I've been playing with ZFS for quite a while, and was wondering how secure the disk encryption is for ZFS and how long it would hold up under a determined attack (I'm aware some of it has to do with key length, etc).

How does it compare (strength-wise) to other disk encryption technologies, such as TrueCrypt, dm-crypt/cryptsetup/LUKS, FileVault 2?


I'd say "very", since files are encrypted with AES in CCM mode (by default). However, AES per se is not a guarantee, much depends on how it is implemented.

And there is this sentence in the documentation that makesmade me wonder:

Review the following considerations when using the ZFS compression, deduplication, and encryption properties:

When a file is written, the data is compressed, encrypted, and the checksum is verified. Then, the data is deduplicated, if possible.

When a file is read, the checksum is verified and the data is decrypted. Then, the data is decompressed, if required.

As far as I understand, for the data to be deduplicated after encryption it should be the case that two files (or two blocks of data) are identical. But with the blocks being encrypted with AES, this has either a vanishingly small probability of being true (2-128 for the default aes-128-ccm), and therefore the time spent in deduplication checks might as well be saved altogether, or it means that two identical files will encrypt to identical encrypted files, which is only possible if the initialization vector is reused. Which is exactly what should not be done with a stream cipher, as AES in CCM mode boils down to.

On further search, however, I found that the IV constantly varies

by default we derive the IV from a combination of what dataset / object the block is for and also when (its transaction) written

and that the deduplication algorithm is then mainly useful with clones. It is also apparent from several sources that careful consideration has been given to security issues and implementation details.

In conclusion, I believe that the encryption defaults are very secure; if you feel the need for even higher security you can employ the slower aes-256-ccm algorithm. However, aes-128-ccm is outside of the reach of even the most determined cracker; past a certain level of determination, however, the weak point is your FS no longer, and you need to start thinking about, say, physical security.

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Data is encrypted using AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) with key lengths of 128, 192, and 256 in the CCM and GCM operation modes.

From Oracle Solaris Administration: ZFS File Systems > Encrypting ZFS File Systems

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