Make an AVR device into an encrypted MassStorage/Serial/Keyboard gadget.
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enstix (storage/serial/keyboard AVR stick)

This is a firmware for ATMEL’s USB capable chips (e.g. atxmega128A4U, atxmega128A3U, atmega32U4) , which turns the device into an USB stick pretending to be a combined Mass Storage, CDC Serial and HID/Keyboard interface.

The whole shebang is about making an encrypted USB storage.

The data can be stored on a microSD card (e.g. X-A4U-stick, Stephan Baerwolf’s AVRstick with a microSD shield, or Arduino Leonardo or Teensy 2.0/++2.0 with a wired SD or microSD socket). Alternatively, with Stephan’s remarkable MassStorage bootloader on his AVRstick, the data can be stored inside xmega’s flash (mind its size!).

The data is encrypted with AES128 (cbc). “Unlocking” the drive is done by connecting to the stick via CDC Serial interface and entering the passphrase (see the Usage instructions for more details).

To use the Serial on Windows machines, an .inf file is provided (not tested). Note that it doesn’t install any driver, it just lets Windows know that it’s a standard CDC Serial interface. (Like for Arduino.)


(for flash-backed storage) Using atxmega128a3u’s flash as a writable USB drive is a bad idea, since the flash on ATMEL’s chips is not meant to be used like this and has a very limited lifespan compared to usual solid-state storage (on the order of 1000 writes?).

This is more like a demo firmware, which can be quite useful for storing passwords and similar data which is small (it needs to fit into 64kB!) and don’t change often. This is also why extra steps are needed to make the storage writable.

Using a microSD for storage of course does not suffer from this problem. Just be aware that it is still slow (compared to what one expects from a microSD): I’m getting something like 130kB/sec for reading on xmega’s and about 30kB/sec on atmega32U4.


Every USB device has a Vendor/Product identifying signature. This is set in software here (Descriptors.c). The current code uses a pair which belongs to the LUFA library. DO NOT USE IT for any other than development purposes only! See LUFA’s VID/PID page.


  • The whole USB interface utilizes Dean Camera’s excellent LUFA library, and builds on several LUFA demos supplied with the library.
  • Writing to atxmega128a3u’s flash is made possible by Stephan Bärwolf’s custom bootloader and his apipage example/library (see the AVRstick’s webpage).
  • Software AES implementation (used for e.g. atmega32u4) for AVR comes from AVR-crypto-lib.
  • The (micro)SD code is based on Roland Riegel’s SD-reader code.

Compiling / installation

Generally speaking, you should compile the firmware from sources; see the README in sources folder.

However, for X-A4U-stick there is precompiled firmware in binaries directory. Even in this case, you’ll need to use a python script to generate a random AES key, set password and flash the generated EEPROM file.


When the AVR stick is first inserted, it presents itself as a USB composite device, Mass Storage combined with CDC Serial and Keyboard.

Keyboard is there, but its functionality is not used at the moment.

Mass Storage appears as a SCSI USB drive, with one read-only FAT12-formatted partition (ENSTIX), with one README.TXT file on it. Nothing too interesting. (You can tweak the contents of the README file in the sources, Config/AppConfig.h.)

To switch to “encrypted mode”, connect to the Serial interface using one of serial terminal programs, e.g. minicom, picocom, puTTY or even screen. The baud rate is not important, any should work. For example, on linux:

    picocom -b 115200 /dev/ttyUSB0 


    screen /dev/ttyACM0 115200

You should of course use the apropriate ttyXXXX, you can find it by looking at the output of dmesg.

OK, so now you’re talking to AVR stick via a serial terminal. Any key other that i, p, r, c will display a short help. The individual keys do the following:

  • i will print some info.
  • p will ask you for your passphrase. If entered correctly, the stick switches to the “encrypted mode”.
  • with r you can switch from “read-only” to “writable” and back. This only works in the “encrypted mode”.
  • with c you can change your passphrase.

Note that any change to the disk state (initial -> encrypted mode, or RO to RW or back) will cause the whole stick to disconnect from USB and then connect back after 1 second delay.

In the “encrypted mode”, the Mass Storage works as a common SCSI disk drive (size depends: either 64kB if it’s flash based, or the size of your microSD card). The only thing that the stick is doing is that whenever the computer wants to read a sector from that “drive”, the stick will take the appopriate portion of the flash or microSD, decrypt it and serve the result to the computer. Likewise for writing (receive the sector contents, encrypt and save to flash or microSD). So you can partition and format it to your liking. All the partition/filesystem business is now done on the computer side. For flash-based version, if you followed the set-up instructions above, then the default “contents” of the drive will be a drive with one FAT12-formatted partition (ENSTIXEN). For microSD-based version, you’ll need to partition and format the drive from scratch.

Once more, the xmega’s flash has a very limited lifespan, so I recommend enabling the RW mode only when absolutely necessary (so when you actually need to write some data to it).

Encryption details

The encrypted disk image is encrypted with aes128-cbc-essiv (probably not directly compatible with other existing programs using this scheme). So there is one main AES128 key. This one is used to encrypt each sector (usually 512 bytes) with CBC, where the IV is derived from the key and the sector number as described by the ESSIV scheme.

What is stored in xmega’s EEPROM is the main AES128 key encrypted with AES (the key for this is the first 16 bytes of the SHA256 hash^1000 of the passphrase). Another piece of data stored in EEPROM is the SHA256 hash^1000 of the SHA256 hash of the passphrase (for verifying if the entered passphrase is “correct”). (Hash^1000 means it’s repeatedly hashed, 1000 times.)

Of course, for the flash-based version, the (encrypted) disk drive image can be easily extracted from the stick by putting it into the bootloader mode and inspecting the contents of the FIRMWARE.BIN file. Likewise, the passphrase-encrypted AES key, as well as HASH^2000(passphrase) can be read from EEPROM.BIN file.

Finally, while the stick is in operation and in the “encrypted mode”, the main AES key is stored in chip’s SRAM (working memory), as well as probably in the “AES hardware module” of the chip. So it can be probably extracted with, say, a JTAG debugger hooked up to the chip. This is the same problem as with pretty much all the “encrypted storage” schemes that I know - while the encryption is in operation, the key can be extracted from the device’s working memory. However, as the passphrase is only needed for getting a hold of the main AES key, it is deleted from the working memory after the main AES key is decrypted.

I would be grateful if you can let me know if there are some security holes in this scheme.

Upgrading firmware / changelog

There have been some changes to the encryption and hashing that break disk images (namely to 1.2 and again to 1.4). Since these were very early development stages, you’d need to ask me for instructions if you happen to need them (it’s possible to retain the data with a bit of python).


In principle this firmware should compile for other USB breakouts with ATMEL’s USB capable chips (e.g. atmega32u4), but a bit of hacking of the current code is needed. The limitations that come into play are:

  • The number of USB endpoint that the chip can handle. This completely rules out atmega32u2, since that one can only do 4 endpoints and MassStorage+Serial requires 2+3 = 5 endpoints.
  • The model that utilizes the chip’s FLASH for storage requires that the firmware needs to be able to write to FLASH. This pretty much means Stephan’s bootloader+apipage example on his AVRstick. The microSD-based version works also on atmega32U4, but it’s even more painfully slow than on the xmega (crypto is in firmware, and SPI is slower).

Roadmap / TODO

  • Figure out and implement another way of entering the passphrase that wouldn’t require Serial access.
  • Use the AVRstick’s button and the Keyboard interface to “one-button typing password”, a-la DIY USB password generator


My code is © flabbergast. GPL v3 license (see LICENSE file). Portions of the code come from LUFA demos, this is licensed by LUFA’s license.

See also the libraries’ LUFA license (MIT) and AVR-crypto-lib license (GPLv2)