Security/From trustworthy flash to trustworthy OS

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Documentation is now handled by the same processes we use for code: Add something to the Documentation/ directory in the coreboot repo, and it will be rendered to Contributions welcome!

Work in progress

This tutorial a work in progress and is not finished yet.

From trustworthy flash to trustworthy OS:

Once you successfully flashed a Coreboot image that corresponds to its source code, there is again an issue of chicken and egg when wanting to install an operating system.

An easy way to deal with it is to make the boot firmware verify the checksums of the OS installer. This however has several issues:

  • Verifying the checksum of an image that is installed on a storage device is not very reliable due to a variety of factors such as:
    • live-usb creation software not copying the image as-is on the USB device.
    • The USB storage device having a different size than the image.
    • USB storage device firmwares being untrustworthy, and can potentially do TOCTOU attacks, making checksums useless.

Coreboot supports many payloads. Since this is payload-specific, there is the need of having one section per payload.

Since we will diverge from the default configurations, a recovery mechanism is required. The best way is to have an external flash programmer. Using the fallback recovery mechanism could also be used as an alternative, but it is less safe than an external flash programmer.

Checksums verification with iPXE and SeaBIOS:

This is the most straightforward way since iPXE supports computing sha1 checksums with its "sha1sum" command. The user will then download the installer image trough iPXE (the image will then be stored inside the target computer's RAM) and run sha1sum on that image.

The most straightforward way to use it, is to add SeaBIOS as payload, and iPXE as an option rom.


  • Ideally the target computer shouldn't have devices with untrustworthy option roms, since SeaBIOS would load and run them. In laptops the option roms are usually in the boot firmware, and since we are rewriting the boot, there should be no case where SeaBIOS loads an option rom from a device.
  • An Ethernet card supported by iPXE. This tutorial doesn't deal yet with the WiFi cards supported by iPXE (They require additional configuration).


Since SeaBIOS tend to execute code from a variety of sources, care must be taken to only allow it to execute iPXE.

To produce a configuration that fits, download SeaBIOS, select the option to build it for Xoreboot, and then un-select the options loading code externally. then produce a minimal configuration with:

$ make savedefconfig

The configuration file will then be called defconfig. Copy it to the coreboot source tree as seabios_defconfig

Alternatively you can create the seabios_defconfig file with the following content:

# CONFIG_USB is not set
# CONFIG_SERIAL is not set
# CONFIG_LPT is not set
# CONFIG_DRIVES is not set
# CONFIG_MOUSE is not set

This works at the time of writing and may need to be updated later.

Then pass the path of the seabios configuration file to coreboot with the "() SeaBIOS config file" option which appears in the payload section, when selecting SeaBIOS.

"SeaBIOS config file" looks by default in the mainboard directory, with "seabios_defconfig" it will look in:


Since we have put the file inside coreboot's top directory we will prepend the path with "../../../". It will then look like that:

(../../../seabios_defconfig) SeaBIOS config file

iPXE with checksum verification

To build iPXE with checksum utilities run the following:

$ cd src
$ echo "#define DIGEST_CMD" > config/local/general.h
$ make bin/<pci-ids>.rom

Replace <pci-ids> by the PCI ids of your NIC. They can be found by using "lspci -nn" Here's an example for a specific intel card:

$ make bin/8086100e.rom

Running it

Getting the sha1sum

First, we need the sha1sum of the image. has:

d2205ac3d09343339831fa5da8d8e0fabd78a6e9  trisquel-netinst_7.0_i686.iso

That checksum can be independently verified on different computers, and then written down.

On a given computer it can for instance be checked with:

$ wget
$ wget
$ gpg --verify sha1sum.txt.asc

Actually verifying the image on the target

In iPXE, setup the network:


Then download the image:

imgfetch -n trisquel

After the (long) download time, we can finally check the checksum with:

sha1sum trisquel

Then we need to boot that image. (TODO)

image download and verification


Grub supports checking signatures, but to prevent TOCTOU attacks, it must be made mandatory.

Other possible payloads:

The following payload may be able to fit but were not checked. - Tinaocore: Since UEFI has signature checking, it might be

 possible to make Tianocore load a signed installer or use
 a signed bootloader to check hashes.
 Having a self-contained installer image can prevent many of
 the shortcomings of the checksum verification mentioned
 at the beginning.

- Depthcharge could potentially be used for general purpose

 OS recovery or installation since it supports signature