Secure Boot



Secure Boot is a service offered by the UEFI boot firmware which verifies that all executable code loaded during the boot process is signed by a trusted key. This ensures that none of the privileged software on the device has been tampered with. In a Linux system, this encompasses the boot loader, the kernel, and device drivers.

Note that Secure Boot does not provide filesystem integrity, only boot loader, kernel and device driver (kernel module) integrity. If you are interested in filesystem integrity checking, the dm-verity framework may be what you are looking for.


The signatures used by Secure Boot are embedded in the binary files themselves, and as such, are largely independent of the Mender client; it will just deploy whatever files the update contains, with or without Secure Boot signatures. This means that in general, if a system was Secure Boot compliant before introducing the Mender client, it will keep being compliant after introducing it.

However, how you build the image affects whether it is Secure Boot compliant or not. Although the Mender client supports Secure Boot, not all of Mender's image building facilities do.

For the Debian family of operating system images, mender-convert is the tool used to convert an upstream image to a Mender compatible dual rootfs image. Certain criteria need to be met for this conversion to support Secure Boot.

  • The architecture must be x86 (either 32-bit or 64-bit)
  • The system must boot using UEFI.
  • The MENDER_GRUB_D_INTEGRATION feature must be enabled in the mender-convert configuration. Normally this is auto-detected, but you can force it on by setting MENDER_GRUB_D_INTEGRATION=y somewhere in the configuration.
  • Image must already be Secure Boot compliant. See signing below.
  • The grub-efi-amd64-signed and shim-signed packages must be installed prior to the conversion.


Mender-convert only supports images that are already Secure Boot compliant before the conversion, and this requires that all relevant files are already signed. Upstream Debian and Ubuntu images are already Secure Boot compliant when you download them, so no they need no further action to be employed. However, sometimes it can be desirable to use custom keys to sign the image. See the table below for some important security properties of each approach.

Property OS vendor keys Custom keys
Protects against rootkits
Prevents installation of different kernel and module versions from the same OS vendor
Prevents installation of custom-built (hacked) kernels and modules
Works with standard UEFI firmware keys1

1 Most computers come with Microsoft's Root public key installed in the UEFI firmware. With custom keys, there needs to be a process in place during provisioning of each device, to remove this key and install a custom key in its place.

Custom keys

To use custom keys, consider following something like Ubuntu's "How to sign things for Secure Boot" guide.

If you start with a pre-built image and follow above the guide to sign various components, it is very important that you build the shim, GRUB, Linux kernel, and Linux kernel modules from scratch! Using existing pre-built components from upstream vendors will result in an insecure system, and you will not gain the additional security properties listed above.

Note that Secure Boot compliance is a complex field, and can not guarantee that the guide above will result in a secure system. Consider employing a domain expert on Secure Boot and have them validate the image building and signing process.

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