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A Reasonably Secure Travel Laptop Setup

This repository contains auxiliary scripts and configurations around building a reasonably secure travel laptop using coreboot with a GRUB2 payload. The scripts and configurations have been tested with an ArchLinux setup but should be adaptable to other distributions easily.

A reasonably secure travel laptop following the approach laid out here will boot only a signed kernel and initrd and assure user-space integrity with a dm-verity protected root filesystem. If you require confidentiality, it is additionally recommended encrypted the entire filesystem or use a separate, encrypted /home partition.

Building coreboot and GRUB2 for your target laptop and flashing the appropriate image is out of the scope of this repository's contents and documentation. You can find more information on the coreboot Wiki. You can find a preliminary coreboot review branch that measures platform state into TPM PCRs in gerrit changeset #14038 (click the Download drop-down to get a URL usable in git checkout).

Involved Components

The resources contained in this repository are used in the boot chain as follows:

  • A GRUB2 configuration file is embedded into a GRUB2 memdisk on the SPI Flash itself. It serves as the root of the chain of trust and loads the signing key from the GRUB2 memdisk, transitions the GRUB2 root to the boot device / partition and hands over to a signed GRUB2 configuration there.
  • The GRUB2 configuration on the boot device/partition loads the Linux kernel and initrd or whatever other payload you want to load. It will provide the dm-verity root hash to the initrd, which in turn assigns it to the dm-verity device. Because this configuration is signed, the dm-verity root hash is signed and transitively the root filesystem is authenticated.
  • Because a dm-verity root filesystem must be read-only and is not supported by most distributions' generic initrd generation scripts, a special set of scripts to support a tmpfs backed overlayfs mounted from the initrd and intializing the dm-verity device with the right root hash is required. This set of scripts will hook into the mkinitcpio script on ArchLinux, it must be adapted for other distributions to generate an initrd compatible with this setup.
  • When built with a measuring coreboot, you can deploy TPM remote attestation as a OpenSSH enforced public key command to deny logging in from an untrusted device. Two simple programs that implement remote attestation and verification againts a trusted set of PCR values can be found in tpm-attest/.

GRUB2 Configuration in SPI Flash

The initial GRUB2 configuration to be loaded from the SPI flash is used to kick off a more accessible but signed configuration from the boot device/partition. An examplary script that loads a signing key from the GRUB2 memdisk is provided in this repository under grub-cfg/memdisk-grub.cfg.

Generally, it is recommended to create a directory representing the additional memory disk contents of GRUB2 and invoking grub-mkstandalone from there:

  • Create an empty directory representing your memdisk somewhere and change to that directory.
  • Copy grub-cfg/memdisk-grub.cfg to boot/grub/grub.cfg relative to the memdisk base directory, adjust it to your needs.
  • Export your signing public key to boot/${keyid}.gpg and fix the path in the grub.cfg
  • Invoke grub-mkstandalone from the memdisk base directory as follows to create a coreboot payload image with the appropriate memdisk contents:
grub-mkstandalone -O i386-coreboot -o ../grub_coreboot_payload.elf --compress=none --themes='' --locales='' boot/grub/grub.cfg boot/${keyid}.gpg

You can now reference ../grub_coreboot_payload.elf as ELF payload in the coreboot Kconfig to be directly built in or alternatively add it manually with cbfstool.

GRUB2 Configuration on boot device/partition

When using a GRUB2 configuration in SPI flash derived from grub-cfg/memdisk-grub.cfg, signature verification of the kernel and initrd will be mandatory already. Your configuration merely has to load the kernel with the correct command line and reference the right initrd.

The initrd scripts in this repository understand the following command line options:

  • overlay_verity_dev: device name for the device containing the dm-verity hash tree, created with veritysetup. If you just want to test a read-only root filesystem with a tmpfs backed overlayfs, set this to anything and do not specify the overlay_verity_root option on the command line.
  • overlay_verity_root: the root hash of the dm-verity hash tree on the device provided in overlay_verity_dev. This will activate actual root filesystem block integrity checking.
  • root: as usual, this is the root filesystem backing device, which will then be read-only and integrity protected.

An exemplary configuration file can be found in grub-cfg/bootdrive-grub.cfg.

mkinitcpio Hook

To generate an initrd/initramfs/initcpio that initializes dm-verity and creates a tmpfs backed overlayfs around it, a hook for mkinitcpio is required. This hook is provided within etc-initcpio/, simply copy the directory contents to your /etc/initcpio directory and add the overlay_verity hook to your /etc/mkinitcpio.conf in the HOOKS array after the filesystems hook. If you have a fsck hook, be sure to remove it as it will tamper with the root filesystem's on-disk header and cause verification failures.

TPM Remote Attestation

When booting with a coreboot build in which measuring of platform components has been enabled, the different stages of the boot process up to and including the RSA key used for signing the GRUB2-loaded components (see above) are hashed. These hashes are then stored in a hash-chain in the TPM chip of the target device and cannot simply be tampered with after booting.

You can then deploy the code from tpm-attest/ to a trusted OpenSSH server to securely verify the platform state after booting. The server will issue a request including a random nonce (see for example tpm-attest/doc/examples/request.json). The client will sign the nonce and it's current PCR state on the TPM chip and provide back an attestation blob for the server (see for example tpm-attest/doc/examples/quote.json. Only if the PCR contents contain the expected values will the shell wrapper spawn a valid shell for the client.

This way, you can travel with zero critical information and only a travel SSH authenticationon key on your travel laptop into your destination country. You can then download any additional information over an encrypted and authendicated connection, however the server will only let you access this data if the device you are connecting from can prove that it is in a known-good boot chain state.

Step-by-step Setup

  1. First, install ArchLinux (or one of its derivatives, such as BlackArch) on your target devices internal drive, ensure to have a separate /boot partition. Make sure that you have all your tools and your root filesystem is ready to be frozen. At this point, you should also have set up any encrypted /home partitions and similar.
  2. Make sure you have installed the mkinitcpio hook from this repository and your initrd/initramfs/initcpio has been updated with mkinitcpio. Double check with lsinitcpio that a module for your root filesystem (for example ext4.ko) is present.
  3. Now it is time to flash the coreboot and GRUB2 image onto your device's SPI flash. Make sure you can disable signature verification for the setup step by using the GRUB2 command line and entering set check_signature=''; this will require posessing the PBKDF2 superuser password, see grub-cfg/memdisk-grub.cfg.
  4. Load your operating system with a read-only root and a fake overlayfs by providing a command line containg overlay_verity_dev=y but no overlay_verity_root option.
  5. You can now populate the dm-verity hash tree on the appropriate device using veritysetup format. Be sure to copy the root hash!
  6. Update your boot device grub.cfg by providing the real overlay_verity_dev you just populated and setting the root hash with overlay_verity_root.
  7. Sign your boot device grub.cfg, the kernel and the initrd/initramfs/initcpio using gpg --detach-sign (optionally specify the right signing key with --local-user).
  8. Optionally deploy tpm-attest/ to an trusted OpenSSH server.


Auxiliary documentation and scripts around "A Reasonably Safe Travel Burner Laptop"



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