This article is the thirteenth in a series describing the changes introduced in the UEFI 2.4 specification. This time we focus on improvements to the secure boot technology. Specifically, the updates make it easier for UEFI firmware to be notified about malware UEFI drivers and applications.
In the UEFI 2.2 specification, the idea of a white list and a black list was created. Drivers whose signatures were found in the white list would be allowed to load and those found in the black list were not loaded. The white list signatures were recorded in the EFI variable "db" and the black list signatures were recorded in the EFI variable "dbx".
In the UEFI 2.3 specification, the list of signature types was expanded to allow X.509 certificates, which allowed UEFI drivers and applications to be signed by trusted certificate authorities so that anyone who was signed by that certificate authority could be loaded by UEFI firmware. There were other enhancements to allow new, authenticated EFI variable contents to be appended to an existing EFI variable without having to resign the entire EFI variable. This made distributing updates from, say, an OS or driver vendor, easier once they were already trusted.
But one of the problems with adopting the X.509 certificate was size. Each certificate required 1-2KB. This might not seem a lot in the age of terabyte drives and gigabyte DRAMs, but for UEFI firmware it is a lot to set aside just for security. In particular, as malware becomes more and more real, the need to add more UEFI drivers or UEFI driver-signing certificates to the black list started creating concerns about how much space would need to be set aside and, in some cases, when the space was full, UEFI firmware would be in the unfortunate situation of having to reject new black list entries.
Now, in the UEFI 2.4 specification, three new types of signatures for the black list were added. Specifically, the various recommended forms of the To-Be-Signed hash value (160, 256 and 512-bits) which are created during the creation of a certificate could be added to the black list instead of the certificate itself. Since it is very hard to create another certificate which corresponds to the same hash value, it is nearly identical, security-wise to use the hash value instead of the certificate itself. The bonus of this approach is that hash values for certificates range in size from 20- to 64-bytes, a big improvement over the 1-2KB needed for the certificate itself.
As an added bonus, these new certificate types also have a timestamp field, which allows the UEFI firmware to determine whether the UEFI driver or application was signed before the revocation date of the certificate. The revocation date is the time at which the certificate was identified as having been compromised. By checking the time stamps of the certificates in the UEFI drivers or applications against the time stamp of the certificate's revocation. If a UEFI driver or application was signed before that date and time, then it can still be loaded by the UEFI firmware since the certificate had not yet been compromised. If the UEFI driver or application was signed after that date and time, it might be malware and should be rejected. This generates less thrash for the IT department or OEM in having to update every single executable image ever signed by that certificate.
The timestamps used in these certificates are created and compared by procedures described in RFC3161. With this information, the time stamps can be compared with an integer compare.
Then the question arises: who gets to generate the time stamps? Well, it turns out that there are time stamp authorities, similar to certificate authorities, that issue signed time stamp certificates. When checking the time stamps, their authority must have its signature registered with the UEFI firmware, in a new authetnicated EFI variable called "dbt".
UEFI OS' must be able to get the updates to the UEFI firmware in the field so that, as more malware comes along, and more certificates are compromised in some fashion, the UEFI firmware will be up to date and able to handle these threats, well after the systems are shipped and used in production environments. UEFI 2.4 keeps the industry ready for the ever-evolving challenges of securing the boot, from reset through OS runtime.