[personal profile] mjg59
(Edit: It's been suggested that the title of this could give the wrong impression. "Don't like Secure Boot? That's not a reason to buy a Chromebook" may have been better)

People are, unsurprisingly, upset that Microsoft have imposed UEFI Secure Boot on the x86 market. A situation in which one company gets to determine which software will boot on systems by default is obviously open to abuse. What's more surprising is that many of the people who are upset about this are completely fine with encouraging people to buy Chromebooks.

Out of the box, Chromebooks are even more locked down than Windows 8 machines. The Chromebook firmware validates the kernel, and the kernel verifies the filesystem. Want to run a version of Chrome you've built yourself? Denied. Thankfully, Google have provided a way around this - you can (depending on the machine) either flip a physical switch or perform a special keystroke in the firmware to disable the validation. Doing so deletes all your data in the process, in order to avoid the situation where a physically present attacker wants to steal your data or backdoor your system unnoticed, but after that it'll boot any OS you want. The downside is that you've lost the security that you previously had. If a remote attacker manages to replace your kernel with a backdoored one, the firmware will boot it anyway. Want the same level of security as the stock firmware? You can't. There's no way for you to install your own signing keys, and Google won't sign third party binaries. Chromebooks are either secure and running Google's software, or insecure and running your software.

Much like Chromebooks, Windows 8 certified systems are required to permit the user to disable Secure Boot. In contrast to Chromebooks, Windows 8 certified systems are required to permit the user to install their own keys. And, unlike Google, Microsoft will sign alternative operating systems. Windows 8 certified systems provide greater user freedom than Chromebooks.

Some people don't like Secure Boot because they don't trust Microsoft. If you trust Google more, then a Chromebook is a reasonable choice. But some people don't like Secure Boot because they see it as an attack on user freedom, and those people should be willing to criticise Google's stance. Unlike Microsoft, Chromebooks force the user to choose between security and freedom. Nobody should be forced to make that choice.

(Updated to add that some Chromebooks have a software interface for disabling validation)

Re: Red herring?

Date: 2013-02-05 07:54 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Call me naïve, but I'm far more inclined to trust what Matthew writes about verified booting than anything you come up with, regardless of whether or not he has a device in his physical possession.

Re: Red herring?

Date: 2013-02-05 11:54 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
The issue of whom you trust is not at issue here.

Re: Red herring?

Date: 2013-02-05 06:53 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
The issue of whom you trust is the central one in ALL security settings.

Re: Red herring?

Date: 2013-03-25 01:26 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ryanb.pip.verisignlabs.com
I think it is a simple question that warrants a simple answer.

If Matthew answered yes, then I'm more inclined to take his opinion at face value. If he said no, what he has written may be factually accurate, but it might suggest that it was written with a bias.

I have a Chromebook and I see nothing wrong with the facts in this post. But I must admit, Matthew's credibility is tarnished because he wouldn't say if he was using a Chromebook or not. It doesn't change the facts, but it makes me question the intent.

Simply answering no would have disarmed this argument for me, but now it comes across as deceptive by dodging the question.


Matthew Garrett

About Matthew

Power management, mobile and firmware developer on Linux. Security developer at Google. Ex-biologist. @mjg59 on Twitter. Content here should not be interpreted as the opinion of my employer.

Page Summary

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags