-randomly generated. For cryptographic disks, storing the IV separately poses atomicity issues leaving us needing to either deterministically create the IV for each sector or transactionally store the IVs on the disk. The latter has generally unacceptable performance characteristics.

Choosing an incredibly strong IV does not affect the strength of the final system terribly much. Remember that in CBC mode, the IV for each ciphertext block is the preceeding block. So, if you generate IVs that are more difficult to crack than the algorithm that you are using to encrypt the ciphertext blocks then you had better also store all of the data that you want to protect in the first 128 bits of each sector! Conversely choosing IVs that do not have the above properties will adversely affect the resulting system.

So, let's keep things in perspective. And discuss a few alternatives:

Encrypted Block Number

A number of people have expressed some level of concern that CGD's encrypted block number IV generation method uses the same key as it does to encrypt the data. Now, it is true that if you are transmitting the IV in the clear as you would on e.g. a network protocol then this poses a significant issue---but CGD does not store the IV and so the attacker does not have access to it. As far as I know there aren't known exploits in this case.

It does satisfy the properties that I outlined above reasonably obviously:

  1. As the encryption algorithm is a bijection and the block numbers are unique, we can assert that no IV shall be repeated on different blocks. If you rewrite a block, you will end up re-using the same IV and so there is some level of structural analysis that might open up.
  2. The output of a block cipher on a sequence is a well recognised cryptographically secure PRNG, so we can assert that we have the required properties about hamming distance and all that.
  3. Given that for the attacker to be able to predict the IV for any particular block, he would need to more or less be able to crack the encryption algorithm, I think that we can assert that the IV will not be predictable to the attacker at at any point. Unless it doesn't really matter anyway (that is the attacker has cracked the disk).
Now that said, it's unfortunate that the IV is constant under different writes.


This method more or less uses an HMAC combined with the sector number to generate the IV.

This seems to be a pretty reasonable way to go about things as well. The only thing that I prefer about encrypted block number is that guarantees that the IVs are not repeated whereas ESSIV doesn't. But, that said, the statistical chance of a repeated IV is so low that in practice it won't happen.

I have chosen to not implement ESSIV because I do not think that it changes the security properties of the system much in the final analysis. I may implement it in the future, but only for compatibility with other encrypted disks.

Plain Block Number

Well, this one rather obviously violates constraints (2) and (3). And so it's vulnerable to watermark attacks. That is, an attacker can construct a file which if you save it on your disk will still be obvious upon inspection of the ciphertext. This is actually so shockingly obvious that using the plain block number did not occur to me when I was writing CGD.

An Initial Analysis of GBDE

GBDE (GEOM Based Disk Encryption) is an encrypted disk for FreeBSD which was checked in a couple of weeks or so after I checked in CGD. So, they were developed mostly at the same time, although neither I nor GBDE's author knew of the other's work.

Quite some time ago now, there was a relatively heated discussion about CGD and GBDE and various properties that related to both in which I participated. At the time, I started writing a paper about my perceived problems with GBDE. At this point, the subject is no longer relevant because it seems that GBDE has been replaced by GELI (which is much better). So, I've stopped writing the paper and put up the work in progress for anyone who is interested:

An Initial Analysis of GBDE

If anyone is interested in finishing up all the combinatorics that I didn't bother with, I'd be happy to work with you to complete this. But, again, I'm not really sure that it has continuing relevance.