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Trenchboot as Anti Evil Maid

This is out of date and left here as a reference. Please use the current version of the plan for up-to-date information


The firmware is the heart of the security of a given system and should always be up-to-date to maintain the computer's security. However, being up to date does not prevent the firmware vulnerabilities from appearing. The Static Root of Trust (SRT) like Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) Secure Boot and measured boot provided by the firmware is not always sufficient to establish a secure environment for an operating system. If the firmware is compromised, it could inject malicious software into operating system components and prevent the machine owner from detecting it. Silicon vendors implement alternative technologies to establish a Dynamic Root of Trust (DRT) to provide a secure environment for operating system launch and integrity measurements. Either from SRT or DRT, these integrity measurements can be used for operating system attestation. However, DRT technologies are designed to provide the ability to establish a secure environment for integrity measurements at any arbitrary point of time instead of relying on the firmware, which requires machine reset to establish the aforementioned secure environment.

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. DRTM hasn't found its place in open-source projects 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). Because of that, the usage of this security software is effectively limited 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. Lack of UEFI mode support. All modern systems boot in UEFI mode only. Legacy boot modes are being deprecated and dropped from the PC firmware. The AEM usage is not possible on most if not all modern machines.
  3. Qubes OS AEM has never supported AMD processors with AMD Secure Startup technology. Implementing AMD support would make a significant impact and broaden the usage of DRTM technologies.

The initial AEM implementation relied on the Trusted Boot, Intel's reference implementation of Intel TXT. It never had 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 since 2016. We are well-known in the open-source community for maintaining the firmware of the PC Engines APU series platform since 2016. 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:

A similar approach was already tried by Assured Information Security (AIS) to boot Xen in UEFI mode with Intel TXT DRTM technology. However, this is only a tiny portion of the work covered by our proposal. Additionally, Qubes OS does not launch using Xen.efi like in the AIS work but uses Multiboot2 protocol with GRUB2 instead, making this approach unusable. Moreover, the Xen.efi approach is much more complex and assumes usage of Trusted Boot, limiting the feature to Intel hardware only.

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 make Xen possible to boot in UEFI boot mode without Boot Services defined in UEFI specification. Boot Services are a set of functions exposed in UEFI structures that are used to help with handling the boot process. However, the main principle of DRTM technologies is to not depend on any external code that is not a part of the operating system software to be executed after DRTM. UEFI Boot Services are a part of the firmware of which DRTM tries to be independent. The whole security concept of DRTM depends on cutting the ties with firmware. Thus the work includes implementing the capability in Xen not to use the UEFI Boot Services, which GRUB2 would terminate before DRTM is executed. Xen also contains an option not to use the UEFI Runtime Services. Runtime Services is a set of functions available throughout the whole machine lifetime, which means some firmware functionalities are available even when the operating system is launched.

Removing the Boot Services from Xen brings certain drawbacks to the system because the Boot Services hold essential information like memory map, TPM event log, graphics framebuffer, etc. This information must be extracted by GRUB before Boot Services are terminated and passed to the Xen. The proposed solution is to pass this information via the Multiboot2 tags defined in the specification for this particular Boot Services information.

Another challenge would be to get the work merged in the upstream repositories. It would ensure the long-term support and maintenance of the solution and availability. Providing software packages to be used out of the box is crucial for technology availability.

Requested support

  1. Phase 1: TrenchBoot Intel TXT and TPM 1.2 support

    • Add TPM 1.2 support for Intel TXT in TrenchBoot GRUB2

      The TrenchBoot support hasn't been implemented and verified with TPM 1.2 on Intel TXT path. This requirement ensures that the TPM 1.2 is also supported for older Intel hardware with Intel TXT.

    • Xen Secure Launch - Intel TXT support in Xen for TrenchBoot

      Due to the requirements of Intel TXT and how it is utilized, it is impossible to use the Xen boot protocols defined in the UEFI or Multiboot2 specifications. This task aims to create a custom Intel TXT entry point for Xen, which would hand off to the standard Multiboot2 entry point and enable the direct launch of Xen by GRUB via DRTM on Intel hardware. Additionally, there is no support for launching Xen with Intel TXT other than Trusted Boot. It has to be ported from Trusted Boot specific code:

      • constructing MLE header
      • waking up APs
      • restoring MTRRs
      • reserving the TXT memory
      • reenabling SMIs
      • handling TXT shutdown and S3 resume/suspend
      • TPM event log finding
    • Test the solution on Intel hardware with TPM 1.2 with legacy boot mode

  2. Phase 2 - Qubes OS AEM TPM 2.0 support:

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

      As TPM 1.2 and TPM 2.0 use different software stacks and tools, it is necessary to distinguish the TPM module family and use the appropriate software. The task will implement the logic to distinguish the TPM families.

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

      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 the 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.

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

  3. Phase 3 - Qubes OS AEM AMD support:

    • Rebase and refresh TrenchBoot GRUB2 for QubesOS

      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 refresh the work and align with the upstream Qubes OS GRUB2 repository

    • Clean up 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 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, and this protection must be disabled on each node when TrenchBoot DRTM tasks are done. The task implements the correct support for server CPUs in TrenchBoot SKL.

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

  4. Phase 4 - Xen UEFI boot mode with DRTM:

    • TrenchBoot support for UEFI boot mode for AMD in GRUB

      While TrenchBoot DRTM was extensively tested on Intel hardware with UEFI firmware and Linux, it was not on AMD platforms. This task ensures that DRTM works with UEFI boot mode on AMD processors in GRUB2 and Linux without UEFI Boot Services.

    • TrenchBoot support for UEFI boot mode in Xen

      When UEFI boot mode with TrenchBoot is working with GRUB2 and Linux, all that is missing to fully support AMD and Intel hardware with Qubes OS AEM is the Xen support to boot in UEFI mode without Boot Services. This requires a significant amount of work to ensure that all information that Xen would obtain from UEFI Boot Services would still be available. The information has to be passed by GRUB2 to Xen via Multiboot2 protocol:

      • EFI memory map
      • Framebuffer information
      • PCI devices information with their option ROMs

      Additionally "EFI boot services not terminated" Multiboot2 tag must not be passed to Xen by GRUB2 on DRTM launch when GRUB2 will terminate Boot Services. Xen should detect such situations and act according to the state of Boot Services. Xen will be implemented to:

      • parse the EFI memory map, framebuffer information, and PCI devices information passed by GRUB2
      • do not expose the "EFI boot services" Multiboot2 tag indicating that Xen can be executed without UEFI Boot Services presence
      • allocate the memory space for the trampoline used to launch other processors or use the allocation done by GRUB2 if necessary
      • do not go error path when Boot Services are not present and skip all calls to UEFI Boot Services by using the information provided by GRUB2
    • Test the solution on AMD and Intel hardware with TPM 2.0 and TPM 1.2 with legacy and UEFI 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 the 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