Guest post from James Bottomley, Linux Foundation Technical Advisory Board
I’m pleased to announce that the Linux Foundation and its Technical Advisory Board have produced a plan to enable the Linux (and indeed all Open Source based distributions) to continue operating as Secure Boot enabled systems roll out. In a nutshell, the Linux Foundation will obtain a Microsoft Key and sign a small pre-bootloader which will, in turn, chain load (without any form of signature check) a predesignated boot loader which will, in turn, boot Linux (or any other operating system). The pre-bootloader will employ a “present user” test to ensure that it cannot be used as a vector for any type of UEFI malware to target secure systems. This pre-bootloader can be used either to boot a CD/DVD installer or LiveCD distribution or even boot an installed operating system in secure mode for any distribution that chooses to use it. The process of obtaining a Microsoft signature will take a while, but once it is complete, the pre-bootloader will be placed on the Linux Foundation website for anyone to download and make use of.
Philosophy Behind this Announcement
The Linux Foundation is committed to giving users freedom of choice on their platforms. Conforming to this stance, we have already published a variety of tools to permit users to take control of their secure boot platforms by replacing the Platform Key and managing (or replacing) the installed Key Exchange Keys here. However, as one of the enablers of the Linux ecosystem, the Foundation recognizes that not everyone is willing (or able) to do this so it was also necessary to find a solution that would enable people to continue to try out Linux and other Open Source Operating Systems in spite of the barriers UEFI Secure boot would place in their way and without requiring that they understand how to take control of their platforms. Therefore, we also formulated a technical plan, which is implemented in this pre-bootloader, to allow distributions to continue functioning in a secure boot environment.
The current pre-bootloader is designed as an enabler only in that, by breaking the security verification chain at the actual bootloader, it provides no security enhancements over booting linux with UEFI secure boot turned off. Its sole purpose is to allow Linux to continue to boot on platforms that come by default with secure boot enabled. The Linux Foundation welcomes efforts by some of the major distributions (e.g. Fedora, SUSE and Ubuntu) to tackle the problem of taking full advantage of UEFI secure boot to enhance platform security and sees the pre-bootloader it is releasing as a stop-gap measure that will give all distributions time to come up with plans that take advantage of UEFI secure boot.
The source code for the pre-bootloader is available in
It is designed to be as small as possible, leaving all the work to the real bootloader. The real bootloader must be installed on the same partition as the pre-bootloader with the known path loader.efi (although the binary may be any bootloader including Grub2). The pre-bootloader will attempt to execute this binary and, if that succeeds, the system will boot normally. If the loader.efi fails to load with a security error (because it is unsigned), the pre-bootloader will stop at a splash screen and ask the user to confirm, by selecting a menu option, that they wish to continue booting loader.efi. If this confirmation (which is the “present user” test) is successful, the pre-bootloader will then execute loader.efi without security verification (if the user denies permission to boot, the pre-bootloader will signal failure and the UEFI boot sequence will continue on to the next boot path, if there is one). To facilitate repeat booting (and to make the pre-bootloader useful for booting hard disks as well as USB keys or DVDs) the pre-bootloader will also check to see if the platform is booting in Setup Mode and if it is, will ask the user for permission to install the signature of loader.efi into the authorized signatures database. If the user gives permission, the signature will be installed and loader.efi will then boot up without any present user tests on all subsequent occasions even after the platform is placed back into secure boot mode. The present user test splash screen that appears in secure boot mode asking for permission to boot loader.efi will also direct the user to a Linux Foundation website where we will gather details of how to place platforms in setup mode and advise the user how to do this, either to install the signature of loader.efi or to take full control of the platform by replacing the Platform and Key Exchange Keys.