I started working for 9elements in October 2020 and my first assignment was to get Intel CBnT working on the OCP Deltalake using coreboot firmware. Intel Converged Bootguard and TXT is a hardware assisted method to set up a root of trust. In this blog post I will discuss some of the changes needed in coreboot to get this working. Setting CBnT up properly was definitely a challenge, but the work did not stop there. So while Intel CBnT provides a method to verify or measure the initial start-up code, it is not enough. You want to trust the code you run from start, the reset vector, to end, typically a bootloader. CBnT only takes care of the start. You have to make sure that each software component trusts the assets it uses and the next program it loads. This concept is called a chain of trust. Now in 2021 I have an assignment that involves supporting the older Intel Bootguard technology. Since Bootguard is very similar to CBnT, I'll also touch on that.

Intel Converged Bootguard and TXT: a root of trust

Intel CBnT merges the functionality provided by TXT and BtG in one Authenticated Code Module (ACM). This is a code module signed by Intel that runs on the main CPU before the traditional x86 reset vector is run at address 0xFFFFFFF0. The job of this ACM is to measure and/or verify the main firmware, depending on the 'profile' that has been set up in the Intel Management Engine (ME). The profile determines what happens in case of a measurement of verification error. Strong policies entirely halt the system in case of failure, while other ones just report errors but still continue booting. The latter is often desirable for servers in a hyperscaler setup such that the system admin can still run diagnostics on the system.

A few different components are needed in a working CBnT setup. The ACM was already mentioned. The ACM is found by the hardware by a pointer in the Intel Firmware Interface Table (FIT), which itself is found via a pointer at the fixed location 0xFFFFFFC0. Other necessary components are the Key Manifest (KM) and Boot Policy Manifest (BPM), which are also found in the FIT. The chain of trust is started in the following way: the Intel ME has a fuse which holds the hash of the public key of the KM. This can either be set up with 'fake-fusing' for testing CBnT where the hash can still be changed afterwards. On production systems the hash will be permanently fused. The ACM compares that fused hash to the public key that is inside the KM, which is signed with the KM private key. The KM itself holds a hash of the BPM public key which is compared to the public key stored in the BPM. The BPM is signed with the BPM private key. The role of the BPM is to define what segments of the firmware are Initial Bootblock (IBB). The BPM contains a digest of the IBBs and as such establishes a root of trust if the digest in the BPM matches what is on the flash. More in depth info on this in intel boot guard. This is what Bootguard also did. What CBnT offers on top is the TXT functionality. The IBBs are measured into PCR0 of the TPM. Other TXT functionality like clearing memory or locking down the platform before setting up DRTM with the SINIT ACM is also provided by the CBnT ACM. See the TCG DRTM for more info on this. Merging the TXT functionality makes CBnT ACMs much bigger than BtG ACMs (256K vs 32K depending on the platform).

This KM and BPM separation has in mind that there is one hardware owner, but multiple OEMs. The hardware then always gets fused with the key of the owner. Each OEM might want to roll their own firmware and has it's own BPM key. The owner then creates a KM with the OEMs BPM key hash inside it. The OEM can then generate their own BPM that matches the firmware they intend to use. KM and BPM also provide security version numbers that can be enforced. So the same hardware can have different OEMs during its lifetime. The previous OEM won't be able to generate a working CBnT image for the new OEM.

The strength of a CBnT setup and the trustworthiness it provides lies in the following things:

  • the signature verification of the ACM done by the ME/Microcode (Intel)
  • ACM signing key remaining private (Intel)
  • the verification done by the ACM, which is a closed binary (it's 256K so not so
  • KM keys remaining private (Manufacturer)
  • OEM keys remaining private (OEM), KM security version number can be updated to
    make OEM keys obsolete though
  • The IBB needs continue the chain of trust which is what the next section will be about

Chain of trust

Coreboot essentially supports 2 different methods for setting up a chain of trust. You have measured boot and verified boot. Verified boot is conceptually easier grasp. Each software component that is run after the bootblock is signed with a private key. The trusted bootblock has the corresponding public key and uses that to verify the integrity of the next program. If the signature does not match the binary then the firmware can report an error to let the user know that their system cannot be trusted or the boot process can even be fully halted if that is desired.

Securing your firmware using measured boot works a bit differently and involves a TPM. The idea with measured boot is that before a component is used, it is digested and the hash is stored in the extend-only PCR registers of the TPM. When the boot process is done, the user reads out the TPM and if the PCRs don't match with what you expect, you know that the firmware has been tampered with. A common use case is where the TPM can be read out remotely independent from the host. If the TPM PCR values don't match, that system won't be allowed access to the main network. The admin can then take a look at that system, fix potential issues and allow that system back online after those have been resolved.

Historically Google first added verified boot to coreboot with their VBOOT implementation. Measured boot was later added as an optional feature to VBOOT. Now measured boot can be used independently from Google's VBOOT. Google's VBOOT was built with ChromeOS devices in mind. Those devices use very varying hardware: different SOCs from Intel, AMD and many ARM SOC vendors. To support all those different SOCs Google uses a common flash based root of trust. The root of trust lies in a read only region of the flash which is a feature of some SPI flash which is kept in place by holding the /WP pin low. The verification mechanism resides in the read only region and verifies the firmware in FW_MAIN_A/B FMAP partitions. The RO region of the flash does hold a full firmware for recovery. This copy of the firmware is also considered trusted. Such a VBOOT setup does not work that well with a root of trust method like CBnT/Bootguard. With Bootguard some initial parts of the firmware are marked as IBB and the ACM will verify those. It's up to the firmware and assets in those IBB to continue the chain of trust and verify the next components that will be loaded. A fully trusted recovery image in 'RO' region would need to be marked as IBB. CBnT/Bootguard were however not designed for that, as the IBBs are then too big. Only code that is required to set up a chain of trust ought to be marked as IBB, not a full firmware in 'RO' region. In more practical terms, if the bootblock is marked as IBB with Bootguard, the romstage that comes after it cannot be a romstage in the in 'RO' FMAP region as there is no verification on it. VBOOT needs to be modified to only load things from FW_MAIN_A/B. Just not populating the RO FMAP with a romstage is not sufficient. An attacker could just take a working Bootguard image and manually add a romstage in the RO cbfs. The solution is to disable the option for a full recovery bootpath in VBOOT.

A note about the future: some work is being done to have per cbfs file verification. This would fit the Bootguard use case much better as it removes the need to be careful about what cannot be in the VBOOT RO region.

​Another difficulty lies in what to mark as IBB. An obvious one is the bootblock as that code gets executed 'first' (well after the ACM has run). But the bootblock accesses other assets, typically quite early in the bootflow. The CPU starts in a bare state: there is no RAM! A solution is to use CPU cache as RAM. This setup is rather tricky and the details are not always public. So sometimes you are obliged to use Intel's FSP-T to set up an environment in which you can execute C code. Calling FSP-T therefore happens in assembly and for this reason verification on the FSP-T binary cannot happen this early. Even finding FSP-T causes problems! FSP-T is a cbfs file and to find cbfs files you have to walk from bottom to top until you find the proper file. This is prone to attacks: someone can modify the image/cbfs such that other non trusted code gets run instead. The solution is to place FSP-T at an address you know at buildtime which the bootblock code jumps to. FSP-T also needs trusted so it has to be marked as IBB and verified by the ACM.

Ok, now we are in a C environment but we’re are not there yet. We need to set things up such that we can verify the next parts of the boot process. For that we need the public key which lies in the "GBB" fmap partition. FMAP partitions are found via the "FMAP" fmap partition whose location is known at buildtime. So again both "FMAP" "GBB" need to be marked as IBB, to be verified by the ACM.

With VBOOT there is the option to do the verification in a separate stage, verstage. Same problem here too: it's a cbfs file which can only be found at runtime. Here the solution is to link most of the verstage code inside the bootblock. As it turns out this is even a good idea for most x86 platforms using a Google VBOOT setup. You have one stage less so less code duplication. It saves some space and is likely a tiny bit faster as less flash needs to be accessed which is a slow operation.

Other things are done in the bootblock like setting up a console. The verbosity of the console is sometimes fetched with board specific methods relying other parts of the flash. So again this needs to be fetched at a location known at buildtime and marked as an IBB or simply avoided or done later in the bootprocess.

So the conclusion is that all assets that are used before the chain of trust setup code is run (VBOOT setup or measured boot TPM setup) need to be referenced statically, searching for them cannot be done and they need to marked as IBB with Bootguard.

Converged security suite

CSS is an open source project maintained by 9elements. It is written in go, which makes it quite portable. It's a set of tools and libraries related to firmware and firmware security. One such tool is cbnt-prov. It is integrated in the coreboot buildsystem and can properly set things up for Intel CBnT, by generating a KM and BPM. It parses a coreboot image and detects what segments need to be marked as IBB automatically. It is however not just a coreboot specific tool to glue things together for CBnT. It supports dumping information on the CBnT setup for generic UEFI images too. It can take an existing setup, turn it into a configuration file, which can be reused later on, for instance if you want to deploy the same firmware but with different keys. One last important feature is to be able to do validation on an existing image.

We are working hard on an equivalent tool for bootguard that will be called bg-prov. We hope to get this ready for production soon.

​This is a big step forward in the usability of coreboot as previously you were bound to proprietary tools provided by Intel that were only accessible under NDA and has usability issues as they are Microsoft Windows executables. Coreboot is the best open source X86 firmware at this day and having fully free and open source software to cover the common use case of Intel Bootguard and CBnT makes coreboot a more attractive firmware solution. We hope that this improves its market adoption!