Alpaquita Linux: Using Custom Keys in Secure Boot

1. Overview

Secure Boot (SB) is a mechanism to boot only trusted software and protect the system from malicious code early in the boot process. Since the introduction of this feature in 2011 by Microsoft, most Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) firmware now comes with preloaded Microsoft certificates that only boot software signed by them when SB is enabled. Moreover, many SB systems today allow users to add their own trusted keys to SB databases

Alpaquita Linux contains a Microsoft-signed shim that enables you to run Alpaquita in Secure Boot mode on a x86_64 UEFI system without any preliminary setup.

If you want to use Secure Boot with your own keys, you must sign the shim with your key in Alpaquita and add your trusted keys to the Secure Boot database (UEFI db). After that, you can enable secure boot in your system. For more information, see Signing shim and Installing keys to Secure Boot database in this document.

How Secure Boot works in Alpaquita Linux

Alpaquita Linux provides a trusted chain, which includes pre-bootloader "shim" with a built-in Alpaquita UEFI certificate, signed MOKManager utility, grub, and Linux kernel (automatically locked down if SB is enabled).

  • UEFI firmware is a replacement for the Basic Input/Output System (BIOS) firmware interface. In the Secure Boot context, it has a platform key (PK) and several SB databases that include the signature database (db), revoked signatures database (dbx), and Key Enrollment Key database (KEK).

  • shim is the first stage bootloader, a root of trust for all other booted components in Alpaquita Linux. It embeds the BellSoft Alpaquita UEFI certificate used to sign further booted software.

  • MOK (Machine Owner Key) is an extra database of keys or hashes, similar to db, which can be easily managed by a user. There is a mockutil package that can be used to add or remove keys, but changes can only be confirmed and applied at boot time. This allows signing locally built kernel modules, bootloaders or kernels.

As demonstrated in the previous diagram, the shim, the first-stage bootloader, must be signed with the key you control from UEFI Signature Database (db), or the shim hash must be added to db to start Alpaquita Linux in Secure Boot mode. If you use the default key, you can enable Secure Boot without any setup. If you want to use some other key, sign the shim and load the key or hash to the UEFI db. After that, you can enable the secure boot, because the other components in the boot chain are trusted (signed by the trusted key).

To demonstrate shim signing and enrollment of new keys, we will use an x86 virtual machine using QEMU/KVM with UEFI support. Bare-metal machines have their own specific UEFI firmware implementations. Contact your hardware vendor (manufacturer) for details, such as the possibility of changing Secure Boot keys, assistance, and tools you may need.

2. Setting up Secure Boot

The following sections provide detailed information on how to set up Secure Boot for Alpaquita Linux using your own keys.

Alpaquita Linux contains a Microsoft-signed shim that enables you to run Alpaquita in Secure Boot mode on a x86_64 UEFI system without any preliminary setup. If you are not sure about any procedure in the following steps, do not alter the default setup. Contact BellSoft support for more information.

Setting up virtual machine

To proceed, prepare an x86 Linux machine with QEMU/KVM installed and UEFI firmware for the demo VM.

OVMF is Open Virtual Machine Firmware that is a part of the Intel’s EFI Development Kit II (edk2). It enables UEFI support for x86 Virtual Machines. To simplify the setup, use the edk2-ovmf or ovmf package that can be found in many distributions. Download Fedora edk2-ovmf package, which is available in official Fedora repositories and includes the already built UEFI firmware image with SB support.

  1. Create a new directory for the new VM.

    mkdir alpaquita-sb-vm
    cd alpaquita-sb-vm
  2. Unpack edk2-ovmf rpm to edk2-ovmf directory and copy two ovmf files from there.

    mkdir edk2-ovmf
    rpm2cpio edk2-ovmf-20210527gite1999b264f1f-3.fc36.noarch.rpm | cpio -i --make-directories
    cd ..
    cp edk2-ovmf/usr/share/edk2/ovmf/OVMF_CODE.secboot.fd OVMF_CODE.fd
    cp edk2-ovmf/usr/share/edk2/ovmf/OVMF_VARS.secboot.fd OVMF_VARS.fd
  3. Create a QEMU disk image.

    qemu-img create -f qcow2 -o preallocation=off aplaca.qcow2 8G
  4. Download official Alpaquita Linux ISO from the folloing location
  5. Start a VM with the following options.

    qemu-system-x86_64 -cpu host -enable-kvm -m 512 -smp 2 \
       -hda alpaquita.qcow2 \
       -machine q35,smm=on \
       -device e1000,netdev=net0 -netdev user,id=net0,hostfwd=tcp::5555-:22 \
       -global driver=cfi.pflash01,property=secure,value=on \
       -drive if=pflash,format=raw,unit=0,file=OVMF_CODE.fd,readonly=on \
       -drive if=pflash,format=raw,unit=1,file=OVMF_VARS.fd \
       -drive id=cd0,if=none,format=raw,readonly,file=alpaquita-virt-22.0-x86_64.iso \
       -device ide-cd,bus=ide.1,drive=cd0,bootindex=1
  6. The qemu options also forward ssh port, so you can access the VM via ssh after the installation is complete.

    ssh -p 5555 alpaquita@localhost

Setting up Alpaquita Linux

  1. Boot the VM with Alpaquita Linux ISO. Alpaquita Linux ISO loads grub and starts the kernel. Now we can set up Alpaquita Linux.

  2. On the "Secure Boot" screen of the Alpaquita Linux Installation, select "Install Secure Boot required packages to sign with own keys." Complete the setup and reboot.

  3. Disable booting from ISO. You can remove the lines below from the options of the previous qemu-system-x86_64 command:

    -drive id=cd0,if=none,format=raw,readonly,file=alpaquita-virt-22.0-x86_64.iso \
    -device ide-cd,bus=ide.1,drive=cd0,bootindex=1 \

Switching Secure Boot to Setup mode

Reboot the machine, interrupt the normal booting process by pressing the ESC button. Navigate to "Secure Boot Mode" and select "Custom Mode," then "Custom Secure Boot Options." Delete db, KEK, and PK keys.

Confirm the deletion of PK.

After deleting the PK key, Secure Boot turns on "Setup Mode."

Reboot the machine to complete this step.

Create PK, KEK, db keys

If you already have the required keys for signing shim and adding to the UEFI db, skip this step and go directly to the Signing shim part.

Installing required packages

Install the following packages.

sudo apk add openssl efitools sbsigntool uuidgen util-linux-misc

Creating the keys

Use the following script to create the keys.


  local name="$1"
  local subj="$2"

  openssl req -new -x509 -newkey rsa:2048 -sha256 -days 3650 \
    -keyout $name.key -subj "/CN=$subj" -out $name.pem

  create_key PK "My Platform Key"
  create_key KEK "My Key Exchange Key"
  create_key SSK "My Shim Signing Key"

  local owner="$(uuidgen)"

  cert-to-efi-sig-list -g "$owner" PK.pem PK.esl
  cert-to-efi-sig-list -g "$owner" KEK.pem KEK.esl
  cert-to-efi-sig-list -g "$owner" SSK.pem SSK.esl

  cp SSK.esl db.esl

  # Uncomment to add Microsoft certificates to db
  # Dual boot, for Windows:
  # Third-party binaries signed by Microsoft (boot other Linux distros):
  #openssl x509 -in MicWinProPCA2011_2011-10-19.crt -inform DER -out MicWin.pem -outform PEM
  #openssl x509 -in MicCorUEFCA2011_2011-06-27.crt -inform DER -out MicCor.pem -outform PEM
  #local mic=”77fa9abd-0359-4d32-bd60-28f4e78f784b”
  #cert-to-efi-sig-list -g "$mic" MicCor.pem MicCor.esl
  #cert-to-efi-sig-list -g "$mic" MicWin.pem MicWin.esl
  #cat SSK.esl MicWin.esl MicCor.esl > db.esl

  sign-efi-sig-list -k PK.key -c PK.pem PK PK.esl PK.auth
  sign-efi-sig-list -k PK.key -c PK.pem KEK KEK.esl KEK.auth
  sign-efi-sig-list -k KEK.key -c KEK.pem db db.esl db.auth


After completion, the script should produce the following keys: SSK.key, SSK.pem, PK.auth, KEK.auth, db.auth. Note that "SSK" key is used to sign shim; and it is included in db.auth.

Keep the private keys (*.key) secure and store them on an encrypted external device.

Signing shim

Perform the following commands with the keys to sign shim.

sudo su
sbsign --key SSK.key --cert SSK.pem /boot/efi/EFI/alpaquita/shimx64.efi
cd /boot/efi/EFI/alpaquita/
mv shimx64.efi.signed shimx64.efi
cp shimx64.efi ../BOOT/BOOTX64.EFI

Installing keys to Secure Boot database

You can now Install new keys to UEFI Firmware using KeyTool.efi from the efitools package or efi-updatevar as follows.

  1. We recommend backing up UEFI variables before changing them.

    efi-readvar -v PK -o PK_old.auth
    efi-readvar -v KEK -o KEK_old.auth
    efi-readvar -v db -o db_old.auth
  2. Update with new ones.

    sudo efi-updatevar -f db.auth db
    sudo efi-updatevar -f KEK.auth KEK
    sudo efi-updatevar -f PK.auth PK
  3. Reboot the machine and enable Secure Boot in the UEFI firmware.

At this step, the Secure Boot is activated and Alpaquita Linux boots in lockdown mode.

Verifying Secure Boot

Enter the following command to verify that Secure Boot is enabled.

$ mokutil --sb-state
SecureBoot enabled

dmesg should contain the following lines indicating that secure boot is enabled and the kernel is locked down.

$ sudo dmesg | grep Secure
[    0.000000] Kernel is locked down from EFI Secure Boot; see man kernel_lockdown.7
[    0.000000] secureboot: Secure boot enabled
[    0.207058] integrity: Loaded X.509 cert 'BellSoft: Alpaquita Secure Boot CA: 3a793ac1906e33e9e12f28ca97c0f5b9652eae24'