Ubuntu 21.04 encryption recovery key

I have been testing Ubuntu 21.04 and i have noticed when doing an encrypted install there is a recovery key generated (I don’t know if this is the first time this exists in Ubuntu), I don’t like that it’s only numeric and only 16 characters long.

In my opinion it would be better if it was like 7 or more random words from the language the user has selected at the beginning of the install , so the key could easily be written down on paper, or be remembered.

From 2020 :slightly_smiling_face:



So I spent some time looking into this today and I don’t think it is a concern - firstly I have confirmed that the recovery password is cryptographically secure - this was added to the ubiquity installer in https://git.launchpad.net/ubiquity/commit/?id=0e4ca86842759767dac7c8dee31a3873e2944d6e and uses uuid4() from the python standard library - which in turn uses os.urandom() which is good enough for this purpose: https://github.com/python/cpython/blob/master/Lib/uuid.py#L715

With that out of the way, we can look at how to crack it - in this case, we use LUKS2 and so can use something like bruteforce-luks to try and crack it - unfortunately the version in the Ubuntu archive doesn’t know the newer LUKS2 header format so we have to compile it from source:

wget https://github.com/glv2/bruteforce-luks/releases/download/1.4.0/bruteforce-luks-1.4.0.tar.lz
tar xf bruteforce-luks-1.4.0.tar.lz 
cd bruteforce-luks-1.4.0/
sudo apt install libcryptsetup-dev

Then assuming we have a suitable LUKS2 disk header in the file /run/user/1000/luks-header (I put this under /run/user/1000 as this is a RAM-backed tmpfs and so will be faster than accessing a real disk) - we can try and crack it as follows:

./bruteforce-luks -m 16 -l 16 -s 0123456789 /run/user/1000/luks-header -t 8 -v10

ie. restrict bruteforce-luks to only 16 char long passwords using the chars from 0-9 and use 8 threads and report progress every 10 seconds - this shows output like the following:

Tried / Total passwords: 8 / 1e+16
Tried passwords per second: 0.800000
Last tried password: 0000000000000015
Total space searched: 0.000000%
ETA: more than 200 years :(

Tried / Total passwords: 24 / 1e+16
Tried passwords per second: 1.200000
Last tried password: 0000000000000031
Total space searched: 0.000000%
ETA: more than 200 years :(

So it would take more than 200 years to crack such a password using this technique.


Thank you for looking into it!

Unfortunately this confirms my concerns, 200 yrs in computing time now, are not going to be 190 yrs in ten years time, so if i install Ubuntu 21.04 now then upgrade my way along, i could run into a problem without knowing, a couple of years into the future.

Can we have the possibility to opt-out of the recovery-key or supply a user defined recovery-key?

It doesn’t look like it is possible to set a custom recovery key at the moment but looking at the code in ubiquity I suspect it might be as simple as changing:

<object class="GtkEntry" id="recovery_key">
    <property name="editable">False</property>


<object class="GtkEntry" id="recovery_key">
    <property name="editable">True</property>

@jibel does this seem like a reasonable change to make? I realise it is past UI freeze so this may not be possible for 21.04 but perhaps we can look into this for 21.10?


@alexmurray At the moment it is not possible to set a custom recovery key. The reason behind current implementation was that the keyboard layout at boot time is not necessarily known when machine is recovered from a user and the digits are easy to enter via a keypad or a standard location at the top of the keyboard.

  1. We can increase the length of the passphrase to make it more difficult to brute force or use a variable length so it is not predetermined and makes it more difficult to guess.
  2. We can also make the field editable but it implies the following UI changes:
  • Add another field to confirm the passphrase.
  • Add a passphrase strength check and allow to proceed with installation if and only if the passphrase is strong enough.

Point 2 cannot be done for 21.04 but we can look into it for 21.10.

If the current strength of the digit only passphrase is an issue we can increase its length to the value you think is good for 21.04 (released on Apr. 22nd)

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Is there any documentation on this recovery-key feature?

Specifically i want to know how to:

  • list installed keys
  • remove keys
  • optionally add stronger keys

@jibel Can you give the user the possibility to opt-out of the recovery key? If you do a slider from a less secure to a more secure key length the rightmost position could be for recovery key off.

So it would take more than 200 years to crack such a password using this technique.

Funny, this is exactly what they said in the 70s when NSA intentionally weakened DES. So, whose idea was it to use this kind of backdoo…recovery key? Something tells me this is sheer malevolence. No different from the $10 million secret deal between NSA and RSA Security to make Dual_EC_DRBG the default. So, how much can one earn for a contribution of this kind of security and user friendliness to other distros? Do you have the contacts of MI6 / NSA / CIA people or are they supposed to get in touch with you first?

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We propose the following changes in 21.10:

  • By default the key will be a number of 48 digits.
  • It will be optional.
  • It will be editable.
  • It will support digits, letters and special characters.

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