Enabling LUKS on the PocketCHIP

Categories: PocketCHIP kernel linux


I’ve recently acquired a handheld ARM computer with screen and keyboard called the PocketCHIP. The main board on the device is called the CHIP, which is a tiny ARM computer capable of running Linux that is sold for $9.

After flashing it with the CHIP 4.4 GUI OS, a flavor of Debian released by Next Thing Co (the company that made the PocketCHIP) I noticed I wasn’t able to mount LUKS-encrypted partitions due to missing kernel modules. In this post I will explain what I had to do to build and install the missing modules without the need to replace the entire kernel. If you want to install a new and different kernel you will need to follow a more involved process because the WiFi and GPU drivers aren’t in the kernel sources and require you to build them apart (and also fiddle with the device tree).

Required toolchain

In order to build the Linux kernel from an x86_64 machine for ARM, we need a cross-compiling toolchain, which includes a cross-compiling GCC among other tools. I have recently installed Gentoo on a laptop, which has an awesome tool to build cross-compiling environments for many combinations of architectures and settings. If you are using another distribution like a Debian-based one you probably need to install gcc-arm-linux-gnueabihf

On Gentoo as root, run the following to install a cross-compiling environment for armv7a, the CPU architecture of the CHIP (this will take a while):

crossdev -S -v -t armv7a-hardfloat-linux-gnueabi


As a regular user, set up the environment variables needed to enable cross-compiling the kernel, and create some working folders:

export ARCH=arm
export CROSS_COMPILE=armv7a-hardfloat-linux-gnueabi-
export WORKSPACE=~/proj/CHIP/4.4.13-ntc-mlc/
mkdir -p $WORKSPACE
mkdir -p ~/git/CHIP

Now let’s clone the kernel source git repository from Next Thing Co. We will be getting the branch that was used to build the kernel shipped in the CHIP 4.4 GUI release:

cd ~/git/CHIP
git clone --single-branch -b debian/4.4.13-ntc-mlc https://github.com/NextThingCo/CHIP-linux.git
cd CHIP-linux

Before configuring the kernel, we will copy the configuration that was used to build the kernel in CHIP 4.4 GUI. We can get the file from the PocketCHIP at /boot/config-4.4.13-ntc. I recommend having sshd enabled on the PocketCHIP to transfer files over WiFi with ease.

cp config-4.4.13-ntc .config

We create the empty file .scmversion in order to disable the “+” at the end of the kernel version that gets embedded into the modules in the vermagic property. If we don’t generate modules with the same vermagic as the one in the installed kernel, the modules will fail to load.

touch .scmversion

Now we can proceed to configure the kernel to enable the modules we need. In my case, I enabled the modules needed for LUKS:

make menuconfig

make menuconfig options

Taken from the Dm-crypt Gentoo wiki entry, here are the options needed to enable LUKS.

Enable the crypt target for the device mapper:

Device Drivers --->
    [*] Multiple devices driver support (RAID and LVM) --->
        <M> Device mapper support
        <M>   Crypt target suppor

Enable the cryptographic API modules required for LUKS:

[*] Cryptographic API --->
    <M> XTS support
    <M> SHA224 and SHA256 digest algorithm
    -*- AES cipher algorithms
    <M> User-space interface for hash algorithms
    <M> User-space interface for symmetric key cipher algorithms

Optionally, enable the following modules of the cryptographic API to support TrueCrypt/VeraCrypt compatibility mode:

[*] Cryptographic API ---> 
     <M> RIPEMD-160 digest algorithm 
     <M> SHA384 and SHA512 digest algorithms 
     <M> Whirlpool digest algorithms 
     <M> LRW support 
     <M> Serpent cipher algorithm 
     <M> Twofish cipher algorithm

Finally, and very importantly, set the local version of the kernel to -ntc-mlc in order to get the same vermagic as the installed kernel:

 General setup  --->
  () Local version - append to kernel release

Build and install

We can now make the kernel and modules for ARM (in this case I’m setting -j4 to use 4 parallel building threads). This will take a while:

make -j4

We install the modules in our workspace:

make INSTALL_MOD_PATH=$WORKSPACE modules_install

Now, on the CHIP as root, we make a folder to store the new modules we want to install:

mkdir -p ~/modules/{crypto,drivers/md/}

We copy the built modules to the CHIP:

scp crypto/*.ko root@
scp drivers/md/dm-crypt.ko root@

Finally, on the CHIP as root, we copy the modules we just transfered to their destination so that the kernel can load them:

cp -n ~/modules/crypto/*.ko /lib/modules/4.4.13-ntc-mlc/kernel/crypto/
cp ~/modules/drivers/md/dm-crypt.ko  /lib/modules/4.4.13-ntc-mlc/kernel/drivers/md/

There’s no reboot needed. You should be able to mount LUKS partitions using cryptsetup without problems at this point. You can easily test that everything is working by running a benchmark:

cryptsetup benchmark

Written by Dhole