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Using gpg to encrypt backups stored on remote untrusted servers

I need to encrypt daily backups, then upload them to untrusted cloud storage (s3, dropbox, etc.)

I received help on security.se and crypto.se to formulate this approach:

  • tar and xz the backup file
  • create random 32 byte (symmetric) “session” key (head -c 32 /dev/urandom)
  • encrypt backups using session key
  • encrypt session key using my “master” (asymmetric) keypair’s public key
  • upload encrypted backup file and encrypted session key


  1. Every backup has unique symmetric session key
  2. Only my master keypair’s private key can decrypt session keys
  3. My private key is stored locally only
  4. Encryption process is completely automated; no passphrases required

However then I tried to implement this with gpg and stumbled over some items.

Once I generate a session key, how do I use it? I thought it was supposed to be the passphrase in gpg --symmetric --passphrase $ SESSION_KEY ..., but apparently that’s not how it’s done.

I did more digging and discovered that gpg does almost everything symmetrically, and that a session key is already generated and included in each encrypted file automatically (in the header). So most of the above is done automatically for me.

So, how do I use the session key (if at all)? I understand the theory, but not how to implement it with gpg.

Using unique per-session gpg keys to store backups on cloud storage

I’d like to encrypt my server’s daily backups and send them to dropbox / google drive / etc., as a backup.

I’ve read of various approaches. Assuming symmetric encryption (passphrase rather than public/private keypair), people seem to: tar, compress, encrypt with a passphrase (using gpg), and upload the result to cloud storage.

Then I found this comment (edited for brevity):

I wouldn’t use the same passphrase over and over to encrypt your files. Instead, I’d generate a file containing a number of random bytes and use that as a key for my .tar.bz2.gpg file. I’d then encrypt this random file with my 100 character passphrase and upload it together with the backup file. (Basically, I’d create a session key with which to encrypt my data and use the 100 character string as a master key to decrypt the session keys). You can automate this, and it gives you forward secrecy in case one of your backup session keys is compromised and the ability to decrypt any specific backup without losing control over your master key.

So if I understand correctly, for every backup I must (via a bash script):

  1. create the backup 2020-01-01.backup.tar.bzip2 (date is just an example)
  2. generate a random passphrase, and save it as 2020-01-01.passphrase.txt
  3. use 2020-01-01.passphrase.txt to encrypt 2020-01-01.backup.tar.bzip2 to get 2020-01-01.backup.tar.bzip2.gpg
  4. encrypt 2020-01-01.passphrase.txt with my “master” passphrase (which I keep on my local box) to get 2020-01-01.passphrase.txt.gpg
  5. upload 2020-01-01.backup.tar.bzip2.gpg and 2020-01-01.passphrase.txt.gpg to cloud storage

The above comment says this is more secure because if one backup/passphrase is compromised, the others are still safe as they use different passphrases.

But I’m a little confused. If the master passphrase is compromised (“hacked” / guessed / whatever) – all the backups are compromised. It seems like just another level of indirection.

The only way this makes sense is if the master passphrase is MUCH longer (more entropy) than each session passphrase – e.g. 100 characters vs 20 characters, respectively. But then why not just make every session passphrase 100 characters?

Is my understanding of this strategy correct, and can you detect any gotchas I should take into account?

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Thank you.

Malware in backups

The main thing i am interested in is the 3rd point below

in short i am worried about having a virus and what will suffice to remove it.

I am on Mac and am running the latest version of Catalina. I do a lot of stuff on the commandline using iTerm2 as an emulator and fish as the shell. As a package manager i use homebrew. Not sure whether this is important or not.

The problem: my shell stopped recognizing commands like ls, brew, locate, … added slashes to the end of directory names and changed my prompt to @HUAWEI (wtf). All this happened without any direct interaction on my side. – i found nothing like this online.

What i did prior to the problem occurring: I updated and upgraded homebrew (more than one day before), i installed the cisco anyconnect client (one day before) i downloaded a pdf from an untrustworthy page (about 7 hours before) – not smart i know.

Here is what i wonder about: 1) Does this sound like a virus to you? 2) If it were/is a virus – is it usually enough to reinstall macos from recovery or reformat the drive and then reinstalling? 3) What about the iCloud backup. After i reinstalled would i not just redownload any infected files from the cloud – this im am wondering about in general. How should i deal with this in general? I.e. when are viruses in backups a problem.

I am well aware that this is very context specific.

Thank you a lot in advance

Unauthorized backups, how to seize back data? [migrated]

It appears that someone at my company (likely using stolen admin credentials) had set up backups for the whole org on G Suite using Backupify and Spinbackup. We need to secure the data. Unfortunately the login for Backupify seems to be something other than a company email.

How do we legally seize our data from these backup services and make sure nobody else has access to it?

(Of course it’s likely that whoever set up these has a copy of all data already but that’s a separate problem)