Home Business IT Open Source Linux Foundation offers workaround for secure boot

Fifteen days from today, Windows 8 will go on sale; only hardware that is certified to work with this system will be able to boot it, with signed keys being used to determine whether a genuine system is being booted.

This will put those who boot other operating systems at a disadvantage. Given this, the Linux Foundation has come up with a means of bypassing secure boot to enable users of open source operating systems to continue to boot on hardware certified for Windows 8.

Essentially this is being done because while it is going to be possible to turn off secure boot on x86 hardware, until now there has been no indication of how this can be done.

It may well differ from one hardware vendor to another and is very likely to be offered from within Windows 8 itself. With the present BIOS, one can hit a key during booting and gain access to the BIOS interface to change options; with UEFI the boot process will not halt long enough to permit accessing the UEFI interface.

But only technically-competent users indulge in activities like accessing the BIOS interface.

As detailed by the chair of the LF technical advisory board, James Bottomley, the foundation will obtain a key from Microsoft and sign a small pre-bootloader. This will chain load a pre-designated bootloader without any check for a signature and in turn will allow the booting of any operating system.

Once the pre-bootloader does its work, it will wait for a prompt for a user before continuing; this means that a user has to be present and removes the fear that it can be used to carry any malware to target a secure operating system.

Bottomley said in his post that while obtaining the Microsoft key would take some time, once this was done the Linux Foundation would place the pre-bootloader on its website to be used by anybody.

The three big companies that market Linux - Red Hat, SUSE and Canonical - have announced their own ways of allowing their distributions to boot on Windows 8-certified hardware.

Bottomley's note said the foundation's effort was geared towards giving the smaller distributions a way of continuing to boot on new hardware until they devised a plan of their own.


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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.