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OpenEmbedded layer for Linux integrity support

Integrity Measurement Architecture (IMA)

The Linux IMA subsystem introduces hooks within the Linux kernel to support measuring the integrity of files that are loaded (including application code) before it is executed or mmap()ed to memory. The measured value (hash) is then registered in a log that can be consulted by administrators.

To support proven integrity of the files, the IMA subsystem can interact with the TPM chip within the system to protect the registered hashes from tampering by a rogue administrator or application. The IMA subsystem, as already supported by the Linux kernel, supports reporting on the hashes of files and commands ran by privileged accounts (and more if you create your own measurement policies).

In addition, IMA appraisal can even register the measured value as an extended attribute, and after subsequent measurement(s) validate this extended attribute against the measured value and refuse to load the file (or execute the application) if the hash does not match. In that case, the IMA subsystem allows files and applications to be loaded if the hashes match (and will save the updated hash if the file is modified) but refuse to load it if it doesn't. This provides some protection against offline tampering of the files.

By default, the following constraint conditions are applied by design of this layer:

  • Appraise the files for exec'd (the executables), files mmap'd for exec (shared libraries), kernel modules and firmwares in effective root identity (euid=0).
  • Enforce verifying the IMA signature when running the executables, shared libraries, kernel modules and firmwares.
  • Deny to run the newly created executables, shared libraries, kernel modules and firmwares.
  • Deny to run the tampered executables, shared libraries, kernel modules and firmwares.
  • Deny to run any executables, shared libraries, kernel modules and firmwares in the filesystems without file extended attribute supported.
  • Allow to run the manually signed executables, shared libraries, kernel modules and firmwares.
  • Allow to run the updated executables, shared libraries, kernel modules and firmwares during RPM installation.
  • Enforce the subsequent policy file write to be verified by a trusted IMA certificate.


  • The different behaviors when executing a script, e.g, launching a python script with "./test.py" is allowed only when test.py is signed, and launching a python script with "python test.py" is always allowed as long as the python interpreter is signed.
  • Extended file system attribute is required for IMA appraisal, but not all file systems can support it. Typically, the pseudo file systems, such as sysfs, proc, tmpfs and ramfs, certain disk-based file systems, such as FAT, and network file systems, such as NFS, don't support extended attribute, meaning IMA appraisal is not available with them.
  • meta-tpm
    This layer provides the kernel configurations and TSS for TPM 1.x enablement.

  • meta-tpm2
    This layer provides the kernel configurations and TSS for TPM 2.0 enablement.

Use The External IMA Policy

initramfs is a good place to run some IMA initializations, such as loading the IMA policy, as well as the trusted IMA certificate used to verify IMA signatures.

The default external IMA policy

The default external IMA policy enforces appraising all the executable, shared library, kernel modules and firmwares with the digital signature in the effective root identity (euid=0). Hence, the opportunity of loading the default external IMA policy occurs at the end of initramfs initializations, just before switch_root.

Instead of running switch_root directly from initramfs, a statically linked switch_root from the real rootfs is launched and it must be already signed properly. Otherwise, switch_root will fail to mount the real rootfs and kernel panic will happen due to this failure.

The default external IMA policy is located at /etc/ima/ima_policy.default in initramfs.

The custom external IMA policy

If the default external IMA policy cannot meet the protection requirement, it is allowed to define the custom external IMA policy, which will be used instead of the default external IMA policy.

The custom external IMA policy file is eventually installed to /etc/ima/ima_policy in initramfs.

In addition, the IMA policies signed by the trusted IMA certificate in the real rootfs are also attempted to be loaded if any, in the pattern of file name as /etc/ima/ima_policy*.

IMA certificate & private Key

The private key come in two flavors; one used to sign all regular files in rootfs and one used by RPM to re-sign the executable, shared library, kernel module and firmware during RPM installation. Correspondingly, the IMA certificate is used to verify the IMA signature signed by the private key.

In addition, initramfs is a good place to import the IMA certificate likewise.

Note that the IMA certificate must be signed by the system trusted key by design. This guarantees the imported IMA certificate is always trustworthy.

The default IMA certificate & private key

The default IMA certificate & private key are generated by the build system. By default, the sample keys are used for the purpose of development and demonstration. Please ensure you know what your risk is to use the sample keys in your product, because they are completely public.

If sample keys are used, the private IMA key is installed as /etc/keys/x509_ima.key.

A typical signing command is as following:

# evmctl ima_sign --hashalgo sha256 --key /etc/keys/x509_ima.key --pass=<passowrd> /path/to/file


# evmctl ima_sign --hashalgo sha256 --key /etc/keys/x509_ima.key --pass=<passowrd> -r /path/to/directory

The following command can be used to verify a file's IMA signature with specified certificate:

# evmctl ima_verify --key /etc/keys/x509_ima.der /path/to/file

RPM File Signing

The payloads in a RPM are signed by the private key during the build, and each IMA signatures for the corresponding payload file will be eventually written to the filesystem during RPM installation.

In order to check whether a RPM is signed, run the command rpm -qp --queryformat "%{FILESIGNATURES:arraysize}\n" <rpm>

If the result is not none or zero, the specified RPM contains the signed payloads.

Tarball Signing

Packing the IMA signatures into a tarball is another method to preserve the IMA signatures. Be aware of using --xattrs --xattrs-include=security\\.ima with both extraction and creation operations.

Best practice

The following best practices should be applied with using IMA.

  • Enable UEFI/MOK secure boot UEFI/MOK secure boot can verify the integrity of initramfs, providing the protection against tampering of the external IMA policy files and IMA public keys stored in initramfs.

  • Moderate measuring Measuring the files owned by non-root user may introduce malicious attack. Malicious user may create lots of files with different names or trigger violation conditions to generate a mass of event logs recorded in the runtime measurement list, and thus exhaust the persistent kernel memory.

  • Performance influence Moderate policy can make a good balance between the performance and security. Tune the default external policy (/etc/ima_policy.default) and modulate the custom policy for the product requirement.

  • Use IMA digital signature to protect the executable Using the digital signature scheme DIGSIG is safer than digest-based scheme. Meanwhile, use appraise_type=imasig in your IMA policy to enforce running this.

  • Use the measurement and audit rules together The runtime measurement list is unable to track down the order of changes for a file, e.g, a file content varies in order of X -> Y -> X. However, audit log can record these changes in the right order.

Known Issues
  • The following operations may break the behavior of appraisal and cause the failure of launching the executables, shared libraries, kernel modules and firmwares:

    • the syscalls used to set file last access and modification times.
    • the syscalls used to set ownership of a file.
    • the syscalls used to set permissions of a file.

    To fix the failure, manually re-sign the affected file.

  • Overwriting an existing file with the same content is deemed as tampering of the file.

  • The default IMA rules provides the ability of measuring the boot components and calculating the aggregate integrity value for attesting. However, this function conflicts with the luks feature which employs PCR policy session to retrieve the passphrase in a safe way. If both of them are enabled, the default IMA rules will be not used.


Official IMA wiki page

OpenEmbedded layer for EFI Secure Boot

OpenEmbedded layer for signing key management

OpenEmbedded layer for TPM 1.x

OpenEmbedded layer for TPM 2.0