Security/From trustworthy flash to trustworthy OS

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The wiki is being retired!

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:

  • The 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_ATA is not set
# CONFIG_SDCARD is not set
# CONFIG_MEGASAS is not set
# CONFIG_FLOPPY is not set
# CONFIG_USB_MSC is not set
# CONFIG_USB_UAS 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

Using iso files is problematic for our use case:

  • iso can be booted with the [ sanboot command], but checksums cannot be checked in a way that prevent TOCTOU attacks.
  • iPXE supports images verification such as with imgverify, and that can be enforced, and so have the iso checked, but it requires the signature to be in DER format. GNU/Linux distributions tend not to produce signature in such format for the installers.

Getting the sha256sum

The patch for adding the sha256sum command has been sent to the iPXE mailing list.

We will use Debian in this example since it publishes kernel and initramfs images. jessie/main/installer-i386/current/images/SHA256SUMS has:

aed809c620d36967d16f248bb1b8ebe4208aa539064a180be0c5f8cfd82ef2e0  ./netboot/gtk/debian-installer/i386/initrd.gz
97729b2938f969431e1b5c24a3f2364a4d075279fafd0d7724e66e857d467257  ./netboot/gtk/debian-installer/i386/linux

Write down the checksums, and verify that it's the same on different computers, internet connections, mirror, etc.

Ideally such checksums should somehow be verified with gpg.

Actually verifying the image on the target

In iPXE, setup the network:


Then download the files:


After waiting for the files to download, we can finally check the checksum with:

sha256sum linux
sha256sum initrd.gz

Verify that the printed checksum corresponds to the checksum we wrote down earlier( aed809c620d36967d16f248bb1b8ebe4208aa539064a180be0c5f8cfd82ef2e0 and 97729b2938f969431e1b5c24a3f2364a4d075279fafd0d7724e66e857d467257 )

Booting the image

With the following:

kernel linux

the installer should boot.


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

We can use that to safely boot an installer:

  • We would put the distribution public signing key inside the trusted boot flash.
  • Then the user will enable enforcing signatures.
  • To boot an installer a user would simply need to add the kenrel, initramfs and respective signatures on a boot media that grub can read, load them, and boot.

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 checking.