OSLO: Improving the security of Trusted Computing
In this paper we describe bugs and ways to attack trusted
computing systems based on a static root of trust such as
Microsoft's Bitlocker. We propose to use the dynamic root of
trust feature of newer x86 processors as this shortens the
trust chain, can minimize the Trusted Computing Base of
applications and is less vulnerable to TPM and BIOS attacks.
To support our claim we implemented the Open Secure LOader
(OSLO), the first publicly available bootloader based on AMDs
An increasing number of Computing Platforms with a Trusted
Platform Module (TPM)  are deployed.
Applications using these chips are not widely used yet
[37,5]. This will change rapidly with the
distribution of Microsoft's Bitlocker , a disk
encryption utility which is part of Windows Vista Ultimate. As
the trusted computing technology behind these applications is
quite new, there is not much experience concerning the
security of trusted computing systems. In this context we
analyzed the security of TPMs, BIOSes and bootloaders that
consitute the basic building blocks of trusted computing
implementations. Furthermore, we propose a design that can
improve the security of such implementations.
Trusted Computing [25,23,9,33] is a technology that tries two answer
- Which software is running on a remote computer? (Remote Attestation)
- How to ensure that only a particular software stack can access a stored secret? (Sealed Memory)
Different scenarios can be built on top of trusted computing,
for example, multi-factor authentication , hard
disk encryption [5,2] or the widely
disputed Digital Rights Management. All of these
applications are based on a small chip: the Trusted
Platform Module (TPM).
As defined by the Trusted Computing Group (TCG), a TPM is a
smartcard-like low performance cryptographic coprocessor. It
is soldered2 on various motherboards. In addition to
cryptographic operations such as signing and hashing, a TPM
can store hashes of the boot sequence in a set of Platform
Configuration Registers (PCRs).
A PCR is a 160 bit wide register that can hold an SHA-1
hash. It cannot be directly written. Instead, it can only be
modified using the extend(x) operation. This operation
calculates the new value of a PCR as an SHA-1 hash of the
concatenation of the old value and x. The extend
operation is used to store a hash of a chain of loaded
software in PCRs. The chain starts with the BIOS and includes
Option ROMs3, Bootloader,
OS and applications.
Using a challenge-response protocol, this trust chain
can attest to a remote entity which software is running on the
platform (remote attestation). Similarly it can be
used to seal some data to a particular, not
necessarily the currently running, software configuration.
Unsealing the data is then only possible when this
configuration was started. Figure 1 shows
such a trust chain based on a Static Root of Trust for
Measurement (SRTM), namely the BIOS.
Typical trust chain in a TC system
|TPM → BIOS → OptionROMs → BootLoader → OS → Application|
Three conditions must be met, to make a chain of hashes
- The first code running and extending PCRs after a platform reset (called SRTM) is trustworthy and cannot be replaced.
- The PCRs are not resetable, without passing control to trusted code.
- The chain is contiguous. There is no code in-between that is executed but not hashed.
The reasons behind these conditions are the following: If the
initial code is not trustworthy or can be replaced by
untrustworthy code, it cannot be guaranteed that any hash
value is correct. This code can in fact modify any later
running software to prevent the undesirable hashing. The
second condition is quite similar and can be seen as a
generalization of the first one. If PCRs are reset and
untrustworthy code is running then any chain of hashes can be
fabricated. The first two points describe the beginning of
the trust chain. The third point is needed to form a
contiguous chain by recursion. It forces the condition that
every program occupying the machine must be hashed, before it
is executed. Otherwise, the trust chain is interrupted and
unmeasured code can be running. Every program using sealed
memory has to trust the code running before it to not open a
hole in the chain. Similarly, a remote entity needs to find
out during an attestation whether the trust chain presented by
a trusted computing platform contains any hole in which
untrusted code could be run. We will see later how current
implementations do not meet the three conditions.
This paper is structured as follows. We describe bugs and ways
to attack trusted computing systems based on SRTM in the next
section. After that we present the design and describe the
implementation of OSLO. A section evaluating the security
achievements follows. The last section proposes future work
We look at the three publicly available TPM-enabled
bootloaders and analyze whether they violate the third
condition of a trust chain, executing code that is not hashed.
The very first publicly available trusted bootloader was part
of the Bear project from Dartmouth College
[19,20]. They enhanced
Linux with a security module called Enforcer. This module
checks for modification of files and uses the TPM to seal a
secret key of an encrypted filesystem. To boot the system they
used a modified version of LILO . They extend
LILO in two ways: the Master Boot Record hashes the rest of
LILO and the loaded Linux kernel image is also hashed. Only
the last part of the image, containing the kernel itself, is
hashed here. But the first part of the image, containing the
real-mode setup code, is executed. Hence, this violates the
third condition. A fix for this bug would be to hash every
sector which gets loaded.
A second trusted bootloader is a patched GRUB v0.97 from IBM
Japan [21,36]. This bootloader is
used in IBMs Integrity Measurement Architecture
. It has the same security flaw as
our own experiments with a TCG enabled GRUB
: it loads files twice, first for extraction
and later for hashing into a PCR. A cause for this bug lies
certainly in the structure of GRUB. GRUB loads and extracts a
kernel image at the same time instead of loading them
completely into memory and extracting them afterwards. This
leads to the situation that measuring the file independently
from loading is the easiest way for a programmer to add TCG
support to GRUB. Such an implementation is unfortunately
incorrect. As program code is loaded twice from disk or from
a remote host over the network, an attacker who has physical
access either to the disk or to the network can send different
data at the second time. This violates again the third
condition, as hashed and executed code may differ.
Another GRUB based trusted bootloader called TrustedGRUB
 solves this issue in a recent version by moving
the hash code to a lower level. Hashing is simply done on each
read() call that loads data from disk or network,
before the actual data is returned to the caller. The hash is
then used after loading a kernel to extend a PCR.
The current version 1.0-rc5 of TrustedGRUB (August 2006)
contains at least two other bugs. The hashing of its own code
when starting from hard disk is broken. The corresponding PCR
is never extended and always zero. Furthermore TrustedGRUB
never contained any code to use it securely from a
CD. Nevertheless, it is used on a couple of LiveCDs
All publicly available TPM-enabled bootloaders violate the
third assumption, which makes systems booted by them unable to
prove their trustworthiness. To analyze this it was not
necessary to look at more sophisticated attack points such as
missing range checks or buffer overflows. Both of these will
become more interesting if the aforementioned bugs are fixed.
In July 2004 we discovered that setting the reset bit in a
control register of a v1.1 TPM4 resets the chip
without resetting the whole platform. This violates the second
condition. As it results in default PCR values, this breaks
the remote attestation and sealing features
of those chips: Any PCR value can be reproduced without the
opportunity for a remote entity to see the difference via
remote attestation. Unsealing protected secrets of a security
critical program is possible after resetting as well. The
reset feature was added for maintenance reasons but does not
have broad security consequences, because sealing and remote
attestation are not used in any product application with v1.1
chips. Instead the chips are solely used as smartcard for
signing and key management.
This case demonstrates the security risk of a resettable
TPM. As other chips have different interfaces and can
therefore not be reset in the same way, we experimented with a
simple hardware attack. The Low Pin Count (LPC) bus was the
point of attack. Most TPMs are connected to the southbridge
through it and the bus has a separate reset line. We used
different TPMs on external daughterboards for this experiment.
By physically connecting the LRESET# pin to ground we were
able to perform a reset of the chip itself. We separated the
pin from the bus as otherwise the PS/2 keyboard controller
received such a reset signal, too. We had to reinitialize the
chip which we did by reloading the driver and then sending a
TPMStartup(TPM_CLEAR) to the chip. This process gave
us an activated and enabled TPM in a state normally only
visible to the BIOS: As expected all PCRs were in their
default state. We presume that this attack could be mounted
against any TPM in a similar way.
The simplicity of the reset makes this hardware attack a
threat to trusted computing systems. In particular in use
cases where physical access, for example, through theft, can
not be excluded. This attack also affects another use case
of trusted computing, the widely disputed Digital Rights
Management scenario where the owner of a device is untrusted
and can use the system unintendedly.
We have to admit that the TCG does not claim to protect
against hardware attacks. But scenarios using trusted
computing technology have to be aware of these restrictions.
We have shown that bootloader and TPM implementations have
some weaknesses. Now we look at the entity in-between them:
The BIOS contains the Core Root of Trust for Measurement
(CRTM), a piece of code that extends PCR 0 initially. A CRTM
has only to be exchanged with vendor signed code. Currently,
the CRTM of many machines is freely patchable. It is stored
in flash and no signature checking is performed on updates.
This violates the first condition needed by a trust chain.
We used a HP nx6325, a recent business notebook with a TPM
v1.2, for this experiment. The fact that the BIOS is flashed
from a raw image eased an attack. Other vendors are checking
a hash before flashing the image to avoid transmission errors,
a feature that is missing here. Checking a hash is irrelevant
from a security point of view but it would make the following
steps slightly more complicated, as we would have to
recalculate the correct hash value.
The part of the BIOS we choose to patch is the TPM driver.
This has the advantage that all commands to the TPM, whether
they come from the CRTM or from a bootloader through the
INT 1Ah interface, can be intercepted. Our BIOS has
only a memory-present TPM driver. These drivers need access
to main memory for execution and can therefore only run after
the BIOS has initialized the RAM. The interface of the TPM
drivers are defined in the TCG PC client specification for
conventional BIOS . The function that we want to
disable is MPTPMTransmit() which transmits commands to
the TPM. We found the TPM driver in the BIOS binary quite
easily. Strings like 'TPM' and the magic number of the
code block as well as characteristic mnemonics (e.g.,
in and out) in the disassembly point to it.
Start of BIOS TPM driver
0: aa 55 /* magic number */
4: 28 00 /* entry point */
28: 57 push %edi
29: 56 push %esi
2a: 53 push %ebx
2b: 33 ff xor %edi,%edi
2d: e8 00 00 00 00 call 0x32
32: 5f pop %edi
33: 81 ef 33 00 00 sub $0x33,%edi
39: 47 inc %edi
3a: 3c 04 cmp $0x4,%al
3c: 74 23 je 0x61
3e: 3c 01 cmp $0x1,%al
40: 74 0a je 0x4c
Figure 2 shows the start of the BIOS TPM
driver. It starts with a magic number and entry point, both as
defined in the specification. The code itself starts at
address . We now search for an instruction that allows
us to disable MPTPMTransmit(). The first instructions
of the driver are quite uninteresting. They just save some
registers to the stack and calculate the drivers starting
address in register
edi in order to make the code
position independent. The first interesting instruction is
the comparison at address . By looking further into the
disassembly we found out that this instruction is part of the
branch where the code distinguishes between
al=4) and other
functions. By changing this comparision to
cmp $0x14,%al, which just requires to flip a single
bit, we can avoid that the branch at is taken and any
command is transmited to the TPM. An error code is returned
to the caller instead.
We now have to flash the BIOS with this modified image. As
there is no hash of the BIOS image checked during flashing we
use the normal BIOS update procedure. After a reboot we have
a TPM in its default power-on state, without any PCR
The ability to easily exchange the CRTM violates the TCG
specifications. A result of this bug is that the trust into
these machines can not be brought back anymore without an
expensive certification process.
We found weaknesses in bootloaders and the possibility of a
simple hardware attack against TPMs. Furthermore by just
flipping a single bit we disabled the CRTM and any PCR
extension from the BIOS. These cases show that current
implementations do not meet all three conditions of a trust
In summary, we conclude that current BIOSes and bootloaders
are not able to start systems in a trusthworthy
manner. Moreover, TPMs are not protected against resets.
3.1 Using a DRTM
The main idea behind a secure system with a resettable TPM, an
untrusted BIOS and a buggy bootloader, is to use a Dynamic
Root of Trust for Masurement (DRTM). A DRTM effectively
removes the BIOS, OptionROMs and Bootloaders from the trust
chain (cf. Figure 3).
Trust chain with a Dynamic Root of Trust for Measurement (DRTM)
|TPM → OSLO → OS → Application|
With a DRTM, the CPU can reset the PCR 17 at any time. This is
provided through a new instruction that atomically initializes
the CPU, loads a piece of code called Secure Loader (SL) into
its cache, sends the code to the TPM to extend the reseted PCR
17, and transfers control to the SL.
A design based on a DRTM is not vulnerable to the TPM reset
attack because of a TPM property that can be easily missed. A
TPM can distinguish between a reset and a DRTM due to CPU and
chipset support. A reset of the TPM sets all PCRs to default
values, which is ``0'' for the PCRs 0 - 16 and ``-1'' for PCR
17. Only a DRTM, with its special bus cycles, will reset the
PCR 17 to ``0'' and immediately extend it with the hash of the
SL. Therefore, an attacker is unable to reset PCR 17 to ``0''
and fake other platform configurations. Only by executing the
skinit instruction it is possible to put the hash of an
SL into PCR 17. An attacker can not hash an SL and directly
afterwards executing code outside of it, since skinit
jumps directly to the SL.
An SL is also not affected by the BIOS attack. With the
presence of a DRTM, the BIOS need not be trusted anymore to
protect its CRTM and hash itself into the TPM. Nevertheless,
a statement that claims the BIOS can be fully untrusted is
oversimplified: We still have to trust the BIOS for providing
the System Management Mode (SMM) code as well as correct ACPI
tables. As both can be security critical, a hash of them
should be incorporated at boot time into a PCR by the
AMD provides a DRTM with its skinit instruction which
was introduced with the AMD-V extension . On
Intel CPUs, the Trusted Execution Technology (TET) includes a
DRTM with the senter instruction [14,9]. AMD was generous to provide us with an AMD-V
platform nearly one year earlier than we were able to buy an
Intel TET platform.
Our implementation, called OSLO (Open Secure LOader), is
written in C with some small parts in assembler. As OSLO is
part of the Trusted Computing Base (TCB) of all applications,
we wanted to minimize the binary and source code size.
Furthermore, we had to avoid any BIOS call, as otherwise the
BIOS would be part of the TCB again.
OSLO is started as kernel from a multi-boot compliant
 loader. It initializes the TPM to be able to
extend a PCR with the hashes of further modules. After that
other processors are stopped. This is required before
executing skinit and inhibits potential interferences
during the secure startup procedure. For example, malicious
code running on a second CPU could modify the instructions of
the Secure Loader. The cache consistency protocol would then
propagate the changes to the other processor.
Since the needed platform initialization is done, OSLO can now
switch to the ``secure mode'' by executing skinit.
Before starting the first module as a new kernel, OSLO hashes
every module that is preloaded from the parent boot-loader.
We used chainloading via the multiboot specification to be
flexible with respect to the operating system OSLO loads and
who can load OSLO. Normally, this will be a
multiboot-compliant loader started by the BIOS such as GRUB or
SysLinux  but loading OSLO from the Linux
kexec environment  should also be possible.
As we could not rely on the BIOS for talking to the TPM, we
also implemented our own TPM driver for v1.2 TPMs. As all of
these TPMs should follow the TPM interface specification (TIS)
only a single driver was needed. Using this memory mapped
interface is, compared to the different interfaces needed to
talk to the v1.1 TPMs, rather simple. Therefore our TPM
driver consists of only 70 lines of code.
Currently two features of OSLO are still unimplemented:
- protection against direct memory access (DMA) from malicious devices, and
- extension of the TPM event log for remote attestation.
The TPM event log is used to ease remote attestation. It can
store hashes used as input for extend and optionally a
string describing them. The log provides a breakdown of the
PCR value into smaller known pieces. It is itself not
security critical and therefore not protected by the
bootloader or the operating system. An attacker can only
perform Denail of Service attacks by for example overwriting
the log. It is not possible to compromise the security of a
remote attestation by modifying the log. The TPM event log
makes it much easier for a remote entity to check a reported
hash values against a list of good known values, for example
if the order of the extends is not fixed. OSLO should
extend the event log to support applications relying on it for
The source code of OSLO is available under the terms of the
GPL . The source includes three additional
tools that can be multi-boot loaded after OSLO:
Beirut to hash command lines, Pamplona to
revert the steps done by skinit for booting OSLO
unaware OSes, and Munich to start Linux from a
We have learned two lessons while implementing OSLO:
- It is hard to write secure initialization code, and
- a secure loader needs to have platform specific knowledge.
An example of the first lesson is our experience with the
initialization of the Device Exclusion Vector (DEV) on AMD
CPUs. A DEV is a bitvector in physical memory that consists
of one bit per physical 4k-page. A bit in this vector decides
whether device based DMA transfers to or from the
corresponding page is allowed. DEVs could be cached in the
chipset for performance reasons. We found out that the DEV
initialization, if it is done in the naive way, contains a
DEV initialization is normally done in two steps: Enable the
appropriate bits in the vector to protect itself and then
flushing the chipset internal DEV cache. As these two
operations are not atomic, a malicious device could change the
DEV using DMA just before the vector is loaded into the DEV
cache. An implementation has to find a workaround for this
race. A secure way to initialize DEV protection is, for
example, to use an intermediate DEV in the 64k of the secure
loader thereby protecting the initialization of a final DEV.
The second point is a little bit more complicated. DEVs can
only protect against DMA from a device. If someone puts an
operating system he wants to start with OSLO into device
memory it cannot be protected from a malicious device. The OS
is loaded and hashed by OSLO as if it would reside in RAM, but
if it is read the second time, e.g., on ELF decoding or
execution, it is requested from the device memory again.
Because we do not trust a device to leave its memory
unmodified, we cannot be sure that the code that is executed
is identical to the hashed one. As a consequence we can only
protect, hash and start modules that are located in RAM. A
secure loader therefore needs a reliable method to detect the
distinction between RAM and device memory.
One of our design goals for OSLO was a minimal TCB size.
Reducing the TCB is suitable for security sensitive
applications as it increases the understandability and
minimizes the number of possible bugs
. Furthermore, the process of formal
verification will benefit from it. We achieved a minimal TCB
by using two techniques: reducing functionality and trading
size with performance penalties.
An example for the first is that we do not rely on external
libc code but use functions with limited functionality like
out_string() instead of a full featured
We also implemented our own SHA-1 code trading size for
performance. This resulted in an SHA-1 implementation that
compiles with gcc-3.4 to less than 512 bytes. This is only a
quarter of the size compared with a performance optimized
version such as the one from the Linux kernel. This, on the
other hand, makes the hash much slower. The Linux version has
a throughput which is three to four times higher, due to,
e.g., loop unrolling.
Performance of hashing a Linux kernel and Initrd
|kernel||1.2 MB||0.070 sec||0.020 sec
|initrd||4.2 MB||0.245 sec||0.064 sec
|sum ||5.4 MB||0.315 sec||0.084 sec
Figure 4 shows that booting linux with our SHA-1
implementation takes 0.315 seconds compared to 0.084 seconds
for a heavily optimized sha1sum version. As booting a system
usually takes minutes a performance penalty of 0.231 seconds
is acceptable here.
Size of BIOS, GRUB and OSLO
|Name ||LOC||binary in kb||gzip in kb
|BIOS HP || - || 1024 || 491
|GRUB v0.97 || 19600 || 98 || 55
|OSLO v0.4.2 || 1534 || 4.1 || 2.9
Figure 5 shows the source and binary sizes for
BIOS, GRUB and OSLO. We also give the size of gzip compressed
binaries in this table as this reduces the effect of empty
sections in the images. Unfortunately, the source code of the
HP BIOS is not available. A similar but older Award BIOS
consists of around 150 thousand lines of assembler code. The
numbers given for GRUB do not include the drivers used to boot
from a network. Adding them would nearly double the given
OSLO is an order of magnitude smaller than GRUB and two orders
of magnitude smaller than the BIOS we examined. If we presume
the principle more code equals more bugs and neglect
the effect of a code size optimizing compiler, we can deduce
that OSLO has a significantly smaller number of bugs due to
its size compared to GRUB or the BIOS.
One could argue that in an ordinary system like Windows or
Linux, where the TCB of an application consists of million
lines of code with programs consuming tens or hundreds of
megabytes, the size of GRUB and the BIOS does not matter.
That is perhaps true, but as the trend in secure systems goes
to small kernels and hypervisors [10,13,29,32], architectures
like L4/NIZZA or Xen can very well benefit from the TCB
reduction through OSLO.
In summary, OSLO promises a smaller attack surface due to its
minimal size and since it uses a DRTM mitigates the TPM
reset and the BIOS attacks as outlined in Section
Previous research showed the vulnerability of trusted
computing platforms against hardware attacks. Kursawe et
al.  eavesdrop on the LPC bus to capture and
analyse the communication between the CPU and the TPM. They
only perform a passive attack, but describe that an active
hardware attack on the LPC bus could be used to fool the TPM
about the platform state. Untrusted code can then pretend to
the TPM to be a DRTM.
Limitations of the trusted computing specification and its
implementations are described in the literature multiple
times. Bruschi et al.  showed that
an authorization protocol of TPMs is vulnerable to replay
attacks. Sadeghi et al.  reported that
many TPM implementations do not meet the TCG specification.
Garriss et al.  found out that a public
computing kiosk that uses remote attestation to prove which
software is running is vulnerable to boot-between attestation
attacks. They suggest a reboot counter in the TPM to make
reboots visible to remote parties. Such a counter will not
help against our TPM reset attack as it needs to detect
whether a TPM was switched on later than the whole
platform5, a property a reboot counter
There are more sophisticated BIOS attacks mentioned in the
literature. Heasman , for example,
showed at the Blackhat Federal 2006 that a rootkit can be
hidden in ACPI code which is usually stored in the BIOS. In a
subsequent paper , he describes how a
rootkit can persist in a system with a secured BIOS by using
other flash chips. In both cases only TPM-less systems were
considered. By combining our attack to disable the CRTM with
Heasman's work it seems possible to hide a rootkit in the BIOS
but report correct hash values to the TPM.
To generally prevent BIOS attacks, Phoenix Technologies offers
a firmware called TrustedCore  that allows
only signed updates. Intel Active Management Technology
 has also this feature.
Sailer et al.  describe an
architecture for an integrity measurement system for Linux
using a static root of trust. As they focus on the
enhancements of the operating system, the architecture is not
limited to an SRTM. There implementation could easily benefit
from the smaller attack surface of a secure loader like OSLO.
6 Future Work and Conclusion
OSLO is not feature complete yet. We plan to finish the
implementation of the DMA protection. Moreover, we want to
add ACPI event-log support. This should allow the integration
of OSLO into larger projects that use the event-log for remote
A port of OSLO to use the senter instruction on an
Intel TET platform could demonstrate that the mulitboot
chainloader design is portable or show that senter
implies an integrated design as it is proposed for Xen
The search for new attack points of other trusted computing
implementations is also part of our future work.
It was not necessary to look at more sophisticated attack
points such as buffer overflows or the strength of
cryptographic algorithms to find the bugs and attacks we
presented in this paper. If we compare this to a similar
analysis of another secure system, such as the one of an RFID
chip , we have to conclude that current
trusted computing implementations are not resilient to even
simple attacks. Moreover, the current implementations do not
meet the assumptions of a secure design. Even a small bug in
them can compromise the additional security obtained by a TPM.
We suspect that most of the platforms are vulnerable to the
TPM reset and many of them to the BIOS attack. As a
consequence the software still based on an SRTM, such as
Microsoft's Bitlocker, cannot provide secure TPM-driven
encryption and attestation on these systems.
A switch to a DRTM based OSLO-like approach can shorten the
trust chain, minimize the TCB, and is less vulnerable to TPM
and BIOS attacks.
We would like to thank Hermann Härtig, Michael Peter, Udo
Steinberg, Neal Walfield, Carsten Weinhold, and Björn
Döbel for their comments. Additionally we would like to
thank Adrian Perrig, Jonathan McCune and the reviewers for
their suggestions to improve the paper. Special thanks go to
Adam Lackorzynski for providing the hardware in time.
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- ... soldered2
- There exist also TPMs on
daughterboards. Their security value is limited as exchanging
them is quite easy.
- ... ROMs3
- Firmware on adapter cards
- ... TPM4
- It would be quite
unfair to disclose the vendor name here.
- ... platform5
- e.g., by holding the reset line of a TPM
while powering the machine up