Regular Micro Mart readers may have come across coverage of Secure Boot on the PC from time-to-time – but not often in a desperately positive way. Hailed as a way to make PCs more secure (by making it more difficult from malware to recode its BIOS) this Trojan stallion of the software world actually seemed to be more about empowering hardware makers with a way to ensure consumers could only run the OS originally supplied with a system. Microsoft’s sticky paws were all over the code signing system for Secure Boot, so it wasn’t a huge surprise that one of its primary objectives appeared to be stopping users leaving the Windows camp. From Windows 8 onwards, PC makers could only supply the OS on systems where Secure Boot was active – even though most provide their BIOS with a legacy mode. However, what it then wanted to do with Windows 10 was to banish the legacy modes, forcing a PC to only have the lifespan of the OS you bought it with, conveniently. That plan has taken a major kicking recently, but not because of the many objections that various parties have to Secure Boot. Instead, the steel toe-cap has been swung by the leaking of a ‘golden key’ by someone at Microsoft, which has utterly borked the whole system. You see, when Microsoft designed a backdoor into its supposedly impenetrable code fortress, it did so with the idea that only its staff could alter it. However, now the key the staff use to make changes is out in the wild, anyone with it can install anything on a PC’s firmware – even with Secure Boot enabled – because they will get to sign their own security keys. That Microsoft would do something so monumentally dumb isn’t, at least for this writer, that much of a surprise that it’s worthy of writing a whole Logging Off about. What’s really important here is moral this sorry tale can teach those in the security sector who have been peddling the idea that encryption should have backdoors for those wearing the white cowboy hats. It’s a monumentally stupid notion that would inevitably end up making security protection totally worthless. Anyone wandering around a medieval fortress that’s remotely intact soon realises that castles, as a general rule, don’t have backdoors. They don’t have them because those who built them realised that, as secret as they might be, when a castle is besieged
someone will reveal it to save their life – or those that they care for. If a castle does have a secret exit, it’s usually one that couldn’t be practically used to storm it, because it exits underwater, or is remarkably narrow and easily defended.
It’s in this practical thinking where Secure Boot entirely failed: having created a backdoor to its fortress, Microsoft can’t simply change the key on all the computers that use it now it has been revealed – at least not without breaking all manner of other things in the process.
If there are people in the FBI, CIA or the US Congress who think placing backdoors into things that are supposedly secure is such a good idea, then they should research Secure Boot. While they’re admiring that mess, they also might want to peek at the major headache VW self-inflicted recently, when its global master code for electronically unlocking keys escaped into the wild, exposing 100 million cars to being stolen, or stolen from, at will.
As I’m sure those in the criminal fraternity might agree, backdoors are the gift that just keep on giving!