git-annex mostly does not use encryption. Anyone with access to a git repository can see all the filenames in it, its history, and can access any annexed file contents.

Encryption is needed when using special remotes like Amazon S3, where file content is sent to an untrusted party who does not have access to the git repository.

Such an encrypted remote uses strong (symmetric or asymmetric) encryption on the contents of files, as well as HMAC hashing of the filenames. The size of the encrypted files, and access patterns of the data, should be the only clues to what is stored in such a remote.

You should decide whether to use encryption with a special remote before any data is stored in it. So, git annex initremote requires you to specify "encryption=none" when first setting up a remote in order to disable encryption. To use encryption, you run git-annex initremote in one of these ways:

  • git annex initremote newremote type=... encryption=hybrid keyid=KEYID ...
  • git annex initremote newremote type=... encryption=shared
  • git annex initremote newremote type=... encryption=pubkey keyid=KEYID ...

hybrid encryption keys

The hybrid key design allows additional encryption keys to be added on to a special remote later. Due to this flexibility, it is the default and recommended encryption scheme.

git annex initremote newremote type=... [encryption=hybrid] keyid=KEYID ...

Here the KEYID(s) are passed to gpg to find encryption keys. Typically, you will say "keyid=2512E3C7" to use a specific gpg key. Or, you might say "" to search for matching keys.

To add a new key and allow it to access all the content that is stored in the encrypted special remote, just run git annex enableremote specifying the new encryption key:

git annex enableremote myremote keyid+=788A3F4C

While a key can later be removed from the list, note that it will not necessarily prevent the owner of the key from accessing data on the remote (which is by design impossible to prevent, short of deleting the remote). In fact the only sound use of keyid-= is probably to replace a revoked key:

git annex enableremote myremote keyid-=2512E3C7 keyid+=788A3F4C

See also encryption design for other security risks associated with encryption.

shared encryption key

Alternatively, you can configure git-annex to use a shared cipher to encrypt data stored in a remote. This shared cipher is stored, unencrypted in the git repository. So it's shared among every clone of the git repository.

git annex initremote newremote type=... encryption=shared

The advantage is you don't need to set up gpg keys. The disadvantage is that this is insecure unless you trust every clone of the git repository with access to the encrypted data stored in the special remote.

regular public key encryption

This alternative simply encrypts the files in the special remotes to one or more public keys. It might be considered more secure due to its simplicity and since it's exactly the way everyone else uses gpg.

git annex initremote newremote type=.... encryption=pubkey keyid=KEYID ...

A disadvantage is that it is not easy to later add additional public keys to the special remote. While the enableremote parameters keyid+= and keyid-= can be used, they have no effect on files that are already present on the remote. Probably the only use for these parameters is to replace a revoked key:

git annex enableremote myremote keyid-=2512E3C7 keyid+=788A3F4C

But even in this case, since the files are not re-encrypted, the revoked key has to be kept around to be able to decrypt those files. (Of course, if the reason for revocation is that the key has been compromised, it is insecure to leave files encrypted using that old key, and the user should re-encrypt everything.)

(Because filenames are MAC'ed, a cipher still needs to be generated (and encrypted to the given key IDs). It is only used for MHAC encryption of filenames.)

MAC algorithm

The default MAC algorithm to be applied on the filenames is HMACSHA1. A stronger one, for instance HMACSHA512, can be chosen upon creation of the special remote with the option mac=HMACSHA512. The available MAC algorithms are HMACSHA1, HMACSHA224, HMACSHA256, HMACSHA384, and HMACSHA512. Note that it is not possible to change algorithm for a non-empty remote.