FAI, my notebook and me

I use to take my (company) notebook with me on business travels.
Two times I now had the unlucky situation that something bad happened to it on such an occassion. Whenever you get in the situation that you need to reinstall your system in a hotel room you’ll might have the same wish that I got: A way to quickly bring the system in a state where I could work with it.

Well, I used FAI a while back for a customer. Its a real great tool for automated installations and I really prefer it over debian-installer preseeding. Apart from the fact that the partitioning is way easier it also gives me the power to complete the whole installation up to a point where I’ve got almost nothing to do anymore. It also features an installation completely from CD or USB-Stick which makes it suitable for me.

However, my notebook installation has a little „caveat“ which made that a little bit more harder as previously thought. As it is a notebook and I carry company data on it it has to be encrypted. Disk encryption at a whole.
The stable FAI version does not support this.
The problem is: The current support for crypto in setup-storage (FAIs disk setup tool) is not very far. Supported is the creating of a LUKS container with a keyfile, saving this keyfile to the FAI $LOGDIR and creating a crypttab.
Unfortunately for a root filesystem this would leave us with an unbootable system, because this requires manual interaction. And on the other hand using a keyfile for a cryptoroot is a no-go anyway. We want a passphrase.
On a side-note: cryptoroot support with a keyfile is more complex than with a passphrase, as you have to provide a script that knows how to get to the key.

So I started experiments with scripts in the FAI-configuration that added a passphrase, changed the crypttab and recreated the crypttab. That worked, although it was very ugly.
 But due to a good coorperation with Michael Tautschnig, a FAI- and Debian-Developer, on this, the FAI experimental version 4.0~beta2+experimental18
now supports LUKS-volumes with a passphrase that can be specified in the disk_config.

Now its actually possible to setup a system like mine with FAI out-of-the-box. One thing (apart from the FAI configuration and setup as you want and need it) has to be done, anyway:
The initrd support of cryptsetup requires busybox (otherwise you will see a lot of „command not found“ errors and you system won’t boot) and it requires initramfs-tools, which is standard nowadays.
So you have to make sure that these packages are in your package config!

So now I can define a FAI-profile for my notebook, create a partial fai mirror with the packages it needs and put all this together on an USB stick with fai-cd (don’t worry about the name, it can be used to create ISO images as well). I can carry this with me and if I need it I stick it into my notebook and let FAI automatically reinstall my system. Nice 🙂

Update: Somebody asked me, weither he understood me right, that I’d put my LUKS passphrase on a FAI usbstick clear-text. Obviously, the answer is and should be NO. What I do and what I’d suggest to others: Use a default passphrase in the FAI configuration, install with it – after all on a fresh installation there is not much to protect – and once it is finished *change* the passphrase to something secure by adding a new keyslot and removing the old.