Feeds

MS denies secure boot will exclude Linux

Lock-out security tech can be disabled, if OEMs want

Top three mobile application threats

Microsoft has hit back at concerns that secure boot technology in UEFI firmware could lock out Linux from Windows 8 PCs, saying that consumers will be free to run whatever they want on their PCs.

Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) specifications, designed to reduce start-up times and improve security, allow computers to verify digitally signed OS loaders before booting. The feature in UEFI, the successor to BIOS ROM, is designed as a countermeasure against rootkits and other bootloader nasties.

However computer scientists, including Professor Ross Anderson of Cambridge University, warned earlier this week that the approach would make it impossible to run "unauthorised" OSes such as Linux and FreeBSD on PCs. A signed build of Linux would work, but that would mean persuading OEMs to include the keys.

In addition since the kernel itself is part of the boot process, kernels will also have to be signed, a huge bureaucratic hurdle for developers that runs wholly against the grain of open source software development, as explained in more depth by tech blogger Matthew Garrett here.

If the draft for UEFI is adopted without modification, then systems with secure boot enabled simply will not run a generic copy of Linux. Disabling the feature would allow unsigned code to run. However Garrett argues that since "firmware vendors and OEMs are interested in providing only the minimum of firmware functionality required for their market" this may not be possible, a concern shared by Anderson.

"The extension of Microsoft’s OS monopoly to hardware would be a disaster, with increased lock-in, decreased consumer choice and lack of space to innovate," he said. Anderson concludes that the approach is even worse than previous attempts to force feed Windows users with DRM technology.

In a blog post on Thursday, Microsoft attempted to address these concerns arguing that "complete control over the PC continues to be available" to consumers.

Secure boot is a UEFI protocol, rather than a specific Windows 8 feature, and "Microsoft does not mandate or control the settings on PC firmware that control or enable secured boot from any operating system other than Windows," Microsoft's Tony Mangefeste explains.

"Secure boot doesn’t 'lock out' operating system loaders, but it is a policy that allows firmware to validate authenticity of components. OEMs have the ability to customize their firmware to meet the needs of their customers by customizing the level of certificate and policy management on their platform," he adds.

Mangefeste cites the example of a prototype Samsung tablet with firmware designed to allow customers to disable secure boot, an option that is open to OEMs.

Just how many OEMs will take this approach remains unclear. Microsoft has effectively batted the question over to its hardware partners and firmware suppliers. What both Microsoft and critics of UEFI seemingly agree on is that unless secure boot can be disabled then Linux can't be run on Windows 8 PCs.

We asked the UEFI Forum to comment on the issue earlier this week but are yet to hear back from the industry group, which promotes and manages the UEFI standard. Members of the UEFI forum include Apple, IBM and BIOS giant Phoenix Technologies as well as Microsoft. ®

Top three mobile application threats

More from The Register

next story
Ubuntu 14.04 LTS: Great changes, but sssh don't mention the...
Why HELLO Amazon! You weren't here last time
This time it's 'Personal': new Office 365 sub covers just two devices
Redmond also brings Office into Google's back yard
Got Windows 8.1 Update yet? Get ready for YET ANOTHER ONE – rumor
Leaker claims big release due this fall as Microsoft herds us into the CLOUD
Next Windows obsolescence panic is 450 days from … NOW!
The clock is ticking louder for Windows Server 2003 R2 users
OpenBSD founder wants to bin buggy OpenSSL library, launches fork
One Heartbleed vuln was too many for Theo de Raadt
Batten down the hatches, Ubuntu 14.04 LTS due in TWO DAYS
Admins dab straining server brows in advance of Trusty Tahr's long-term support landing
Red Hat to ship RHEL 7 release candidate with a taste of container tech
Grab 'near-final' version of next Enterprise Linux next week
Apple inaugurates free OS X beta program for world+dog
Prerelease software now open to anyone, not just developers – as long as you keep quiet
Windows 8.1, which you probably haven't upgraded to yet, ALREADY OBSOLETE
Pre-Update versions of new Windows version will no longer support patches
prev story

Whitepapers

Mobile application security study
Download this report to see the alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, as well as the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.
Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.