Signed kernel module support
Since Linux kernel version 3.7 onwards, support has been added for signed kernel modules. When enabled, the Linux kernel will only load kernel modules that are digitally signed with the proper key. This allows further hardening of the system by disallowing unsigned kernel modules, or kernel modules signed with the wrong key, to be loaded. Malicious kernel modules are a common method for loading rootkits on a Linux system.
- 1 Enabling module signature verification
- 2 Administering kernel module signatures
- 3 External resources
Enabling module signature verification
Enabling support is a matter of toggling a few settings in the Linux kernel configuration. Unless you want to use your own keypair, this is all that has to be done to enable kernel module support.
Configuring module signature verification
Module signature verification is a kernel feature, so has to be enabled through the Linux kernel configuration. You can find the necessary options under Enable loadable module support.
--- Enable loadable module support [*] Module signature verification [*] Require modules to be validly signed [*] Automatically sign all modules Which hash algorithm should modules be signed with? (Sign modules with SHA-512) --->
The option Module signature verification (CONFIG_MODULE_SIG) enables the module signature verification in the Linux kernel. It supports two approaches on signed module support: a rather permissive one and a strict one. By default, the permissive approach is used, which means that the Linux kernel module either has to have a valid signature, or no signature. With the strict approach, a valid signature must be present. In the above example, the strict approach is used by selecting Require modules to be validly signed (CONFIG_MODULE_SIG_FORCE). Another way of enabling this strict approach is to set the kernel boot option
When building the Linux kernel, the kernel modules will not be signed automatically unless you select Automatically sign all modules (CONFIG_MODULE_SIG_ALL).
Finally, we need to select the hash algorithm to use with the cryptographic signature. In the above example, we use SHA-512.
Building the kernel with proper keys
When the Linux kernel is building with module signature verification support enabled, then you can use your own keys or have the Linux kernel build infrastructure create a set for you. If you want the Linux kernel build infrastructure to create it for you, just continue as you always do with a
make modules_install. At the end of the build process, you will notice that signing_key.priv (/certs/signing_key.pem in kernel 4.3.3 or higher) and signing_key.x509 will be available on the root of the Linux kernel sources.
If we want to use our own keys, you can use
openssl to create a key pair (private key and public key). The following command, taken from kernel/Makefile, creates such a key pair.
[ req ] default_bits = 4096 distinguished_name = req_distinguished_name prompt = no string_mask = utf8only x509_extensions = myexts [ req_distinguished_name ] CN = Modules [ myexts ] basicConstraints=critical,CA:FALSE keyUsage=digitalSignature subjectKeyIdentifier=hash authorityKeyIdentifier=keyid
openssl req -new -nodes -utf8 -sha512 -days 36500 -batch -x509 -config x509.genkey -outform DER -out signing_key.x509 -keyout signing_key.priv
The resulting files need to be stored as signing_key.x509 and signing_key.priv (/certs/signing_key.pem in kernel 4.3.3 or higher) in the root of the Linux kernel source tree.
The public key part will be build inside the Linux kernel. If you configured the kernel to sign modules, this signing will take place during the
make modules_install part.
Validating module signature support
Reboot with the newly configured kernel. In the output of
dmesg you should be able to confirm that the proper certificate is loaded:
dmesg | grep -i 'x.*509'
[ 1.279874] Asymmetric key parser 'x509' registered [ 1.286431] Loading compiled-in X.509 certificates [ 1.292031] Loaded X.509 cert 'Modules: b03b5edb5700f9d5d785eb2d6f3e19d34a20205b'
If CONFIG_KEYS_DEBUG_PROC_KEYS is enabled, then root user can view certificate in /proc/keys file:
011aee9c I------ 1 perm 1f030000 0 0 asymmetri Modules: b03b5edb5700f9d5d785eb2d6f3e19d34a20205b: X509.RSA 4a20205b  0b5726c7 I--Q--- 1 perm 1f3f0000 0 65534 keyring _uid_ses.0: 1 0b6539f7 I------ 1 perm 1f0b0000 0 0 keyring .system_keyring: 1 3b688504 I--Q--- 2 perm 1f3f0000 0 65534 keyring _uid.0: empty
modinfo should display same key:
modinfo usbcore | grep '^sig'
signer: Modules sig_key: B0:3B:5E:DB:57:00:F9:D5:D7:85:EB:2D:6F:3E:19:D3:4A:20:20:5B sig_hashalgo: sha512
The kernel modules have the digital signature appended at the end. A simple
hexdump can confirm if a signature is present or not:
hexdump -C vxlan.ko | tail
00008880 cf 0e e7 cb 10 9e 98 5f 4b 21 d4 03 ba 3d 7e e7 |......._K!...=~.| 00008890 68 db f9 e3 5f 62 3c c7 d6 6c 84 c7 d6 68 c1 73 |h..._b<..l...h.s| 000088a0 3d d7 5a 38 66 99 12 b8 84 c9 84 45 dd 68 6d 17 |=.Z8f......E.hm.| 000088b0 03 24 dc 9c 6f 6d 11 01 e9 74 82 ea b5 5b 46 07 |.$..om...t...[F.| 000088c0 fe dd 66 97 1a 33 58 3d 6e d0 ac 03 08 16 73 06 |..f..3X=n.....s.| 000088d0 9f 90 c4 eb b3 82 1d 9f 48 8c 5b 51 01 06 01 1e |........H.[Q....| 000088e0 14 00 00 00 00 00 02 02 7e 4d 6f 64 75 6c 65 20 |........~Module | 000088f0 73 69 67 6e 61 74 75 72 65 20 61 70 70 65 6e 64 |signature append| 00008900 65 64 7e 0a |ed~.| 00008904
~Module signature appended~ at the end confirms that a signature is present. Of course, it does not confirm that the signature is valid or not.
To remove the signature, we can use the
strip --strip-debug vxlan.ko
hexdump -C vxlan.ko | tail
00097330 6c 5f 67 65 74 5f 73 74 61 74 73 36 34 00 72 63 |l_get_stats64.rc| 00097340 75 5f 62 61 72 72 69 65 72 00 5f 72 61 77 5f 73 |u_barrier._raw_s| 00097350 70 69 6e 5f 75 6e 6c 6f 63 6b 00 72 65 67 69 73 |pin_unlock.regis| 00097360 74 65 72 5f 70 65 72 6e 65 74 5f 64 65 76 69 63 |ter_pernet_devic| 00097370 65 00 6b 6d 61 6c 6c 6f 63 5f 63 61 63 68 65 73 |e.kmalloc_caches| 00097380 00 6e 65 74 64 65 76 5f 69 6e 66 6f 00 6e 65 69 |.netdev_info.nei| 00097390 67 68 5f 6c 6f 6f 6b 75 70 00 72 65 6c 65 61 73 |gh_lookup.releas| 000973a0 65 5f 73 6f 63 6b 00 72 65 67 69 73 74 65 72 5f |e_sock.register_| 000973b0 6e 65 74 64 65 76 69 63 65 00 |netdevice.| 000973ba
If we try to load this module now, we get a failure:
modprobe: ERROR: could not insert 'vxlan': Required key not available
This confirms that modules without a signature are not loaded.
Administering kernel module signatures
Once the kernel boots and we have validated that the signed kernel module support works, it is important to correctly handle the keys themselves.
Protecting the private key
The private key, stored as signing_key.priv (/certs/signing_key.pem in kernel 4.3.3 or higher), needs to be moved to a secure location (unless you will be creating new keys for new kernels, in which case the file can be removed). Do not keep it at /usr/src/linux on production systems as malware can then easily use this key to sign the malicious kernel modules (such as rootkits) and compromise the system further.
Manually signing modules
If you ever need to manually sign a kernel module, you can use the scripts/sign-file script available in the Linux kernel source tree. It requires four arguments:
- The hash algorithm to use, such as
- The private key location
- The certificate (which includes the public key) location
- The kernel module to sign
In this case, the key pair does not need to be named signing_file.priv and such, nor do they need to be in the root of the Linux kernel source tree location.
perl /usr/src/linux/scripts/sign-file sha512 /usr/src/linux/kernel-signkey.priv /usr/src/linux/kernel-signkey.x509 vxlan.ko
Kernel 4.3.3 or higher:
/usr/src/linux/scripts/sign-file sha512 /usr/src/linux/certs/signing_key.pem /usr/src/linux/certs/signing_key.x509 vxlan.ko
Distributing the kernel and modules
If we create a kernel package through
make tarbz2-pkg, the modules in it will be signed already so we do not need to manually sign them afterwards. The signing keys themselves are not distributed with it.
- Booting a self-signed Linux kernel - Greg Kroah-Hartman describes how to boot a self-signed Linux kernel from EFI. As having signed kernel module support is only secure if the Linux kernel is trusted, this is an important (and related) feature to work with.