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My company is developing a product that is basically a Linux PC with custom software in a fancy box.

Since it uses a commercial SSD for the filesystem, I'm worried that an unscrupulous customer could disassemble the unit, download all of our software off the SSD, and make their own system.

The obvious answer would be to use a BIOS HDD password, but the system has to boot completely unattended. Are there any options out there to encrypt our data, but still boot without entering any passwords? Maybe something related to the CPU serial number or MAC address?

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  • If reverse-engineering the device is a concern to you, then why not assign a unique ID for each device manufactured and embedding that ID into the code so that it can be traced in the event someone does reverse-engineer it?
    – bwDraco
    Apr 14, 2014 at 16:56
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    I have never seen a Linux implementation, but what you are asking for is basically what the TPM was designed for. Does your system have a TPM? Theoretically the drive encryption keys go on the TPM, and theoretically cannot be extracted. (See bitlocker)
    – Zoredache
    Apr 14, 2014 at 17:05

2 Answers 2

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You can't encrypt an entire HDD and still boot from it without being able to access the data. I mean, if the bootloader can access it, anyone can. What you want to look into is creating a boot loader that has access to just enough to boot, and make the rest secure.

Preferably you want to compile your OS/program to a state where decompile becomes something so time consuming they'd be better of developing something themselves. Perhaps it is an idea to make the code run solely on specific hardware tags. If the hardware is not present it gives a weird error.

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  • I was kind of thinking that as well. I guess my follow-up question would be what non-fudgable hardware tag I could use as a lock.
    – Chriszuma
    Apr 14, 2014 at 16:38
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    @Chriszuma: The classical solution to this problem is code obfuscation. Pay attention to the words "weird error": If it is obvious to the user that the software does not run because it is on unauthorized hardware, the user may try to reverse-engineer the hardware itself. If you leave the user unaware as to the reason for the error, they're less likely to try to reverse-engineer the device.
    – bwDraco
    Apr 14, 2014 at 16:59
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If your're using Linux as OS you should check out LUKS. It is known to work even on mobile devices

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  • And how does that permit for the system to be booted un-attended? AFAIK luks requires you to provide a password at the prompt, or as a unecrypted key-file.
    – Zoredache
    Apr 14, 2014 at 17:02
  • In my opinion "unencrypted key file" sounds like a good place to begin with. Check this and this
    – yorodm
    Apr 14, 2014 at 18:20

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