Friday, 14 September 2012 18:25

openSUSE to support secure boot in next release

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The latest release of openSUSE, 12.2, which became available last week, does not have support for secure boot, Vojtech Pavlik, director of SUSE Labs and head of kernel development at SUSE, told iTWire today.

However, it does have support for the Unified Extensible Firmware Interface, or UEFI, he added.

Secure boot is one feature of UEFI that Microsoft has chosen to implement for Windows 8 which is being released on October 26. This will mean that cryptographic keys are used to recognise the authenticity of the system that attempts to boot up.

Microsoft's move has forced GNU/Linux distributions to devise means whereby PCs certified for Windows 8 can also boot Linux. Thus far, Red Hat, Canonical and SUSE have announced methods for getting Linux to boot on such hardware.

Pavlik, who has been a central figure in devising the method by which SUSE will support secure boot, said that along with secure boot, fast boot would also be enabled on Windows 8 systems. Hence entering the UEFI interface by pressing a key - as one enters the BIOS - would not be possible as the keyboard would not be initialised.

The way to turn off secure boot would be by hitting the Shift key while the system was being shut down; one would then be presented with an option to enter the UEFI interface on the next boot. Secure boot could then be turned off, but fast boot would remain enabled.

Pavlik said that while Red Hat had now decided to implement part of the same method as SUSE, Canonical had not indicated that it would make any changes from what it has already announced.

SUSE's method starts with a shim, that is signed either by a SUSE key-exchange-key or a Microsoft key. This then loads the GRUB2 bootloader, after ascertaining that it can be trusted.

The shim will also allow the loading of keys that are specific to the machine in question, keys which can override the default SUSE key.

Once GRUB2 is loaded, it will communicate with the shim in order to verify the kernel that it is booting. The shim will check with the machine-specific keys and authorise the kernel being loaded.

Pavlik said secure boot would be supported in the next release of openSUSE whenever that took place. He was unwilling to commit on whether support would be enabled in SLES via a service pack.

Asked whether the decision to adopt secure boot was technical or political, Pavlik said he believed Microsoft when it said that preventing boot malware was the rationale behind the change.

However, he added, since Microsoft controlled the UEFI certificate authority, a side-effect was that this enabled the company to "own" the PC platform. "Like Google controls Android," he added.

He said that while he had seen some hardware that was Windows 8-certified, there would be differences in the UEFI implementation from vendor to vendor.

Pavlik credited the Linux Foundation with getting some of the initial specifications of the Windows 8 certification process changed.

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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