Trusted Computing 2.0

September 20th, 2011 at 22:54 UTC by Ross Anderson

There seems to be an attempt to revive the “Trusted Computing” agenda. The vehicle this time is UEFI which sets the standards for the PC BIOS. Proposed changes to the UEFI firmware spec would enable (in fact require) next-generation PC firmware to only boot an image signed by a keychain rooted in keys built into the PC. I hear that Microsoft (and others) are pushing for this to be mandatory, so that it cannot be disabled by the user, and it would be required for OS badging. There are some technical details here and here, and comment here.

These issues last arose in 2003, when we fought back with the Trusted Computing FAQ and economic analysis. That initiative petered out after widespread opposition. This time round the effects could be even worse, as “unauthorised” operating systems like Linux and FreeBSD just won’t run at all. (On an old-fashioned Trusted Computing platform you could at least run Linux – it just couldn’t get at the keys for Windows Media Player.)

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. It is clearly unlawful and must not succeed.

Entry filed under: Hardware & signals, Legal issues, Security economics, Security engineering

29 comments Add your own

  • 1. Philip Evans  |  September 21st, 2011 at 11:42 UTC

    Agree. A subversive move by Microsoft there. A bit like the prizefighter who know’s he’s lost the fight but wants to land some low blows anyway.

    I’m consistently surprised and concerned at the company’s ability to bamboozle hardware manufacturers into this sort of arrangement. Having said that, if the smartphone and tablet (emerging) markets are anything to go by, I don’t see Microsoft enjoying the sort of clout it once had. I believe that PC manufacturers will embrace Linux owing to the (no) cost model and open standards.

    We will no doubt see….

  • 2. Linuxrich  |  September 21st, 2011 at 12:10 UTC

    I’ve emailed my MEP. This is a concern!

  • 3. JtZero  |  September 21st, 2011 at 13:26 UTC

    ok, wheres the sign up sheet to oppose msoft, Im ready just point me in the right direction, time to rally the troops!

  • 4. Pete Hickling  |  September 21st, 2011 at 17:53 UTC

    I can’t believe that, after all the anti-trust lawsuits in the States and with the EU, Microsoft still hasn’t learned its lesson. The move is clearly anti-competative and aimed very much at open source O/S’s.

    I hope that if this proceedes, any hardware vendor, rather than being fined the (relative) paltry sum that the EU competition commisioner imposed on Microsoft for it’s last anti-trust violation, is banned from selling it’s products within the EU economic area. The loss of such a significant market should make the box vendors sit up and take notice.

  • 5. Ross Anderson  |  September 21st, 2011 at 19:09 UTC

    The Register has coverage and comments.

  • 6. Anonymous  |  September 21st, 2011 at 21:12 UTC

    ARS Technica also has coverage, and, it has to be said, it is slightly less hysterical:

    http://arstechnica.com/business/news/2011/09/windows-8-secure-boot-will-complicate-linux-installs.ars

  • 7. Will Godfrey  |  September 21st, 2011 at 22:10 UTC

    I suspect the main motivation is actually from Microsoft’s ‘friends’ in Hollywood, however it is indeed disturbing.

    If this was purely about making your computer secure, then I would suggest the bios should contain a key generator, that was activated by a hardware switch or link.

    In key generation mode it would scrutinise whatever boot program was on the hard drive, store it internally and do absolutely nothing else. To then run the system the switch would have to be reset.

    If that area of the bios was also not flashable when in ‘run’ mode this should protect against any malware attempts.

    Too easy?

  • 8. David Magda  |  September 21st, 2011 at 23:38 UTC

    I’m reminded of this movie that was made the last time TC was a big thing:

    http://www.lafkon.net/tc/

  • 9. TGM  |  September 22nd, 2011 at 08:52 UTC

    So now they’re blocking the BIOS eh? Thank you for mentioning that this is anti-competitive, I’ve been looking for somewhere to vent about this! :) Also top notch LinuxRich for speaking to a MEP!

    Microsoft’s reasoning is down to BIOS malware. If Microsoft made a secure operating system it wouldn’t be able to flash BIOS malware! But of course, we’ve been left stewing in it for 16 years now and anything seems like an improvement, including taking our rights away. Microsoft do you think we’re stupid?!?

  • 10. GT  |  September 22nd, 2011 at 23:11 UTC

    Microsoft is flailing around trying to retain primacy – like a despot as the peasants storm the Summer Palace. As Cory Doctorow once said: “if your biznatch involves bits, you really are pushing poo up a mountain with your nose if you think that you can prevent unauthorised replication.” (OK, I’m paraphrasing – it’s what he OUGHT to have said fnord)

    The only people who will be affected by Microsoft’s attempt at control, are those who are too stupid to take evasive action; the sort of people who think it’s ginchy to have their real-time GPS co-ordinates mapped on Google Maps (so that a smart burglar will know where they live… and when they’re not home – why has TV not yet seized on this as the next great threat for “Dettol Moms” to fear?).

    My prediction is that the market will sort this out: just as IBM’s MCA went the way of the dodo in the home-PC market, this attempt to foist anti-slack onto the Masses will fail too – even as we exchange bits in this thread, a sullen socially-awkward 12 year old is learning about stuff, and in time he will be the guy who writes the hack that makes Microsoft’s attempt at owning your hardware moot. Fnord.

    Anonymous, LulzSec/AntiSec, Wikileaks, Ubuntu, /b/… inspired by “Bob”-like desire to end the eternal moonshine of the slackless mind; the intellectual heritors of Discordianism and SubGenius will simply found a new clench dedicated to undermining Microsoft’s techno-plutocratic tyrant-friendly IBM-style attempt to own hardware that people pay for.

  • 11. Harry Johnston  |  September 22nd, 2011 at 23:20 UTC

    Microsoft have denied that they intend to prevent users from disabling secure boot, although they will be requiring Windows 8 branded machines that ship with Windows to be configured with secure boot by default.

    http://blogs.msdn.com/b/b8/archive/2011/09/22/protecting-the-pre-os-environment-with-uefi.aspx

  • 12. Barney  |  September 23rd, 2011 at 01:33 UTC

    We know why Bill Gates wants to force us to use his inferior, spyware-infested product. It’s because of his suspiciously close ties to a corrupt and soon to be totalitarian government.

    Index.dat files record everything a Windoze user does, and they can’t easily be deleted or cleaned. That’s why the police confiscate (code for steal) people’s computers, even when they haven’t been proven to have done anything wrong.

    Every application records “history” by default. Yet another spy in the machine.

    Windoze has a feature called (I believe) “Remote Assistance”. For those who don’t know, this is a “Backdoor Trojan”, otherwise known as MALWARE (MALicious softWARE) that makes it possible to remotely operate the machine as if the “helper” (or attacker) were sitting at the keyboard.

    Usually the owner has to give permission before this can happen, but I’m sure there are ways of bypassing this requirement.

    Linux is secure and very nearly virus-proof.

    Windoze is SPYWARE. It could be made secure, and the fact that it becomes more vulnerable with each new release proves to my satisfaction that it’s designed to be vulnerable to viruses, hacking and every other kind of malware, plus of course, it reports back to government, either automatically or on demand. I don’t know which.

    I’m doing nothing wrong, but even if I was, I have a fundamental right to my privacy. That’s why I use Linux.

  • 13. Kurtuluş  |  September 23rd, 2011 at 07:50 UTC

    I wonder what will IBM do about it?

  • 14. Ross Anderson  |  September 23rd, 2011 at 08:06 UTC

    The Microsoft blog post makes clear that remote attestation is back, though without the DAA anonymity mechanism; so using an attestation will make that machine traceable. This promises to kick off another fight with the European privacy authorities. See for example the comments of the Article 29 working party last time round

  • 15. anon  |  September 24th, 2011 at 17:29 UTC

    UNLIKE the previous TC war, we are now in the WikiLeaks era.

    Once a UEFI world is common, TC will come again, piece by piece, in the irrevokable updates.

    Governments all over the world are seeing – and doubtless being lobbied to see – how a TC environment would have contained or helped mop up all those diplomatic cables. All that embarrassment. All those lies.

    The war is never won if it is forgotten. Eternal vigilance, friends, because our governments and Microsoft et al will be eternally tempted.

  • 16. pepe  |  September 25th, 2011 at 11:49 UTC

    People, please…the window of opportunity for MS to shut out alternative OSes is long over. Several of the largest IT multinationals use Linux in their server parks and clouds. Enforcing Windows is simply not practical. This hysteria on UEFI is just as far from what MS is actually trying to do as it was back when TC was introduced..

  • 17. Clive Robinson  |  September 27th, 2011 at 22:11 UTC

    First off can we be clear that mainline OS are not secure and unlikley to be so. This applies to *nix and NT*.

    There are much more secure OS’s but few people would wish to run one on usability issues and the price of such systems is eye watering (yup no shrink wrap, they high end ones used to get delivered to your door by armed courier).

    Oh and such secure systems generaly cannot be networked together due to some quite serious issues with the design models they work on.

    As we know from the past MS has tried to make a secure “revenue protection commodity system (X-Box) and it got cracked and so have a number of other games box manufactures and they have all failed.

    I’ve yet to see sufficiently detailed information on UEFI but I would be reasonably confident in predicting that it will fail due to “plug-in-hardware” issues or DMA issues (via say FireWire).

    The whole point behind the initiative is not “lock in by MS” (although they will grab at it if they can) but DRM. Not just from the entertainments industry or even software vendors, but to deal with less tangable IP such as sales DB’s and a whole host of other (non retail) IP and I’m fairly certain you will start hearing UEFI and APT mentioned together in the near future.

    And the stupid thing is it won’t be secure, the likes of China (who will make many of the chips etc) will demand “the keys to the Kingdom” as a mater of “doing business”. We have seen this with the likes of Microsoft and Google and a whole host of other companies.

    Even if such companies stand firm (and they won’t) some one will work out how to steal the keys (think what happened with Stuxnet) or get exploitable code in up stream of the signing process. Or simply find bugs in the protocol (which they will) or find some other way (I/O, DMA, etc) to do an end run around it.

    UEFI like TC before it and the “Fritz Chip” prior to that are pretending to be solutions to a problem that cannot be solved with an “off line”* computing model, and in all reality most “on line”* computing models.

    The fact that it will fail at the end of the day is possibly a mute point because other legislation will be used to ensure that any work around will be illegal. And it’s not just the DMCA there is other legislation that makes breaking the “terms of service” a crime as atleast on Facebook user found out (they used a false name).

    So this needs to be nipped in the bud at the earliest possible moment.

    [* - by "on line" and "off line" I am not using the terms in the sense many people will think, with DRM the likes of DVD's and nearly all other "over the counter media" are "off line" systems that work "stand alone". Pulling a file from a file server encrypted with a (sufficiently) random key unique to each access is an "on line" model as the server is required to get the file and the key. Look at it in the old way of ATM's dishing out cash in "on line" and "off line" modes in "off line" mode you could clone a couple of hundred cards and hand them out to be used at the same time and a couple of hundred withdrawals would be granted, it just won't work in an on line system]

  • 18. guerilla ontologist  |  September 28th, 2011 at 13:10 UTC

    “The extension of Microsoft’s OS monopoly to hardware would be a disaster” Perhaps you could specify if that logic” applies to everyone else listed here: http://www.uefi.org/join/list. Apple perhaps, who seem to of done quite well given they already hold the monopoly on closed a hardware platform.

    I was under the impression that “scientist” understood the difference between reasoned, factual argument and opinion.

    Mr Anderson, I really wish you’d stop undermining your own credibility, and therefore the validity of much of your work, with this Daily Mail style clap trap.

    Mr Robinson appears to of hooked into the bigger picture here. The rest of you are still in the playground with your “my *nix dick is bigger than your *MS dick” bullshit. It’s quite pathetic coming from “adults”.

  • 19. Joseph G. Mitzen  |  September 29th, 2011 at 17:57 UTC

    This has nothing to do with Linux; Ballmer doesn’t lay awake at night worrying about desktop Linux. Linux is just collateral damage. The target here is existing Windows users.

    Given all of the major UI changes in Windows 8, it’s quite possible it will become another WIndows Vista. This requirement prevents Windows 7 from becoming another XP. There’ll be no ten-year holdouts anymore; when users buy a new motherboard they’d be required to install Windows 8 because Windows 7 isn’t signed and wouldn’t be able to run on the new hardware. The security is the public rationale, forced upgrades is the secondary (primary?) private rationale. I can’t see Microsoft having given any thought at all to Linux.

  • 20. anon  |  October 3rd, 2011 at 18:26 UTC

    @guerilla ontologist

    You are the one undermining your credibility if you have any to begin with,

    The issue is not UEFI per se, but the way it is going to be implenented. If the key is signed by the user, as it should be, instead of being dictated by the OEM and M$, then we won’t be having this discussion.

    The implementation is the problem because it takes the power to run whatever OS or hardware periphery away from the users and place it in the hands of MS and the OEMs and the victims are not only Linux users, but WIndows users as well.

    Let’s face it, most viral attacks happen not during booting, but after you have booted into Windows. What if you have a viral attack so severely that you need to reinstall your OS? What if you need to trouble shoot by booting a rescue CD? What if you want to swap out a hard drive? What if you want to install WIn7 after trying out the new metro UI and decide that it is not your cup of tea? What happens when Win8 is no longer support (a few years from now) and you want to upgrade to Win9? Do you buy a new machine even though your old one is still in working order?

    The bottomline is this is a massive move of locking down hardware that you own, whether you run Linux or not, but of cause the MS zombies cannot see that because of their irrational hatred of Linux.

  • 21. Nick P  |  October 6th, 2011 at 21:05 UTC

    I agree with Clive that this is about IP protection (see Palladium) as well as lock-in and needs to be ended quickly. I’m not so sure IBM and others will be of great assistance because they promote their own hardware which will allow their software to run. They might even find opportunity to promote it further by mentioning all of the software “choices” available compared to “locked-down” UEFI machines. Additionally, many vendors might differentiate themselves by offering boards without the lock-down. So, the proposal might not be as dire as it seems, but it’s bad & must be stopped.

  • 22. James  |  October 9th, 2011 at 08:17 UTC

    Why don’t we just put the boot loader and/or operating system on read-only media and boot from there? I don’t think this is about security, its about vendor lock-in.

  • 23. Søren  |  October 19th, 2011 at 09:08 UTC

    Ed Bott has a pretty good write up about why your claims are completely bogus

    http://www.zdnet.com/blog/bott/why-do-linux-fanatics-want-to-make-windows-8-less-secure/4100

  • 24. Jack  |  October 19th, 2011 at 11:29 UTC

    This blog is stupid. It is not that, MS is completely going UEFI. They still support BIOS. The ball is in OEM’s court. If they wish not to support other OS boot ups by not providing settings to disable secure boot then boycot those OEMs. The Samsung tablet MS gave away in the recent Build conference has the setting to disable secure boot. I think your article is just a FUD and it is just attention seeking gimmick.

  • 25. GM  |  October 21st, 2011 at 08:29 UTC

    Sorry but i completely agree with both S0ren and Jack.
    Your just putting Fear into people who are not actually looking at what is being proposed, win8 is not even in beta yet, so calm down.. as Jack said its in the hands of the OEM’s NOT Microsoft.

    provided the OEMS allow the Secure boot to be turned off it wont effect anyone who has a small bit of technical knowledge.

    even if OEM’s do remove the switch, id give it maybe a week before someone hacks the firmware anyway and enables it again..

  • 26. Andrew Lindley  |  October 24th, 2011 at 20:21 UTC

    wrt to your assertion that it is ‘clearly unlawful.’ Am I right in thinking this is because EU case law _still_ treats market dominator arguments of ‘it’s only a de facto standard’ and ‘yeah, we did something, but it was market forces’ as so much “Commercial Bullshytt” (q.v. Anathem)? That used to be Eu competition law 101 week 1, but I am well out of touch.

  • 27. Freddie Foobar  |  November 2nd, 2011 at 11:50 UTC

    “I hear that Microsoft (and others) are pushing for this to be mandatory, so that it cannot be disabled by the user”

    I hear that Ross Anderson raped and murdered a young girl in 1990.

    Aren’t unsourced rumours (and Chinese whispers don’t count as sources) a fun game! Anyone can play! Whee!

    Looks like my alma mater’s stardards have dropped significantly if this is an acceptable level of citation nowadays – it certainly wouldn’t have flown (for natscis at least, can’t comment on what compscis got up to) twenty years ago.

  • 28. Dave  |  November 3rd, 2011 at 22:25 UTC

    Freddie,

    What the fuck is wrong with you? The rumours are not “unsourced” – they come from Ross Anderson. And while I would never have been insane enough to work in IT for a living, I did do comp sci at (y)our alma mater and Prof Anderson was the only guy at the front who bollocked me at a lecture (I was being a bit of a disrespectful cunt, although I hadn’t the maturity to recognise it at the time)

    If he says he’s heard it, I believe him.

  • 29. Arcosanti  |  July 9th, 2012 at 01:02 UTC

    “I hear that Ross Anderson raped and murdered a young girl in 1990. ”

    Sounds more like something you would do, Freddie.

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