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Trenchboot as Anti Evil Maid


As Qubes OS users, promoters, and developers, we understand how essential it is to be aware of the latest developments in maintaining the security of your favorite operating system. We're excited to share our plans to integrate the TrenchBoot Project into Qubes OS's new Anti-Evil Maid (AEM) implementation. As you may know, traditional firmware security measures like UEFI Secure Boot and measured boot, even with a Static Root of Trust (SRT), may only sometimes be enough to ensure a completely secure environment for your operating system. Compromised firmware may allow for the injection of malicious software into your system, making it difficult to detect. To overcome these limitations, many silicon vendors have started implementing Dynamic Root of Trust (DRT) technologies to establish a secure environment for operating system launch and integrity measurements. We're excited to take advantage of these advancements through integration with the TrenchBoot Project.

The usage of DRT technologies like Intel Trusted Execution Technology (TXT) or AMD Secure Startup becomes more and more significant, for example, Dynamic Root of Trust for Measurement (DRTM) requirements of Microsoft Secured Core PCs. In open-source projects, DRTM hasn't found its place yet, but that gradually changes. The demand on having firmware independent Roots of Trust is increasing and projects that satisfy this demand are growing, for instance, TrenchBoot. TrenchBoot is a framework that allows individuals and projects to build security engines to perform launch integrity actions for their systems. The framework builds upon Boot Integrity Technologies (BITs) that establish one or more Roots of Trust (RoT) from which a degree of confidence that integrity actions were not subverted is derived. The project has grown a lot thanks to the previous NLnet NGI0 PET grant and now it looks for further expansion into extensive use of the DRT technologies in open-source and security-oriented operating systems like Qubes OS. Qubes OS Anti Evil Maid (AEM) software heavily depends on the availability of the DRTM technologies to prevent the Evil Maid attacks. However, the project hasn't evolved much since the beginning of 2018 and froze on the support of TPM 1.2 with Intel TXT in legacy boot mode (BIOS). This effectively limits the usage of this security software to older Intel machines only. TPM 1.2 implemented SHA1 hashing algorithm which is nowadays considered weak in the era of forever-increasing computer performance and quantum computing. The solution to this problem comes with a newer TPM 2.0 with more agile cryptographic algorithms and SHA256 implementation by default. Qubes OS AEM software suffers from the following:

  1. Lack of TPM 2.0 support to handle more secure hashes and safer design of the TPM firmware according to a newer specification.
  2. Qubes OS AEM has never supported any AMD processors with AMD Secure Startup technology. Implementing AMD support would make a huge impact and broaden the usage of DRTM technologies.

The initial AEM implementation relied on the Trusted Boot project, Intel's reference implementation of Intel TXT. It had never any plans to support AMD processors. TrenchBoot is filling this gap supporting both Intel and AMD hardware which makes it an ideal target to replace Trusted Boot in Qubes OS AEM implementation. Furthermore, the project grant would be used to implement the missing pieces in the Qubes OS AEM software to cover the AMD and Intel support for both TPM 1.2 and TPM 2.0.

Compare your own project with existing or historical efforts

3mdeb is a licensed provider for quality coreboot consulting services for 7 years. We are well-known in the open-source community for maintaining firmware of the PC Engines APU series platform for over 7-years. Delivering high-quality firmware releases each month and providing technical support on PC Engines and OPNSense forums. 3mdeb embedded systems developers are experienced engineers accustomed to operating systems development. Our developers have contributed to the fwupd support for Qubes OS. 3mdeb is also regularly co-organizing mini-conference events with Qubes OS maintainer Marek Marczykowski-Górecki where various topics related to Qubes OS security are discussed. Among them, the Anti Evil Maid was frequently presented by 3mdeb engineers:

3mdeb, with financial support from Qubes OS, developed a proof of concept replacing Trusted Boot with TrenchBoot on Intel hardware with TPM 1.2. Qubes OS and 3mdeb already tested a new solution with Qubes OS Anti Evil Maid, which is available for community use. The result of this solution can be seen in the published blog post that concludes the first phase of integrating TrenchBoot Anti Evil Maid for Qubes OS. The numbering of the next phases of the project will commence with number 2 in order to maintain consistency with the work already completed in phase 1. The following application describes the remaining work required to have production quality adoption in one of the most popular secure operating system on the market.

What are the significant technical challenges you expect to solve

First of all Qubes OS AEM software consists of software packages providing Trusted Boot and the Qubes OS TPM scripts. These software packages would need to replace the Trusted Boot with TrenchBoot supported GRUB2 and Xen.

Secondly, the TPM scripts require adding support for TPM 2.0 equivalent functionality. AEM requires access to non-volatile RAM inside TPM which is defined differently in the TPM 2.0 specification compared to TPM 1.2.

Another challenge would be to update the TrenchBoot components for AMD platforms to the recent boot protocol, which will allow AMD platforms to take advantage of the QubesOS AEM feature, and TrenchBoot.

Requested support

  1. Phase 2 - TPM 2.0 support in Qubes OS AEM (Intel hardware):

    • Implement support for TPM 2.0 module in Xen

      Required to measure Dom0 kernel and initial ram disk before they are executed.

    • Implement support for TPM 2.0 event log in Xen

      Required to log the Dom0 kernel and initial ram disk hashes to the TPM event log. The event log could be used for future system attestation.

    • Implement parallel CPU cores bring-up for DRTM launch

      Currently the CPU cores are being woken up in parallel, but later they are hacked to be waiting in a queue. If any interrupt would come at that time, it could be a serious danger. It has to be fixed as soon as possible, as required by Intel TXT specification.

    • Integrate TPM 2.0 software stack into Qubes OS Dom0

    • Extend the AEM scripts to detect TPM version on the platform

      While AEM fully supports TPM 1.2 there is no support for TPM 2.0 at all. When the TPM family is determined the script should use the appropriate software stack for given TPM. The task implements the AEM TPM 1.2 equivalent functionalities using TPM 2.0 software stack and as a result allowing the use of TPM 2.0 with Qubes OS AEM. It will require implementing the access to TPM 2.0 NVRAM, sealing and unsealing the secret data and generating TOTP.

    • Extend the AEM scripts to use appropriate software stack for TPM 2.0

      Currently, only TPM 1.2 is supported in Qubes OS AEM service code. The 3 items above will ensure the necessary software for TPM 2.0 is available and AEM scripts executed early from the initrd can detect which TPM family is present on the platform and use appropriate software stack and functions. TPM 1.2 and TPM 2.0 software stacks are not compatible so the scripts themselves must use proper API for given TPM and its respective software stack.

    • Update Qubes OS AEM documentation

    • Test the solution on Intel hardware with TPM 1.2 and 2.0 using legacy boot mode

  2. Phase 3 - Update to the newest TrenchBoot boot protocol:

    • Code rebase onto the most recent work implementing Secure Launch protocol being upstreamed to Linux and GRUB

      The current state of TrenchBoot support has diverged with what was developed for QubesOS AEM for Intel hardware with TPM 1.2. The task aims to update the work and align with the TrenchBoot boot protocol being upstreamed to GRUB and Linux kernel. Xen shall take similar approach as Linux kernel in terms of DRTM launch.

    • Test the solution on Intel hardware with TPM 1.2 and TPM 2.0 using legacy boot mode

  3. Phase 4 - AMD support for Qubes OS AEM with TrenchBoot:

    • Update the Secure Kernel Loader (formerly LandingZone) package support for QubesOS

      Since the initial work done by 3mdeb engineers for AMD AEM in Qubes OS a lot of time has passed and Secure Kernel Loader - SKL (formerly Landing Zone) has improved a lot and added new features. SKL is an open-source module written by TrenchBoot developers required by AMD Secure Startup technology to perform DRTM launch. The task aims to refresh the previous work and update the SKL package for Qubes OS to the newest revision.

    • TrenchBoot Secure Kernel Loader (SKL) improvements for AMD server CPUs with multiple nodes

      While SKL was extensively tested on System on Chip and single CPU platforms, it was not much tested on workstation/server segment CPUs which are more complex. For example one server CPU package may contain two independent CPUs inside called nodes. Each node will enable protection on the SKL during DRTM execution. This protection has to be disabled on each node when TrenchBoot DRTM tasks are done. The task implements the correct support for server CPUs in TrenchBoot SKL.

    • Update TrenchBoot boot protocol for AMD in GRUB2

      Some work to implement TrenchBoot support for Qubes OS on AMD hardware has been done. GRUB2 with TrenchBoot support has been added to Qubes building system on 3mdeb fork. The task aims to update the work and align with the TrenchBoot boot protocol being upstreamed to GRUB2 and Linux kernel.

    • Update TrenchBoot boot protocol for AMD in Secure Kernel Loader

      The task aims to update the TrenchBoot boot protocol for AMD platforms in Secure Kernel Loader and align with the TrenchBoot boot protocol being upstreamed to GRUB2 and Linux kernel.

    • Test the solution on AMD hardware with TPM 2.0 and TPM 1.2 with legacy boot mode

Projects or organizations relevant to this project before?

  1. Qubes OS
  2. Xen Hypervisor
  4. TrenchBoot
  5. Invisible Things Lab
  6. Apertus Solutions
  7. Oracle
  8. 3mdeb

The ecosystem of the project

3mdeb has a good relationship with the maintainers of relevant projects which will participate in review of the work:

  • Marek Marczykowski-Górecki (Invisible Things Lab CTO) - Qubes OS maintainer
  • Andrew Cooper (Citrix) - Xen Hypervisor Maintainer
  • Daniel Kiper (Oracle) - GRUB2 Maintainer
  • Daniel Smith (Apertus Solutions) - TrenchBoot founder and maintainer


Further reviews and suggestions are welcome. You can do it in two ways:

  • using Giscus on the bottom of this page
  • contributing to this repository directly via Pull Request