How To Encrypt Your Home Folder After Ubuntu Installation [Linux]

encryption intro.jpg   How To Encrypt Your Home Folder After Ubuntu Installation [Linux]Imagine this: it’s a great day, you’re busy working on your computer at some event, and everything seems fine. After a while you get tired and decide to get something to eat and shut down your laptop. Although it’s not supposed to happen, someone steals it while you’re gone.

At this point you freak out because your life information is on that machine, including banking data, emails, and anything else that could be considered sensitive data. Now your wonderful day has turned into a nightmare. Of course you can do things to minimize the damage that results from a stolen laptop, or you can be proactive and encrypt your information for exactly these kinds of situations.

Encrypt During Installation If Possible

If you were smart enough, you could’ve encrypted your home folder (which basically contains all of your personal data, as literally every other main system folder contains system data, not personal data) when you first installed Ubuntu onto your system. But I guess you simply chose not to (or in my case, I somehow had some issues with it). However, it’s never too late to do it now before something happens to it.

Before You Begin

Encrypting your home folder is actually a lot easier than it may sound. It only requires a few steps and a little amount of your time. Before we begin, make sure that you have a backup available of your entire home folder at another location, just in case the encryption process goes haywire for whatever reason.

Steps

The first thing you’ll want to do is open your terminal and issue this command:

sudo apt-get install ecryptfs-utils

which will install the necessary files needed to carry out the encryption process.

ubuntu home folder encryption users   How To Encrypt Your Home Folder After Ubuntu Installation [Linux]

In order to avoid any problems with encrypting a user’s home folder while you’re still logged into that user, it’s best to create a new user with administrative rights temporarily, or if you already have a second user account with administrative rights, you can use that instead. You can then log into that new account.

ubuntu home folder encrypting   How To Encrypt Your Home Folder After Ubuntu Installation [Linux]

Next, in order to actually encrypt the home folder, you’ll need to run

sudo ecryptfs-migrate-home –u “username”

where “username” is the username of the user’s home folder that you want to encrypt.

ubuntu home folder encryption add passphrase   How To Encrypt Your Home Folder After Ubuntu Installation [Linux]

Once that is done, you’ll need to log back into the original user’s account and complete the encryption process by following the instructions presented to you to add a password to the newly encrypted folder. If that doesn’t appear, you can type into your terminal

ecryptfs-add-passphrase

to add one yourself. Once that completes, you can delete the temporary account you created, and reboot your system. Your home folder should now be encrypted and safe from anyone who doesn’t know your password!

If you really want to test it out, you can always grab a Live CD and see if you can surf around inside the home folder. Usually you can’t because of file permissions, but it’s always still possible to change the permissions with a Live CD as long as it’s not encrypted. If it’s not possible to do even that, then I’d say that the successful encryption has been confirmed.

Conclusion

Encryption is actually much more important than a lot of people believe. It’s great that such tools exist for Linux, as well as other operating systems with tools such as TrueCrypt. Hopefully they can be adopted by more people as they don’t bring any noticeable performance issues.

What do you think of encryption? Is it necessary or not? How do you do it? Let us know in the comments!

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14 Comments -

0 votes

UMoron

That’s awesome! Wish I checked out that site, unfortunatelly my internet is down, please send it to me by Fedex on my email adress.

0 votes

Matt

Great article Danny! If you use whole disk encryption, you wouldn’t need to do this, correct? I guess you could still have a multi-user situation where you might want to protect users home directories from other users. Thanks!

0 votes

Lazza

If you use whole disk encryption then this is useless, that’s right. But IMHO this method is better for a couple of reasons. The first is that encrypted files on a “visible” partition are easier to backup or transfer on a system reinstall, the second is that if someone wants a not-encrypted profile for any reason this can be done. :)

0 votes

Danny Stieben

As Lazza says, that would be correct. However, I haven’t figured out how to do whole-disk encryption with Ubuntu yet (only Fedora). There are no options of encrypting the whole disk with Ubuntu’s regular installer.

0 votes

Tanner

Full Disk Encryption is a part of the installer. When you’re choosing your partitioning method, you have to select “Guided – use entire disk and setup encrypted LVM”. Then after partitioning it will ask you for the Encryption passphrase, and encrypt the OS volume with your key. The only thing that won’t be encrypted is the bootloader (usually Grub). See this image for reference. http://www.linuxbsdos.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/Encrypt1-600×251.png

0 votes

Danny Stieben

I seem to have a knack for writing articles whenever people either just did whatever was covered in the article or plan on doing it. ;)

Thanks for the input!

0 votes

Danny Stieben

It seems that you’re trying to encrypt r9s’s home folder while still being logged in as r9s. Like the article shows (so look at it if you need guidance), you’ll need to set up a new user if you only have one, give that user admin rights (to be able to use sudo), log into that user, and then run the same command to encrypt r9s’s home folder.

0 votes

Bill

Nice tutorial but can’t get it to work.
I created new account WITH administrative priveleges and logged in as that user
but when I try to run sudo ecryptfs-migrate-home –u bill I get the error:

“This program must be executed by root.”

I even logged in as ROOT and got the same error. What now?
Any suggestion appreciated. I am running Xubuntu 12.04.

Bill

0 votes

Tillorgias

Hey Bill, I had the same error. The character used on the website to display the “-” in front of the “-u” option is no real “-” but a similar char. So copy the command, remove all “-” and type them manually and it will work.

Hope it works,
Tillorgias

0 votes

Bill

Thank you Tillorgias. It works.

Bill

0 votes

Tina

Thanks for the great tip, Till!

0 votes

Devon Day

Thanks! It’s well into 2012 and this still worked great for me on Linux Mint 13. :D

0 votes

Kerrick Long

Worked great! Now, how would I go about reversing the process? I’ve found that things tend to be slower when my home directory is encrypted, plus I’m paranoid that someday I’ll forget my password and never be able to recover the files. :-P

0 votes

Danny Stieben

There seems to be a lot less information on how to unencrypt your home folder. This may be a complicated way, but I’m pretty sure you’d succeed if you created a new folder/partition, moved over all of your home data to it, and then reconfigure Ubuntu to use the new location as your home folder. Of course that’s a generalized idea, as writing out the entire process would be too large for a comment, but I’d expect that to work. The main issue would be to reconfigure Ubuntu to recognize the new home folder.

Best of luck!