Tomb :: The Crypto Undertaker



Tomb aims to be an 100% free and open source system for easy encryption and backup of personal files, written in code that is easy to review and links commonly shared components.

All I know is what the words know, and dead things, and that makes a handsome little sum, with a beginning and a middle and an end, as in the well-built phrase and the long sonata of the dead.” Samuel Beckett

Tomb generates encrypted storage files to be opened and closed using their associated keyfiles, which are also protected with a password chosen by the user.

A tomb is like a locked folder that can be safely transported and hidden in a filesystem; its keys can be kept separate, for instance keeping the tomb file on your computer harddisk and the key files on a USB stick.

Tomb is a simple tool to manage encrypted storage on GNU/Linux, from the hashes of the dyne:bolic nesting mechanism.

How does it works

Tomb is a simple shell script, you can just download the source
distribution and copy it in your path, it will check for requirements installed.

Tombs are operated from a terminal commandline and require root access to the machine (or just sudo access to the script).

To create a 100MB tomb called “secret” do:

tomb dig -s 100 secret.tomb
tomb forge secret.tomb.key
tomb lock secret.tomb -k secret.tomb.key

To open it, do

tomb open secret.tomb -k secret.tomb.key

and after you are done

tomb close

or if you are in a hurry

tomb slam all

will close immediately all open tombs, killing all applications using them. Multiple tombs can be used at the same time, directories and files inside them can be bound to files and directories inside your $HOME, placing all configurations where the applications expect them.

Manpage (PDF)

Tomb can do much more, like execution hooks, steganography of keys and fast search over filenames and contents: have a look at the manpage.

There are also some graphical user interfaces, mime-type registrations and things to make it easier to use on the desktop, look in extras/.

Here below a snapshot of the commandline help (tomb -h):

Syntax: tomb [options] command [arguments]
 // Creation:
 dig     create a new empty TOMB file of size -s in MB
 forge   create a new KEY file and set its password
 lock    installs a lock on a TOMB to use it with KEY
 // Operations on tombs:
 open    open an existing TOMB
 index   update the search indexes of tombs
 search  looks for filenames matching text patterns
 list    list of open TOMBs and information on them
 close   close a specific TOMB (or 'all')
 slam    slam a TOMB killing all programs using it
 resize  resize a TOMB to a new size -s (can only grow)
 // Operations on keys:
 passwd  change the password of a KEY
 setkey  change the KEY locking a TOMB (needs old one)
 engrave makes a QR code of a KEY to be saved on paper
 bury    hide a KEY inside a JPEG image
 exhume  extract a KEY from a JPEG image
 -s     size of the tomb file when creating/resizing one (in MB)
 -k     path to the key to be used ('-k -' to read from stdin)
 -n     do not process the hooks found in tomb
 -o     mount options used to open (default: rw,noatime,nodev)
 -f     force operation (i.e. even if swap is active)
 --kdf  generate passwords armored against dictionary attacks
 -h     print this help
 -v     print version, license and list of available ciphers
 -q     run quietly without printing informations
 -D     print debugging information at runtime
For more informations on Tomb read the manual: man tomb

Why should one trust this script?

Good question, which ultimately we shouldn’t answer: it is up to anyone using such a delicate tool to assess its reliability, based on common understanding of code and opinions of trusted peers.

We believe that complexity hides insecurity, therefore Tomb is open source and basically just a script you can read and check for what it does. We do our best to keep it short and easy to read.

Literate programmer documentation

All dependencies used in Tomb are common GNU/Linux components, well peer reviewed and found in most distributions. Plus there is no cloud service connected and no network connection needed: Tomb works entirely off-line, of course.

Said that, we don’t give any warranty on anything else but death: that’s the only sure thing in life.

Who needs Tomb

Democracy requires Privacy as much as Freedom of Expression.” Anonymous

Our target community are desktop users with no time to click around, sometimes using old or borrowed computers, operating in places endangered by conflict where a leak of personal data can be a threat.

If you can’t own a laptop then it’s possible to go around with a USB stick and borrow computers, still leaving no trace and keeping your data safe during transports. Tomb aims to facilitate all this and to be interoperable across popular GNU/Linux operating systems.

The internet offers plenty of free services, on the wave of the Web2.0 fuzz and the community boom, while all private informations are hosted on servers owned by global corporations and monopolies.

“The distinction between what is public and what is private is becoming more and more blurred with the increasing intrusiveness of the media and advances in electronic technology. While this distinction is always the outcome of continuous cultural negotiation, it continues to be critical, for where nothing is private, democracy becomes impossible.”
(from Privacy Conference, Social Research, New School University)

It is important to keep in mind that no-one else better than you can ensure the privacy of your personal data. Server hosted services and web integrated technologies gather all data into huge information pools that are made available to established economical and cultural regimes.

This software urges you to reflect on the importance of your privacy. World is full of prevarication and political imprisonments, war rages in several places and media is mainly used for propaganda by the powers in charge. Some of us face the dangers of being tracked by oppressors opposing our self definition, independent thinking and resistance to omologation.

Aren’t there enough encryption tools?

We’ve felt the urgency of publishing Tomb for other operating systems than dyne:bolic since the current situation in personal desktop encryption is far from optimal.

TrueCrypt makes use of statically linked libraries so that its code is hard to audit, plus is not considered free by operating system distributors because of liability reasons, see DebianUbuntuSuseGentoo and Fedora.

Cryptkeeper is the best alternative to Tomb out there and its main advantage consists in not needing root access on the machine it’s being used. But Cryptkeeper still has drawbacks: it uses EncFS which implements weaker encryption than dm-crypt and it doesn’t promotes the separated storage of keys.

At last, the Encrypted home mechanisms on operating systems as Debian and Ubuntu adopt encryption algorithms as strong as Tomb does, but they need to be configured when the machine is installed, they cannot be easily transported and again they don’t promote separated storage of keys.

Where do we learn from

Here below some articles that are useful to understand Tomb more in detail and to get in touch with the difficult job of a Crypto Undertaker:

With Tomb we try to overcome all these limitations providing strong encryption, encouraging users to separate keys from data and letting them transport tombs around easily. Also to facilitate auditing and customization we intend to:

  • write short and readable code, linking shared libs
  • provide easy to use graphical interfaces and desktop integration
  • keep the development process open and distributed using GIT
  • distribute Tomb under the GNU General Public License v3

If you believe this is a worthy effort, you are welcome to support it.


If you are a developer, scroll further down for the GitHub links. Here we link the stable release tarballs.

For licensing information see the GNU General Public License

Source package


The latest release is signed by Tomb’s maintainer Jaromil.


Tomb works only on GNU/Linux systems.

Tomb is a single script and can be installed manually anywhere your path. If you really insist in being a conformist, ‘make install’ will copy it in /usr/local/bin along with its manpage.

Distributions are free to include it as they like, we had an autoconf/automake setup and a debian/ package for apparent ease of installation, but that is now dismissed for yet more simplicity.

Be in charge of your system and may the source be with you!


There are rumored plans to port Tomb on Win or at least make it possible to open tomb files under Win: this could be possible especially using FReeOTFE or adding compatibility in SecureTrayUtil and contributions are welcome in those directions.

However we strongly encourage people in need of strong encryption to not use Winslows, or at least to not generate encrypted partitions with it, since it can contain backdoors in the random number generation, as pointed by Bruce Schneier and Niels Ferguson in this short essay about the Dual_EC_DRBG.


Usage tips…

Tomb can be adapted for ad-hoc use and scripted inside bigger systems of applications, here below a few usage scenarios.

Private data in daily use

With a simple mount and unmount command, plus the configuration of bind-hooks, your home can change in a snap to include your secrets in the right position for your application paths, like that secret door behind the library you always dreamed of.

Dangerous information transport

When transporting delicate information the risk of interception is high: even using encryption, if the courier is captured then the key can be found on him or her and the password can be obtained using torture. The solution we propose is that of separating keys from storage, so that a courier alone cannot be the single point of failure. Never keep your keys where your tomb is!

Deniable, but easy to remember, key storage

Steganography helps here. Tomb offers the possibility to bury and exhume keys from jpeg images: if steghide is installed on a system then Tomb will offer this commands in its command-line help.

When securing your private data one of the bigger problems is represented by the fallacy of your memory: in some future you might forget where you left the keys.

This feature lets you keep in mind a certain picture rather than a position in a filesystem, much easy to remember. It also helps in hiding well the key and eventually communicating it without being suspicious, as it is very difficult to detect the presence of a key inside an image without knowing the password you used to seal it.

Another possibility to keep track of keys is to backup them in a physical form: for that we have the command engrave which will make a QRCode out of a key which can then be printed, but still must be kept secret, like between the pages of your favourite book or so. To recover an engraved key one can simply scan it with any QR decoder mobile application, save the resulting plain text file and use it as a key in Tomb.

Keys on different machines

Security can be improved by eliminating the single point of failure, especially if a network connection is available. A tomb can be stored and used on a machine while its keys are far away: they get copied and immediately deleted every time, but never stored on the same machine. Here a little snipped one can use as an alias or a script to trigger the opening of a tomb named “secrets” on the host “desktop” retrieving the keys from a “”.

ssh 'cat secrets.tomb.key' | tomb open secrets.tomb -k -

Ssh is used for the key transport, which can happen also without passwords by using ssh public keys. The tomb option “-k -” tells to take the key from stdin.

Keys on your mobile phone

A neat setup is that of keeping the tomb on your laptop and the key on your mobile phone, being fairly sure that they are never kept in the same place, pocket or bag. Every time a tomb is open, the mobile activates an “obex ftp daemon” that serves the key over bluetooth to authorized paired devices. A simple script to make that happen follows, substitute the ESSID 11:22:33:44:55:66 with that of your device:

 mkdir -p /dev/shm/secrets      # prepare to store temporarily the key
 chmod go-rwx /dev/shm/secrets  # in volatile ram
 cd /dev/shm/secrets
 obexftp -b 11:22:33:44:55:66 -g secrets.tomb.key
 tomb open $HOME/secrets.tomb -k secrets.tomb.key
 wipe -f secrets.tomb.key
 cd -
 rmdir /dev/shm/secrets.key

Private cloud storage

Keeping tombs on remote server shells can be a good deterrent to avoid physical break-ins when travelling, not having to carry anything related to your data. To a certain degree, using Tomb also makes it difficult to steal the data from servers, even for providers that have physical access to them.

For server based usage one has to take care of some things: creating a tomb key is usually very slow on a remote server or VPS, the best is to create the key (forge) locally on your desktop and then upload it. The second issue is that often one will forget a tomb open and just log out: to avoid this ZShell users can simply put a ‘tomb close’ or ‘tomb slam’ into their ~/.zlogout.

Last but not least, it is also possible to mount tombs locally in a way that the remote server will never have anything to do with the clear data contained into them. This is achieved using sshfs:

sshfs -o allow_root /local/mountpoint/
tomb open /local/mountpoint/yourthings.tomb -k /path/to/key

Please note the sshfs command needs the option ‘-o allow_root’ because otherwise root will not have permissions to read in the remote filesystem.

If you like to go more in detail, this MA thesis in computer science mentions the successful usage of Tomb over cloud filesystem storage and possible new horizons for its development.

More tips…

More interesting usage tips can be found in our Wiki documentation and in crunchbang’s Paranoid #! Security guide (great distro BTW!)



Tomb is being developed using GIT and its main repository is hosted on GitHub.

Developers are welcome to interact with us via issues, pull requests or directly on the crypto mailinglist on

Also make sure to read the short tomb tester howto to have some directions on how to do troubleshooting. If you plan to write code then the short tomb developer howto is for you.

To get in touch with us you can also join our chat on (SSL over port 9999) on channel #dyne and #tomb – or even better, participate in person to one of the yearly italian hackmeeting, usually held during summer on the peninsula.

Stage of development

At present time Tomb is easy to install and use, it mainly consists of a Shell script and some auxiliary C code for desktop integration (GTK), a Python GUI that makes use of the new –batch mode.

You are welcome to join especially to help to enhance compatibility across operating systems, distribution packaging, GUI integration, translation and documentation. The golden rule for us is: write short code and make it readable. Transparency and ease of code review is one of the strong points for an encryption tool we all intend to rely on.

A cheerful picture of Tomb developers crew at Hackmeeting 2011 in Firenze

People involved

Tomb is originally designed and written by Jaromil, it includes code by Hellekin O. Wolf, Anathema and Boyska, its artwork is contributed by Món Mort.

Testing, reviews and documentation are contributed by Dreamer, Shining the Translucent, Mancausoft, Asbesto Molesto and Nignux.

Most research we refer to is documented by Clemens Fruhwirth who also developed Cryptsetup together with Christophe Saout.