I use full disk encryption on Linux and wonder whether there is any security risk ob having automatic login on the Linux itself. In case somebody breaks the encryption of the drive, they can read all the data directly, they would not have to log in to my Linux user account on the machine.

So is there any reason I should not use automatic login (into KDE) on a machine with FDE?

  • 2
    I'm unsure what you're asking. Are you asking can you have an automatic login of an account, or an automatic login for the disk encryption? – RoraΖ Oct 21 '14 at 11:25
  • I clarified the question a bit. The automatic login is into Linux after it has booted from the encrypted disk. My rationale is that I already entered the long passphrase for the FDE, so it could log me in without me typing my login password again as well. I do have a user password though, to protect the computer when it is running, so that nobody can access it via SSH for instance. – Martin Ueding Oct 21 '14 at 12:16
  • 1
    If someone had your FDE password, then they would have full access to your system. – RoraΖ Oct 21 '14 at 12:27

No risk at all. A login prompt is only for preventing physical access to the computer. This protection role has been replaced by the FDE and the accompanying PBA (which is much more secure), so any attacker that would break or somehow bypass the FDE could bypass your OS login too.

However, running as a limited user (with autologin on) and having a password-protected administrative account (with autologin off) can be useful, since the account then protects against online-based attacks (virus infections, malicious scripts etc) while the FDE protects against physical (offline-based) attacks.

But remember that anything that your currently logged on account has access to (regardless of password protection), can be accessed by a virus or malicious tool too, so a good idea here could be to also put sensitive data in separate encrypted containers with different passwords. So if you get a infection or a malicious script, then they only get access to whatever you are working with at the moment.

This would mean those containers would be encrypted 2 times on the disk platter, first by FDE and second by the container encryption.

  • Agreed, though it is encrypted first by the container, and secondly by FDE. – Desthro Oct 21 '14 at 15:13
  • 1
    I would highlight that the auto login account should be low-privileged user account. Auto login of an administrator would have significant risk. – RoraΖ Oct 21 '14 at 16:02
  • Another thing to Point out is that it can be good to use different passwords for the admin account and the FDE, since the FDE password (Pre-boot auth) may be stored in RAM and thus accessible by a attacker on the low priv account. However, its not a significant security risk that a online attacker gains the FDE password since it would require physical access to the computer to be useful. And about the low privilege account - that was EXACTLY what I pointed out about online attacks. – sebastian nielsen Oct 21 '14 at 18:12

I wondered this recently for a Windows laptop but decided on the following:

  1. If the laptop is sent to sleep and then stolen or accessed without my consent resuming from sleep does not require the FDE password, thus rendering the FDE moot. If you go out and your Linux machine is suspended and someone wakes it up then you're going to have similar problems.

  2. It's easier to recover the decryption key whilst the laptop is running. Windows has a command line tool to retrieve it if you're using BitLocker.

So I concluded to keep the FDE key safe it's probably best to make access to the OS difficult too.

  • I think this describes a password-less account, which is not the same as just having auto-login. Good points, though. – Oleh Prypin Apr 19 '19 at 6:10

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.