File-Based Encryption

In this document

Android 7.0 and above supports file-based encryption (FBE). File-based encryption allows different files to be encrypted with different keys that can be unlocked independently.

This article describes how to enable file-based encryption on new devices and how system applications can be updated to take full advantage of the new Direct Boot APIs and offer users the best, most secure experience possible.

Direct Boot

File-based encryption enables a new feature introduced in Android 7.0 called Direct Boot. Direct Boot allows encrypted devices to boot straight to the lock screen. Previously, on encrypted devices using full disk encryption (FDE), users needed to provided credentials before any data could be accessed, preventing the phone from performing all but the most basic of operations. For example, alarms could not operate, accessibility services were unavailable, and phones could not receive calls but were limited to only basic emergency dialer operations.

With the introduction of file-based encryption (FBE) and new APIs to make applications aware of encryption, it is possible for these apps to operate within a limited context. This can happen before users have provided their credentials while still protecting private user information.

On an FBE-enabled device, each user of the device has two storage locations available to applications:

  • Credential Encrypted (CE) storage, which is the default storage location and only available after the user has unlocked the device.
  • Device Encrypted (DE) storage, which is a storage location available both during Direct Boot mode and after the user has unlocked the device.

This separation makes work profiles more secure because it allows more than one user to be protected at a time as the encryption is no longer based solely on a boot time password.

The Direct Boot API allows encryption-aware applications to access each of these areas. There are changes to the application lifecycle to accommodate the need to notify applications when a user’s CE storage is unlocked in response to first entering credentials at the lock screen, or in the case of work profile providing a work challenge. Devices running Android 7.0 must support these new APIs and lifecycles regardless of whether or not they implement FBE. Although, without FBE, DE and CE storage will always be in the unlocked state.

A complete implementation of file based encryption on an Ext4 file system is provided in the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) and needs only be enabled on devices that meet the requirements. Manufacturers electing to use FBE may wish to explore ways of optimizing the feature based on the system on chip (SoC) used.

All the necessary packages in AOSP have been updated to be direct-boot aware. However, where device manufacturers use customized versions of these apps, they will want to ensure at a minimum there are direct-boot aware packages providing the following services:

  • Telephony Services and Dialer
  • Input method for entering passwords into the lock screen

Examples and source

Android provides a reference implementation of file-based encryption, in which vold (system/vold) provides the functionality for managing storage devices and volumes on Android. The addition of FBE provides vold with several new commands to support key management for the CE and DE keys of multiple users. In addition to the core changes to use the ext4 Encryption capabilities in kernel many system packages including the lockscreen and the SystemUI have been modified to support the FBE and Direct Boot features. These include:

  • AOSP Dialer (packages/apps/Dialer)
  • Desk Clock (packages/apps/DeskClock)
  • LatinIME (packages/inputmethods/LatinIME)*
  • Settings App (packages/apps/Settings)*
  • SystemUI (frameworks/base/packages/SystemUI)*

* System applications that use the defaultToDeviceProtectedStorage manifest attribute

More examples of applications and services that are encryption aware can be found by running the command mangrep directBootAware in the frameworks or packages directory of the AOSP source tree.


To use the AOSP implementation of FBE securely, a device needs to meet the following dependencies:

  • Kernel Support for ext4 encryption (Kernel config option: EXT4_FS_ENCRYPTION)
  • Keymaster Support with a HAL version 1.0 or 2.0. There is no support for Keymaster 0.3 as that does not provide that necessary capabilities or assure sufficient protection for encryption keys.
  • Keymaster/Keystore and Gatekeeper must be implemented in a Trusted Execution Environment (TEE) to provide protection for the DE keys so that an unauthorized OS (custom OS flashed onto the device) cannot simply request the DE keys.
  • Encryption performance in the kernel of at least 50MB/s using AES XTS to ensure a good user experience.
  • Hardware Root of Trust and Verified Boot bound to the keymaster initialisation is required to ensure that Device Encryption credentials are not accessible by an unauthorized operating system.

Note: Storage policies are applied to a folder and all of its subfolders. Manufacturers should limit the contents that go unencrypted to the OTA folder and the folder that holds the key that decrypts the system. Most contents should reside in credential-encrypted storage rather than device-encrypted storage.


First and foremost, apps such as alarm clocks, phone, accessibility features should be made android:directBootAware according to Direct Boot developer documentation.

Kernel Support

The AOSP implementation of file-based encryption uses the ext4 encryption features in the Linux 4.4 kernel. The recommended solution is to use a kernel based on 4.4 or later. Ext4 encryption has also been backported to a 3.10 kernel in the Android common repositories and for the supported Nexus kernels.

The android-3.10.y branch in the AOSP kernel/common git repository may provide a good starting point for device manufacturers that want to import this capability into their own device kernels. However, it is necessary to apply the most recent patches from the latest stable Linux kernel (currently linux-4.6) of the ext4 and jbd2 projects. The Nexus device kernels already include many of these patches.

Device Kernel
Android Common kernel/common android-3.10.y (git)
Nexus 5X (bullhead) kernel/msm android-msm-bullhead-3.10-n-preview-2 (git)
Nexus 6P (angler) kernel/msm android-msm-angler-3.10-n-preview-2 (git)

Note that each of these kernels uses a backport to 3.10. The ext4 and jbd2 drivers from linux 3.18 were transplanted into existing kernels based on 3.10. Due to interdependencies between parts of the kernel, this backport breaks support for a number of features that are not used by Nexus devices. These include:

  • The ext3 driver, although ext4 can still mount and use ext3 filesystems
  • Global File Sytem (GFS) Support
  • ACL support in ext4

In addition to functional support for ext4 encryption, device manufacturers may also consider implementing cryptographic acceleration to speed up file-based encryption and improve the user experience.

Enabling file-based encryption

FBE is enabled by adding the flag fileencryption with no parameters to the fstab line in the final column for the userdata partition. You can see an example at:

Whilst testing the FBE implementation on a device, it is possible to specify the following flag: forcefdeorfbe="<path/to/metadata/partition>"

This sets the device up with FDE but allows conversion to FBE for developers. By default, this behaves like forceencrypt, putting the device into FDE mode. However, it will expose a debug option allowing a device to be put into FBE mode as is the case in the developer preview. It is also possible to enable FBE from fastboot using this command:

$ fastboot --wipe-and-use-fbe

This is intended solely for development purposes as a platform for demonstrating the feature before actual FBE devices are released. This flag may be deprecated in the future.

Integrating with Keymaster

The generation of keys and management of the kernel keyring is handled by vold. The AOSP implementation of FBE requires that the device support Keymaster HAL version 1.0 or later. There is no support for earlier versions of the Keymaster HAL.

On first boot, user 0’s keys are generated and installed early in the boot process. By the time the on-post-fs phase of init completes, the Keymaster must be ready to handle requests. On Nexus devices, this is handled by having a script block:

  • Ensure Keymaster is started before /data is mounted
  • Specify the file encryption cipher suite: AOSP implementation of file-based encryption uses AES-256 in XTS mode

    Note: All encryption is based on AES-256 in XTS mode. Due to the way XTS is defined, it needs two 256-bit keys; so in effect, both CE and DE keys are 512-bit keys.

Encryption policy

Ext4 encryption applies the encryption policy at the directory level. When a device’s userdata partition is first created, the basic structures and policies are applied by the init scripts. These scripts will trigger the creation of the first user’s (user 0’s) CE and DE keys as well as define which directories are to be encrypted with these keys. When additional users and profiles are created, the necessary additional keys are generated and stored in the keystore; their credential and devices storage locations are created and the encryption policy links these keys to those directories.

In the current AOSP implementation, the encryption policy is hardcoded into this location:


It is possible to add exceptions in this file to prevent certain directories from being encrypted at all, by adding to the directories_to_exclude list. If modifications of this sort are made then the device manufacturer should include SELinux policies that only grant access to the applications that need to use the unencrypted directory. This should exclude all untrusted applications.

The only known acceptable use case for this is in support of legacy OTA capabilities.

Supporting Direct Boot in system applications

Making applications Direct Boot aware

To facilitate rapid migration of system apps, there are two new attributes that can be set at the application level. The defaultToDeviceProtectedStorage attribute is available only to system apps. The directBootAware attribute is available to all.


The directBootAware attribute at the application level is shorthand for marking all components in the app as being encryption aware.

The defaultToDeviceProtectedStorage attribute redirects the default app storage location to point at DE storage instead of pointing at CE storage. System apps using this flag must carefully audit all data stored in the default location, and change the paths of sensitive data to use CE storage. Device manufactures using this option should carefully inspect the data that they are storing to ensure that it contains no personal information.

When running in this mode, the following System APIs are available to explicitly manage a Context backed by CE storage when needed, which are equivalent to their Device Protected counterparts.

  • Context.createCredentialProtectedStorageContext()
  • Context.isCredentialProtectedStorage()

Supporting multiple users

Each user in a multi-user environment gets a separate encryption key. Every user gets two keys: a DE and a CE key. User 0 must log into the device first as it is a special user. This is pertinent for Device Administration uses.

Crypto-aware applications interact across users in this manner: INTERACT_ACROSS_USERS and INTERACT_ACROSS_USERS_FULL allow an application to act across all the users on the device. However, those apps will be able to access only CE-encrypted directories for users that are already unlocked.

An application may be able to interact freely across the DE areas, but one user unlocked does not mean that all the users on the device are unlocked. The application should check this status before trying to access these areas.

Each work profile user ID also gets two keys: DE and CE. When the work challenge is met, the profile user is unlocked and the Keymaster (in TEE) can provide the profile’s TEE key.

Handling updates

The recovery partition is unable to access the DE protected storage on the userdata partition. Devices implementing FBE are strongly recommended to support OTA using the upcoming A/B system updates. As the OTA can be applied during normal operation there is no need for recovery to access data on the encrypted drive.

If a legacy OTA solution is used, which requires recovery to access the OTA file on the userdata partition then:

  • Create a top level directory (for example “misc_ne”) in the userdata partition.
  • Add this top level directory to the encryption policy exception (see Encryption policy above).
  • Create a directory with this to hold OTA packages.
  • Add an SELinux rule and file contexts to control access to this folder and it contents. Only the process or applications receiving OTA updates should be be able to read and write to this folder.
  • No other application or process should have access to this folder.

Within this folder create a directory to contain the OTA packages.


To ensure the implemented version of the feature works as intended, employ the many CTS encryption tests.

Once the kernel builds for your board, it should be tested by building an x86 kernel that can be tested using QEMU. This will allow the implementation to be tested using xfstest. Test the crypto support using:

$ kvm-xfstests -c encrypt -g auto

In addition, device manufacturers may perform these manual tests. On a device with FBE enabled:

  • Check that ro.crypto.state exists
    • Ensure ro.crypto.state is encrypted
  • Check that ro.crypto.type exists
    • Ensure ro.crypto.type is set to file

Additionally, testers can boot a userdebug instance with a lockscreen set on the primary user. Then adb shell into the device and use su to become root. Make sure /data/data contains encrypted filenames; if it does not, something is wrong.

AOSP implementation details

This section provides details on the AOSP implementation and describes how file-based encryption works. It should not be necessary for device manufacturers to make any changes here to use FBE and Direct Boot on their devices.

ext4 encryption

The AOSP implementation uses ext4 encryption in kernel and is configured to:

  • Encrypt file contents with AES-256 in XTS mode
  • Encrypt file names with AES-256 in CBC-CTS mode

Key derivation

Disk encryption keys, which are 512-bit AES-XTS keys, are stored encrypted by another key (a 256-bit AES-GCM key) held in the TEE. To use this TEE key, three requirements must be met:

  • The auth token
  • The stretched credential
  • The “secdiscardable hash”

The auth token is a cryptographically authenticated token generated by Gatekeeper when a user successfully logs in. The TEE will refuse to use the key unless the correct auth token is supplied. If the user has no credential, then no auth token is used nor needed.

The stretched credential is the user credential after salting and stretching with the scrypt algorithm. The credential is actually hashed once in the lock settings service before being passed to vold for passing to scrypt. This is cryptographically bound to the key in the TEE with all the guarantees that apply to KM_TAG_APPLICATION_ID. If the user has no credential, then no stretched credential is used nor needed.

The secdiscardable hash is a 512-bit hash of a random 16 KB file stored alongside other information used to reconstruct the key, such as the seed. This file is securely deleted when the key is deleted, or it is encrypted in a new way; this added protection ensures an attacker must recover every bit of this securely deleted file to recover the key. This is cryptographically bound to the key in the TEE with all the guarantees that apply to KM_TAG_APPLICATION_ID. See the Keystore Implementer's Reference.