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FSF takes Win 8 Secure Boot fight to OEMs

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PC makers are being lobbied to install Windows 8 on machines in a way that will afford users the freedom to boot Linux or any other operating system.

The Free Software Foundation (FSF) is urging PC users to sign a statement demanding that OEMs which implement Windows 8's UEFI Secure Boot do so in a way that allows individuals to disable it, or that the PC makers provide a "sure-fire way" to install and run an operating system of the user's choice.

The statement says that giving this choice will protect users' rights and security.

The FSF has also hinted at a boycott on buying Windows 8 PCs. "We commit that we will neither purchase nor recommend computers that strip users of this critical freedom, and we will actively urge people in our communities to avoid such jailed systems," the FSF concludes.

Windows 8's Secure Boot was branded "Restricted Boot" by the FSF because "it would be a disastrous restriction on computer users and not a security feature at all".

The FSF's website became suddenly unavailable Tuesday morning due to "technical problems" once word of the campaign began to spread.

Secure Boot is a planned feature of Windows 8 intended to thwart a type of hack that targets the boot path; the idea is to ensure only signed "good code" will boot up.

Microsoft's system implements the Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) firmware specification, only the system in Windows 8 would mean any Windows 8 PC that ships with only OEM and Microsoft keys will not boot a generic build of Linux.

The red flag was raised by Red Hat employee and tech blogger Matthew Garrett here and Professor Ross Anderson of Cambridge University here. Anderson said Secure Boot might violate EU competition law.

Microsoft, meanwhile, has shifted responsibility for Secure Boot to the PC manufacturers. In a blog response to the alarm, Microsoft ecosystem team member Tony Mangefeste wrote: "OEMs are free to choose how to enable this support and can further customize the parameters as described above in an effort to deliver unique value propositions to their customers."

However, it seems OEMs are not free to choose how to enable Secure Boot.

All About Microsoft's Mary-Jo Foley reports that at Microsoft's Build conference in California last month, Microsoft said support for UEFI Secure Boot is a Windows 8 certification requirement.

Meanwhile, on the Windows 8 blog in response to concern about UEFI, Mangefeste went on to claim: "At the end of the day, the customer is in control of their PC."

Responding to Mangefeste, Garrett called the rebuttal "entirely factually accurate", adding "but it's also misleading" – because the PC marker and Microsoft would maintain control over the keys needed to permit trusted code to boot on PCs.

"The truth is that Microsoft's move removes control from the end user and places it in the hands of Microsoft and the hardware vendors," Garrett wrote in response to Mangefeste here. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

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