Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Anti Evil Maid

Anti Evil Maid is an implementation of a TPM-based static trusted boot with a primary goal to prevent Evil Maid attacks.

The adjective trusted, in trusted boot, means that the goal of the mechanism is to somehow attest to a user that only desired (trusted) components have been loaded and executed during the system boot. It's a common mistake to confuse it with what is sometimes called secure boot, whose purpure is to prevent any unauthorized component from executing. Secure boot is problematic to implement in practice, because there must be a way to tell which components are authorized for execution. This might be done using digital signatures and some kind of CA infrastructure, but this gets us into problems such as who should run the CA, what should be the policy for issuing certificates, etc.

The adjective static means that the whole chain of trust is anchored in a special code that executes before all other code on the platform, and which is kept in a non re-flashable memory, whose sole purpure is to make the initial measurement of the next component that is going to be executed, which is the BIOS code. This special code, also known as Core Root of Trust for Measurement (CRTM), might be part of the BIOS (but kept on a special read-only memory, or implemented by some other entity that executes before the BIOS reset vector, such as e.g. Intel ME or the processor microcode even. Once measured, the BIOS code is executed, and it is now its turn to measures the platform configuration, Option ROM code, and MBR. Then the loader (stored in the MBR), such as Trusted GRUB, takes over and measures its own next stages (other than the MBR sector), and the hypervisor, kernel, and initramfs images that are to be loaded, together with their configuration (e.g. kernel arguments).

As explained above, trusted boot can only retrospectively tell the user whether correct (trusted) software has booted or not, but cannot prevent any software from executing. But how can it communicate anything reliably to the user, if it might have just been compromised? This is possible thanks to the TPM unseal operation that releases secrets to software only if correct software has booted (as indicated by correct hashes in select PCR registers).

So the idea is that if a user can see correct secret message (or perhaps a photo) being displayed on the screen, then it means that correct software must have booted, or otherwise the TPM would not release (unseal) the secret. Of course we assume the adversary had no other way to sniff this secret and couldn't simply hardcode it into the Evil Maid – more on this later.

Another way to look at it is to realize that Anti Evil Maid is all about authenticating machine to the user, as opposed to the usual case of authenticating the user to the machine/OS (login and password, decryption key, token, etc). We proceed with booting the machine and entering sensitive information, only after we get confidence it is still our trusted machine and not some compromised one.

Installing Anti Evil Maid

Anti Evil Maid should work for any Linux system that uses dracut/initramfs, which includes Qubes, Fedora and probably many other distros. You can find the Anti Evil Maid source code in a git repository here. You can also download a tarball with sources and prebuilt rpm packages from here (they all should be signed with the Qubes signing key). Qubes Beta 2, that is coming soon, will have those RPMs already per-installed.

To install Anti Evil Maid, follow the instructions in the README file.

Some Practical considerations

If you decided to use no password for your TPM SRK key (so, you passed '-z' to tpm_takeownership, see the README), then you should definitely install Anti Evil Maid on a removable USB stick. Otherwise, if you installed it on your disk boot partition, the attacker would be able to just boot your computer and note down the secret passphrase that will be displayed on the screen. Then the attacker can compromise your BIOS/MBR/kernel images however she likes, and just hardcode the secret passphrase to make it look like if your system was fine.

If you decided to use custom TPM SRK password (so, you did not pass -z to tpm_takeownership), then you can install Anti Evil Maid onto your regular boot partition. The attacker would not be able to see your secret passphrase without knowing the SRK password. Now, the attacker can try another Evil Maid attack to steal this password, but this attack is easy to spot and prevent (see the discussion in the next section).

However, there is still a good argument to install Anti Evil Maid on a separate USB stick rather than on your built-in disk boot partition. This is because you can use Anti Evil Maid as a provider of a keyfile to your LUKS disk encryption (as an additional file unsealable by the TPM). This way you could also stop adversary that is able to sniff your keystrokes (e.g. using hidden camera, or electromagnetic leak), and capture your disk decryption passphrase (see the discussion in the next section).

In any case it probably would be a good idea to make a backup stick that you might want to use in case you lose or somehow damage your primary stick. In that case you should have a way to figure out if your system has been compromised in the meantime or not. Use another stick, with another passphrase, and keep it in a vault for this occasion.

Finally, be aware that, depending on which PCRs you decided to seal your secrets to, you might be unable to see the secret even after you changed some minor thing in your BIOS config, such as e.g. the order of boot devices. Every time you change something in your system that affects the boot process, you would need to reseal your secrets to new PCR values as described in the installation instructions.

Attacks prevented by Anti Evil Maid

The classic Evil Maid attack is fully prevented.

If the attacker is able to steal your Anti Evil Maid stick, and the attacker gets access to your computer, then the attacker would be able to learn your secret passphrase by just booting from the stolen stick. This is not fatal, because user should get alarmed seeing that the stick has been stolen, and use the backup stick to verify the system (with a different secret messages, of course), and later create a new stick for every day use with a new secret message.

A variation of the above attack is when the attacker silently copies the content of the stick, so that the user cannot realize that someone got access to the stick. Attacker then uses the copied stick to boot the user's computer and this way can learn the secret passphrase. Now, the attacker can infect the computer with Evil Maid, and can also bypass Anti Evil Maid verification by just hardcoding the secret message into Evil Maid. So, even though TPM would know that incorrect software has booted, and even though it would not unseal the secret, the user would have no way of knowing this (as the secret would still be displayed on screen).

In order to protect against this attack, one might want to use a non-default SRK password – see the installation instructions. Now an extra SRK password would be needed to unseal any secret from the TPM (in addition to PCRs being correct). So the attacker, who doesn't know the SRK password, is now not able to see the secret message and cannot prepare the Evil Maid Attack (doesn't know what secret passphrase to hardcode there).

The attacker might want to perform an additional Evil Maid attack targeted at capturing this SRK password, e.g. by infecting the user's stick. This, however, could be immediately detected by the user, because the user would see that after entering the correct SRK password, there was no correct secret passphrase displayed. The user should then assume the stick got compromised together with the SRK password, and should start the machine from the backup stick, verify that the backup secret is correct, and then create new AEM stick for daily usage.

If an attacker is able to capture the user's keystrokes (hidden camera, electromagnetic leaks), the attacker doesn't need Evil Maid attack anymore, and so doesn't need to bother with compromising the system boot anymore. This is because the attacker can just sniff the disk decryption password, and then steal the laptop and will get full access to all user data.

In order to prevent such a “keystroke sniffing” attack, one can use an additional sealed secret on the Anti Evil Maid stick that would be used as a keyfile for LUKS (in addition to passphrase). In this case the knowledge of the sniffed LUKS passphrase would not be enough for the attacker to decrypt the disk. This has not been implemented, although would be a simple modification to dracut-antievilmaid module. If you decided to use this approach, don't forget to also create a backup passphrase that doesn't need a keyfile, so that you don't lock yourself from access to your data in case you lose your stick, or upgrade your BIOS, or something! You have been warned, anyway.

Attacks that are still possible

An adversary that is able to both: sniff your keystrokes (hidden camera, electromagnetic leak) and is also able to copy/steal/seize your Anti Evil Maid stick, can not be stopped. If a non-democratic government is your adversary, perhaps because you're a freedom fighter in one of those dark countries, then you likely cannot ignore this type of attacks. The only thing you can do, I think, is to use some kind of easy-to-destroy USB stick for keeping Anti Evil Maid. A digestible USB stick, anyone?

Another type of attack that is not addressed by Anti Evil Maid is an attack that works by removing the “gears” from your laptop (the motherboard and disk at the very least), putting there a fake board with a transmitter that connects back to the attacker's system via some radio link and proxies all the keyboard/screen events and USB ports back to the original “gears” that execute now under supervision of the attacker. Another way of thinking about this attack is as if we took the motherboard and disk away, but kept all the cables connecting them with the laptop's keyboard, screen, and other ports, such as USB (yes, very long cables). The attacker then waits until the user boots the machine, passes the machine-to-user authentications (however sophisticated it was), and finally enters the disk decryption key. In practice I wouldn't worry that much about such an attack, but just mentioning it here for completeness.

Finally, if our adversary is able to extract secret keys from the TPM somehow, e.g. using electron microscope, or via some secret backdoor in the TPM, or alternatively is able to install some hardware device on the motherboard that would be performing TPM reset without resetting the platform, then such an attacker would be able to install Evil Maid program and avoid its detection by SRTM. Still, this doesn't automatically give access to the user data, as the attacker would need to obtain the decryption key first (e.g. using Evil Maid attack).

Implementation Specific Attacks

In the discussion above we assumed that the trusted boot has been correctly implemented. This might not be true, especially in case of the BIOS. In that case we would be talking about attacks against a particular implementation of your BIOS (or TrustedGRUB), and not against Anti Evil Maid approach.

One typical problem might be related to how CRTM is implemented – if it is kept in a regular BIOS reflashable memory, than the attacker who can find a way to reflash the BIOS (which might be trivial in case your BIOS doesn't check digital signatures on updates) would be able to install Evil Maid in the BIOS but pretend that all hashes are correct, because the attacker controls the root of trust.

Another possible implementation problem might be similar to the attack we used some years ago to reflash a secure Intel BIOS (that verified digital signatures on updates) by presenting a malformed input to the BIOS that caused a buffer overflow and allowed to execute arbitrary code within the BIOS. For such an attack to work, however, the BIOS should not measure the input that is used as an attack vector. I think this was the situation with the logo picture that was used in our attack. Otherwise, even if there was a buffer overflow, the chain of trust would be broken and thus the attack detected. In other words, the possibility of such an attack seems to be rather slim in practice.

What about Intel TXT?

Intel TXT takes an alternative approach to trusted boot. It relies on a Dynamic instead of Static Root of Trust for Measurement (DRTM vs. SRTM), which is implemented by the SENTER instruction and special dynamic PCR registers that can be set to zero only by SENTER. Intel TXT doesn't rely anymore on the BIOS or CRTM. This offers a huge advantage that one doesn't need to trust the BIOS, nor the boot loader, and yet can still perform a trusted boot. Amazing, huh?

Unfortunately, this amazing property doesn't hold in practice. As we have demonstrated almost 3 years ago (!), it is not really true that Intel TXT can remove the BIOS away from the chain of trust. This is because Intel TXT is prone to attacks through a compromised SMM, and anybody who managed to compromise the BIOS would be trivially able to also compromise the SMM (because it is the BIOS that is supposed to provide the SMI handler).

Thus, if one compares SRTM with Intel TXT, then the conclusion is that Intel TXT cannot be more secure than SRTM. This is because if an attacker can compromise the BIOS, then the attacker can also bypass Intel TXT (via a SMM attack). On the other hand, a BIOS compromise alone doesn't automatically allow to bypass SRTM, as it has been discussed in a paragraph above.

It really is a pity, because otherwise Intel TXT would be just a great technology. Shame on you Intel, really!

Alternative approaches to mitigate Evil Maid Attacks

Various people suggested other methods to prevent Evil Maid attacks, so lets quickly recap and discuss some of them...

The most straight forward approach suggested by most people, has been to disable booting from external devices in BIOS, together with locking the BIOS setup with an admin password.

There are two problems with such an approach. First, all the BIOSes have a long history of so called default passwords (AKA maintenance passwords). You don't want to rely on the lack of BIOS default passwords when protecting your sensitive data, do you?

Second, even if your BIOS doesn't have a backdoor (maintenance password), it is still possible to just take your disk away and connect to another laptop and infect its boot partition.

Another suggested approach has been to keep your boot partition on a separate USB stick. This solution obviously doesn't take into account the fact that the attacker might install Evil Maid into your BIOS. Many consumer laptop BIOSes do not require digital signatures on BIOS firmware updates (my Sony Vaio Z, a rather high-end machine, is among them), making it simple to install Evil Maid there (the most trivial attack is to make the BIOS always boot from the HDD instead of whatever other device the user wanted to boot from).

Finally, some people pointed out that many modern laptops comes with SATA disks that offer ability to “lock” the disk so that it could only be used with a specific SATA controller. Using this, combined with setting your BIOS to only boot from your internal disk, plus locking access to BIOS setup, should provide reasonable protection. This solution, of course, doesn't solve the problem of a potential maintenance password in your BIOS. Also being skeptical and paranoid as I am, I would not trust this mechanism to be really robust – I would expect it would be fairly simple to unlock the disk so that it could be paired with another, unauthorized controller, and that this probably is a matter of NOP-ing a few instructions in the controller firmware... In fact it seems like you can buy software to unlock this mechanism for some $50... And apparently (and not very surprisingly) some drives seems to continue on the 'default passwords' tradition.


Q: Bitlocker implemented this already several years ago, right?
A: No.

Q: But, two-factor authentication can also be used to prevent Evil Maid, right?
A: No.

Q: Does it make any sense to use Anti Evil Maid without a full disk encryption?
A: No.

Q: Are you going to answer 'no' for each question I ask?
A: No.

Q: Why there are no negative indicators (e.g. a big scary warning) when the unseal process fails?
A: The lack of negative indicators is intentional. The user should keep in mind that if somebody compromised their computer, then the attacker would be able to display whatever she wants on the screen, and especially to skip displaying of any warning messages. The only thing the attacker would not be able to display would be the secret message. Thus, it would make no sense to use negative indicators, as they would likely not work in case of a real attack. One solution here would be to use the unsealed secret as a keyfile for disk encryption (as discussed above), which would make it impossible to decrypt the user disk (and so generally proceed with the boot) without successfully unsealing the secret from the TPM.


Shmerl said...

Anti Evil Maid sounds a bit cumbersome. Virtuous Maid would be a good name :)

Anonymous said...

Would this mean that the only perfectly safe method today (assuming you do not get tortured that is...) is to somehow always carry your data on your person. (prisoners in some detention camp used to hide money in... body cavities).

Alternately, you could weld everything together to prevent unseen tampering I suppose in addition to make BIOS and whatever secret somehow absolutely read-only (fixed in chip?)

Joanna Rutkowska said...

@anon: I'm not quite sure how you have come to such conclusions...?

Harry said...

I think you're overstating slightly the difficulty involved in hardware-based attacks. Rather than removing components and proxying them over wireless, wouldn't it be possible to simply *add* a component which, for example, uses DMA to compromise the system once the boot process is complete? This might be similar to Winlockpwn, but internal.

Kevin said...

I'm really interested in that point:

In order to prevent such a “keystroke sniffing” attack, one can use an additional sealed secret on the Anti Evil Maid stick that would be used as a keyfile for LUKS (in addition to passphrase). In this case the knowledge of the sniffed LUKS passphrase would not be enough for the attacker to decrypt the disk. This has not been implemented.

Any plan to implement it? I think this double check would be a far better than just checking a passphrase written on screen.

Joanna Rutkowska said...

@Harry: good point, but this would qualify as an attack against particular implementation of the BIOS/loader. The BIOS/loader should implement DMA protection.

In the past I used to say that Intel TXT was better than SRTM because Intel TXT offers DMA protection automatically, and I wasn't sure if a similar DMA protection could be implemented for SRTM.

But recently we have done some additional research which convinced us that DMA protection can also be effectively implemented in BIOS for SRTM.

In practice, I'm pretty sure that most BIOSes do not use such a DMA protection. Still, it's a problem with those BIOSes that could be relatively easy patched.

Anonymous said...

NSA's Trusted Computing and the Information Assurance R&D Lab offer Host Integrity at Startup - which "Measures Integrity of Desktop platforms at start-up and report findings to a Server for Action". Specifically it ensures "a known good state of endpoint firmware and software at boot-time and log-in." See second half of the briefing at

Joanna Rutkowska said...

@NSA_PR: so, where can I download it?

Danny Fullerton said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alex said...

If you consider hidden cameras and electromagnetic leaks as a threat, an attacker would not have to mount another evil maid attack to get your SRK or LUKS password. Just hardcoding the secret eavesdropped from screen output and presenting it together with a suitable password dialog would probably be enough.

Another attack I could imagine: If an attacker can modify the internal graphics card (e.g. storing custom shader programs) he would probably be able to derive your secret screen output (from framebuffer) and additionally forge arbitrary output.

A third issue might be permanent modification of the management engine (or embedded controller, or GPU or other internal device). I wonder whether effective DMA protection actually can be established against those integrated devices...

Generally: How long can a secret be considered to be a secret if you display it on every system boot/resume? Do you think that is feasible in the public, like airports?

Joanna Rutkowska said...


1) Re. remote screen output sniffing: I would consider this to be much more difficult than remote capturing of keystrokes (e.g. google 3M privacy filter). Also the secret doesn't need to be a single word -- it could also be e.g. a picture of your fav pet, or a funny video shot on your holidays...

2) Re. an attack that infects GPU (e.g. puts a shader program). This is a software attack (because those are not persistent). In fact all we do in Qubes is about preventing such attacks. This is one reason why we don't offer GPU to domains. Of course any attack on a device that belongs to Dom0 is fatal, but this should not be confused with Evil Maid attacks.

3) Re. permanent modification of the Intel ME -- this is very hard to do -- even if you can reflash SPI flash, still ME ROM would verify its firmware. Also ME goes through a normal VT-d translation/filtering.

3a) Similar attack as above but targeting the GPU -- if you wanted to infect GPU Option ROM then this would be caught by Anit Evil Maid (PCRs would be different). If you found a way how to modify the internal GPU firmware, then you would not be cought, but this seems like an extremely difficult task -- do you know the actual 'architecture' of the GPU on which the microcode operates on? It would be easier to perform a bus attack on TPM LCP bus instead IMO.

4) Re. your concerns about keeping a secret secret -- as said above, it doesn't need to be a single word or phrase. It could be a picture or video even (feel free to send patches to support this with plymouth).

Gerald said...

Great and really complete analysis!

I'd add one proposal and one question:
- There are some smart USB keys with smart card inside capable to engage in PKI operations and verify the platform attestation locally (something user cannot do and that you try to solve by displaying an image). Then this 'trusted portable device' can report the platform trustworthiness with any visual indication (green led for example). It can also forbid usage of additional credentials like disk encryption key or login certificates if something went wrong (just in case attacker succeeded in tampering the device led)
- I wonder how many users will consider their system has been hacked if the system states "an invalid passphrase has been typed...". Cause in some scenarios, bios could have been tampered with, capture user key/passphrase, display error, and then restore the default bios as the next try will display the appropriate image...


Harry said...

In the context of a state-sponsored attack (or in any other context where price is not too much of an issue) maliciously modified components should provide a fairly fool-proof way in.

The most efficient approach would probably be trojan DDR sticks. That way you'd only need a few different models.

The only counter I can think of is to try to arrange for the encryption keys to be erased if any physical intrusion to the case is detected.

Joanna Rutkowska said...

@Harry: sure, we can speculate that gov can do *anything*. Yet, I would be sceptical as to the feasibility of producing e.g. trojaned DDR stick that would work in the *field* (i.e. inserted into the user's computer without the user noticing anything) instead of only in the *lab* environment (which would not be helpful for the attacker).

Until I see one, I would be assuming such threat as unlikely, in contrast to other attacks that I described in the article that are orders of magnitude easier.

Anonymous said...

So, DRTM doesn't protect against malicious SMM images. I guess you established that. I'm interested in your assertion that SRTM can offer protection against malicious DMA. Even if the BIOS does everything correctly, wouldn't there be a small timeframe right at the start of the machine where evil DMA were possible?

Or is it possible to make DRTM also measure the BIOS and assorted option ROMs every time CRTM is established? That would of course be a solution.

Joanna Rutkowska said...


There is a way to avoid the race condition by the BIOS. This is not part of the public research.

"Or is it possible to make DRTM also measure the BIOS and assorted option ROMs every time CRTM is established? That would of course be a solution."

I don't quite understand the above question? What do you mean by "everytime CRTM is established"?

Anonymous said...

Supposedly, Intel TXT reinitializes the CPU and makes measurements on the code to be run. And this falls flat because SMM is not one of the things that are measured. What I was asking was essentially whether one could "coerce" Intel TXT to also measure all the places where SMM code could execute from.

If you think I've been smoking crack and don't know where I could possibly have gotten that idea: The TPM can seal data against any number of PCRs which also contain a BIOS measurement, and launch control policies are another way to enforce correct PCRs, if I'm not mistaken.

Joanna Rutkowska said...

When TXT's SENTER executes, the SMM is already loaded. And it only makes sense to measure code *before* it gets executed.

If TXT was about measure "all the places where SMM code could execute from", then it would need to essentially the same things that BIOS does during SRTM. And still, an attacker who could get around BIOS SRTM, would also be able to get around such TXT measurement.

So, the actual solution for TXT should be to somehow sandbox the SMM code. And this is, in fact, what Intel is proposing with their STM vaporware^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H.

Anonymous said...

Right, I forgot that.

Does this mean that until SMM code can be sandboxed, one would need to verify one's BIOS (and other sources of SMM code, if they exist) to be secure? And that to make these code locations tamper-resistant, one would require race-free DMA protection (which is not publically available (yet))?

(as necessary, but insufficient preconditions)

Anonymous said...

i don't see why drtm couldn't be started IN bios.

it'd be like srtm, just with dma protection and the root of trust would be almost the same?

Joanna Rutkowska said...


There are two possibilities:
1) You trust your BIOS code -- in that case running DRTM in BIOS doesn't really buy you anything.

2) You don't trust your BIOS/SMM code -- in that case running DRTM so early makes no sense, as the BIOS/SMM code can be compromised several times after you measured it.

Anonymous said...

does anyone have much choice right now? - one either trusts their bios to be benign with srtm and tries to keep it that way OR distrusts their bios with drtm and has already lost to smm attacks.

so this is case 1. and drtm gives us dma protection. which is a clear win.

one requires the TXT-like drtm so dma protection is automatic and there's no race between the measurement of the bios and the bios's activation of dma protection via vt-d PMRs

Anonymous said...

"even if your BIOS doesn't have a backdoor (maintenance password), it is still possible to just take your disk away and connect to another laptop and infect its boot partition.

"Another suggested approach has been to keep your boot partition on a separate USB stick. This solution obviously doesn't take into account the fact that the attacker might install Evil Maid into your BIOS."

... so why consider each of these possibilities, but not consider them both combined?

Backdoor BIOS passwords received much publicity iirc a decade ago, and since then, I'm not aware of any ... I assume there are many easier attacks than obtaining one of these, for most people. Evil maid attack is not something that a sophisticated attacker would contemplate, since it leaves evidence in the hands of the victim. So I think it's valid to contemplate using a BIOS admin password, plus put your boot code and kernel onto a external drive you protect well, add some tamper-proofing to the PC, and encrypt everything that's left on the PC (except for a decoy OS of course to keep casual thieves from thinking there is anything unusual about the PC).

What say you? Do you know of a BIOS which can be updated when a both admin and user passwords have been set, and the PC booted with only the user password? Do you know of backdoor BIOS passwords on systems less than five years old? Some manufacturers have better reputations than others in this regard, at any rate, and so this 'traditional' solution is still very practical imho.

Thanks though for your informative article and a lot of other thought-provoking research you keep us on our toes with!

Anonymous said...

What are the security issues when having a sealed binary on the boot partition of the harddrive? I've setup an anti-evil-mail setup using arch-linux and mkinitcpio (similiar to dracut), but in my setup tpm_unsealdata is used to unseal a sealed luks key, which is then used to decrypt the luks root partition. You suggested to put this sealed file on a usb device, but afaik, depending on the pcrs used to seal the key, there is no possibility to decrypt the disk if the files which are hashed in the pcrs are altered. That means, when using trusted-grub with the right pcrs an attacker would of course be able to alter my boot partition and by that sniff my SRK password, but i would notice it at once because my root partition can't be encrypted. Can someone please point out the error in my logic?

Thanks in advance,