Linux Heavyweights Develop Secure Boot Strategy

Canonical and Red Hat have issued a joint statement regarding Microsoft’s plan to make UEFI Secure Boot a requirement of Windows 8. Simultaneously, The Linux Foundation has issued a similar statement.

We first covered this issue in September.

The joint Red Hat and Canonical statement opens with an assessment of the situation:

The UEFI specification for secure boot does not define who controls the boot restrictions on UEFI platforms, leaving the platform implementer in control of the exact security model. Unfortunately, Microsoft’s recommended implementation of secure boot removes control of the system from the hardware owner, and may prevent open source operating systems from functioning. The Windows 8 requirement for secure boot will pressure OEMs to implement secure boot in this fashion.

We believe that restrictions that prevent users from exercising full control over their hardware is not in the best interest of those users, and works against the spirit of open source software in general.

It's a fair assessment of the situation. It's worth noting that the language used in both documents is reasonable and doesn't go out of its way to demonize Microsoft. Both documents outline the difficulties that will be caused to Linux adoption in general by the proposed measures. They also highlight some of the benefits of EUFI and secure boot, and I got the impression that all three organizations have accepted that Secure Boot is an inevitable development in some form.

The Canonical/Red Hat document concludes with three proposals:

We recommend that all OEMs allow secure boot to be easily disabled and enabled through a firmware configuration interface

One point that the authors make is that as Windows 8 will require Secure Boot in order to boot, this causes a problem for dual boot scenarios. The user would probably have to enter the setup interface and manually toggle the feature between each reboot.

There is also the possibility that some vendors won't include a menu option to disable secure boot at all.

“We recommend that OEMs (with assistance from BIOS vendors) provide a standardised mechanism for configuring keys in system firmware”

The problem with this, as pointed out in the document, is that a feature to add extra keys to the firmware must not be susceptible to malware. Again, it sounds like a lot of additional hassle, particularly for non technical users.

“We recommend that hardware ship in setup mode, with the operating system taking responsibility for initial key installation”

What the authors are suggesting is that an operating system would be able to add its secure key to a brand new system the first time it boots.

This means that it would be possible to switch over to an alternate operating system on a brand new machine that has never been booted. This might appeal to companies that sell complete machines. If the proposal were adheared to, a brand new motherboard would also ship in this state. Obviously, Microsoft would have to agree support this system, and they might not.

The Linux Foundation document includes similar recommendations. It echos the suggestion that new machines could ship in a state in which they are ready to receive a new key, but adds that it should be possible for the user to reset a machine to the initial state. It acknowledges the potential problems for dual booting. It adds the point that some sort of provision needs to be made for booting from removable media. It also suggests that a neutral organization should be formed for the granting of keys to hardware and software vendors.

The tone of both documents gives the impression that all parties have accepted the inevitability of Secure Boot. It's starting to look like we might soon be looking back with fondness on the days in which we could walk around installing Linux wherever we liked.

Both documents were well-written, fair and either would serve as a good introduction to the issue.

The Red Hat/Canonical document

The Linux Foundation document


UK based freelance writer Michael Reed writes about technology, retro computing, geek culture and gender politics.


Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

environmentally conscience

Anonymous's picture

Seems to be an assault on the environment. With no way to resuscitate old window machines with lean operating systems the landfills are going to be full of our disposable hardware.

Linux Is Too Important

ROMETY's picture

I made a full switch to Linux about 6 months ago, and I will not look back. I have some trouble with the thought that hardware providers would even think about not allowing open source operating systems, do to the fact that the majority of the super computers run Linux and Unix.

By taking away the normal computer users use of an open source OS , would damage future programming. Linux is built by everyone, and used by a lot of different companies and devices, I do not think we have anything to worry about, it is just another M$ gimmick to make the uneducated computer user think they has a safe secure computer.

Windows will always make their money, I can't find a computer unless I build it that does not come with M$ installed.

It looks like Apple and MS

JoeBen283's picture

It looks like Apple and MS are not so different when it comes to restricting user freedom.

Microsoft Mafia

paddy.hayes's picture

I have an offer you can't refuse.

I argue it's M$ wanting to

DigitalCheetah's picture

I argue it's M$ wanting to control the world via Windows. We're screwed.

Secure boot.

rijnsma's picture

I know like everybody else what M$ is after.
They like the whole world to hire a Windows-version, which would be the only OS people can use. To be paid quarterly of halfyear.

I hope they go bankrupt soon.

Select Win 8 UEFI Secure Boot adoption may be a good thing

Nico de Wet's picture

Red Hat and Canonical should consider that there may be positive spin offs eminating from linux being locked out when it comes to certain OEMs.

In my mind, having a smaller pool of manufacturers officially support linux is the way forward in the sense that driver support in particular may be addressed. Perhaps we will finally get laptops where everything just works out of the box, as it should, and if this means that linux runs of say Dell and Sony only, and there companies in turn put pressure on their suppliers, then perhaps linux will finally be more competitive.

Secure won't matter

parched's picture

Whether a machine is secure or not doesn't matter at all to MS. As long as that 95% of the personal market believe there's only one "real" operating system for PCs, they'll take whatever MS serves up, whether it opens the floodgates to malware or not. MS just don't care about this. It's never been their business model. They only care about profit, gleaned from oppressing and threatening HW manufacturers into a monopoly for MS, "or else". They're willing to risk court cases, fines, even having to say "sorry" in some form or another, as long as they get the monopolistic model active in the first place. HW manufacturers won't recall millions of MBs to remove MS's nasty little chip, as they'd go out of business, and successive Govts in several countries lack the courage and the will (not to mention the personal.....incentives) to MAKE MS and HW manufacturers do this.

The MS business motto is "Get the monopoly tool in, crush the rest, and we can afford the fines."

It's always been this way.

All the......hope that HW manufacturers can be got at to resist secure boot chips, or make them open enough to include Linux and other non MS OSs will be dashed on the corporate rock of brutal monopolistic greed, as the MS machine once more tries to destroy the competition.
The only way Linux and other OSs will get past this, is with new HW manufacturers outside of the current few.
Intel, AMD/ATI, Nvidia, etc, will not bite the hand that feeds them, or threatens them with extinction. Anyone who thinks otherwise is dreaming. MS "want it all", and will keep coming up with stuff like this until they get what they want.

Prepare for the worst, and anything better than that is a bonus. There's just not enough of us to make a difference at the moment, and the large percentage of the unwashed masses don't care. That's why MS think they'll get away with this, and have a good chance of doing so, even if it costs them a billion or two in the process.

M$ World Domination

DistroWalker's picture

Typically Microsoft trying to strongarm the law before it is written,I was amazed to find OS:Win 7 in the BIOS blanked out on a Compaq CQ57!?Trying to install winXP turned up being a disaster.Its already happening,coders better start writing new BIOS files,or at least we should get together and start a free open source BIOS database!! LOL Its heading that way- Fight fire with fire!! Long live freedom

DOJ, Anyone?

Geek Prophet's picture

I believe that this is going to be one of those issues such as when Microsoft tried to make its kernel more secure in Vista by breaking third-party anti-virus and other software. I don't think it will get off the ground.

I believe that one of three things will happen:

1. Secure boot will be readily disabled.

2. Secure boot will be a no show due to rejection by hardware manufacturers, screaming from the FOSS community, or some other reason.

3. Microsoft will back down when sued for using its OS monopoly to pressure manufacturers into locking out their competition.

IBM tried to do this when IBM clones became popular, and IBM ended up with a bloody nose. Microsoft tried this with deals with manufacturers so that a non-Windows computer cost more than a Windows computer.

In the end, Microsoft will back down, work with us, or be forced down. Its only a question of which.

Microsoft doesn't get it!

Anonymous's picture

The secure boot is just more evidence that Microsoft doesn't understand
one basic fact - They do NOT own my computer and they have no right to control the OS I chose to run on it. Please, say NO to the secure boot

If they want to have a larger market share do it by excellence,
not arrogance.

Microsoft has never garnered

Anonymous's picture

Microsoft has never garnered any market share through excellence, they have no ability to write good software, why would they switch their bully business model to one that causes crapware companies to go bankrupt?

This is an attempt to remove

Anonymous's picture

This is an attempt to remove xp and vista and make the life
FOSS difficult.
But they take big risk because many people will turn into companies that WILL
either provide a mechanism to overcome secure Boost.
either not implement new BIOS stuff at all...

I Do Not Understand

Anonymous's picture

Secure boot looks for a key before it will continue. Is it not possible to have the Linux kernel signed? It would then work under secure boot. Problem solved.

The is simply because

Anonymous's picture

Linux has so many distributions of different versions, and not to mention there are user modified variants as well. it is not feasible for hardware vendors to have a key assigned to each of them..

But at least the top 20 could

ChrisNewUser's picture

But at least the top 20 could be used by 99% of the linux users without any user intervention. Hopefully the rest could get by with turning the option off in the bios (If allowed).

The real solution

subogero's picture

The Linux-kernel should change to the GPL V3 license, with its rather nice tivoization clause. Then there would be immediate support against secure boot from a lot of big companies.

The os design

Anonymous's picture

Including the fact that Microsoft somewhat strive for monopoly (and autonomy) of the software Industry, who would need an uneccessary (preluded) restictive means like this "secure boot" if Windows 8 and all other previous vers were well design {they ful of coding flaws}. Even in it's interim release, Win 8, in the "developer state" is already having holes.


Anonymous's picture

Our money spend can't be used to against ourself. I always buy machine pre-installed with free-dos only, so the saved money can be used by manufacture to ship better chips. I don't need a hundred dollar windows crap! So I felt my right infringed by being forced to spend money on things that goes against my wish. At least, a hardware switch is necessary!


John Knight's picture

I'm interested to know what Apple think of this, particularly in view of the dual-boot 'MacTel' machines that are so popular now.

John Knight is the New Projects columnist for Linux Journal.

Third proposal?

Anonymous's picture

That third proposal -- "We recommend that hardware ship in setup mode, with the operating system taking responsibility for initial key installation" -- confuses me. It wouldn't help people who want to dual-boot the machine. Linux would install successfully, but then Windows 8 wouldn't be able to install its key? That's not going to work.

How about -- "The hardware will provide a documented method for the end user to enter setup mode" -- presumably at boot time. It could be either a jumper (in laptops, accessible without removing 20 screws) or by holding down a particular key combination on power up. Then the end user could install a second OS or replace the factory OS on a newly-acquired used machine.

Secure Boot won't happen...

Anonymous's picture

My opinion: Secure boot, if it is tried by Microsoft, will bring that company down. While businesses may like the idea, the personal market will resist it and effectively destroy the total secure boot market.

Hardly. The vast majority of

Anonymous's picture

Hardly. The vast majority of the personal market will have no idea what it is, and what's more they won't care. As long as their computer turns on and they can watch a movie, play a game, surf the web, etc. they'll be happy. For 99% or so of the PC market, the inclusion of secureboot won't be a factor in their decision making. For those of us who run linux, it is an issue.

that's the problem with

Anonymous's picture

that's the problem with computers in the first place. the people who know how to truely use their computer are shoved aside in favor of the Ignorant just so their monoply can continue. yet other os's are more beginner friendly than windows where they make evrything your fault even though it was their loopholes that caused the problem in the firstplace.


A.Dyga's picture


Hardly. The vast majority of

Anonymous's picture

Hardly. The vast majority of the personal market will have no idea what it is, and what's more they won't care. As long as their computer turns on and they can watch a movie, play a game, surf the web, etc. they'll be happy. For 99% or so of the PC market, the inclusion of secureboot won't be a factor in their decision making. For those of us who run linux, it is an issue.

Secure Boot

Renee Marie Jones's picture

Secure Boot will not even be secure as implemented. As Microsoft envisions it, their keys will be burned into the firmware. At some point, someone will either reverse-engineer the keys, or will hack into Microsoft and steal the keys. From that point on, malware will simply be able to use the proper key, and will appear to the boot software as if it were a genuine Microsoft product.

No system can be secure unless keys can be revoked and new keys can be added (via a procedure that makes it clear to the owner of the hardware what is going on). Microsoft is basing its security model on the assumption that Microsoft and it's manufactureres can never make a mistake or lose anything. Such an assumption is unwaranted and, based on history, provably false.

>> Microsoft and it's

sto's picture

>> Microsoft and it's manufactureres can never make a mistake or lose anything.

Yes, another thing which will happen : if an exploit is found in early code, permitting to escape the secure boot trust chain, then this signed first stage binary will be used by malware to escape the secure boot, and to boot a corrupt windows. OWNED. As you said, no revocation whatsoever.


Anonymous's picture

Hmmm. you seem to have mistaken Microsoft's plans to be a means of making PCs more "secure", by rendering them incapable of booting anything other than Windows... what's got into you?... have you been reading Microsoft press releases or something?... seriously - more secure by being forced into running *Windows*?!?!? Can you think of anything more excuisitely oxymoronic?

The realitly of the idea is subtly yet significantly different - not to somehow improve consumer security by forcing people to run windows but rather to improve Microsofts financial security by preventing the user running any other (ironically, almost certainly more "secure") OS.

Admitidly a sort of half full / half empty distinction but the intent here is clearly not to improve security but another attempt to impede FOSS.

field day

realmkeeper's picture

I see a field day coming for UK and South African customers as hardware manufacturers will need to remove or provide a disable function. Bad for even Micro$oft's business or is this a push to remove XP and Vista.