Windows Secure Boot Process Enumeration: Detailed Mechanism and Overview

Introduction and System Architecture

We must first begin with a brief introduction to the hardware platform. Skip this if you have read the awsome material available on the web about the Intel architecture, I’ll try to briefly summarize it here.


Lets use this post to also introduce the main interconnects in the system. The main externally facing interconnect bus is PCI-E, a fast bust that can reach 64GBps in its latest incarnations. A second external bus is the LPC, or Low Pin Count bus, a slow bus for connecting devices such as SPI flash, the TPM (explained below), and old peripherals such as PS/2 touchpads.

More Components

Another interesting component is the ITH, or Intel Trace Hub, which is codenamed North Peak (NPK). The ITH can trace different internal hardware component (VIA — Visualization of Internal Signals, ODLA — On-chip logic analyzer, SoCHAP — SOC performance counters, IPT — Intel Process Trace, AET — Intel Architecture Trace), and external component like CSME, the UEFI firmware, and you can even connect it to ETW. This telemetry eventually finds its way to Intel in various methods.

The Flash Chip

SPI flash has 5 major regions: the Descriptor regions, the CSME region, the Gigabit Ethernet Region, the Platform Data Region, and the UEFI region. In the image below you can see an example of how the flash is organized.


In the next sections we’ll look over all the stages of boot.

Early power on

Boot starts the PMC, the Power Management Controller. In modern Intel systems the PMC is an ARC core and its the first controller to execute code once electricity is applied to the system. We’ll talk more about PMC in a later post as its quiet interesting and has its own microcode and firmware, and event generates telemetry over the IOSF SB bus (which we’ll talk about in a moment).

Bring-Up (BUP)

Once everything is ready the kernel loads the Process Manager which executed “IBL processes”, which includes Bring-Up (BUP) and the Loader. The BUP loads virtual file system, or VFS server, parses the init script of the FTPR partition and loads all IBL modules listed there. This includes: the Event Dispatcher Server (eventdisp) — service that allows publishing, registering and acknowledging receipt of named events (sort of DBUS), the Bus Driver (busdrv) — a driver that permits other drivers to access devices on the CSME’s internal bus, the RTC driver (prtc), the Crypto/DMA driver (crypto) — provices access to services offered by the OCS hardware (SKS, DMA engines), the Storage driver (storage) — which provides access to the MFS filesystem, the Fuse driver (fpf) and finally the Loader Server (loadmgr).

CPU initialization

Once the CSME is ready it releases the main CPU from the RESET state. The main CPU loads microcode from the FIT table and sets it up (after CSME verified the uCode cryptographically) . I won’t go into details about microcode, also called uCode, here as I have a full post planned on microcode later. Whats important to know is that microcode does not only include the “implementation” of the instruction set architecture (ISA), but also many routines for intilization, reset, paging, MSRs and much mich more. As part of CPU initialization it loads another module from the FIT, the Authenticated Code Module (ACM). The ACM implements BootGuard, a security feature to check cryptographically verify the UEFI signature before it is loaded (once called “AnchorCove”). This begins the Static Root Of Trust Model (SRTM), where CSME ROM verifies the CSME, which verifies the microcode, which verifies the ACM, which verifies the UEFI firmware, which verifies the operating system. This is done by chaining their hashes and storing them in the TPM. The ACM also initializes TXT, the Dynamic Root of Trust Model (DRTM) which we will detail in a few paragraphs.

UEFI initialization

Loading the boot loader

The final driver to be loaded by DXE is the Bood Device Selection module or BDS. BDS scans its stored configuration, comparing it with the currently available hardware and decides on a boot device. This gets executed in legacy boot and non secureboot systems. In SecureBoot mode another DXE component called the SecureBootDXE is loaded to authenticate the OS boot loader. The cryptographic key used is stored in DXE and verified as part of BootGuard. SecureBootDXE also compares the boot loader agains a signed list of blacklisted or whitelisted loaders.

Windows Boot

Now we are ready for Transient System Load (TSL), most of DXE gets discarded and the OS bootloader is loaded. The bootloader (called the IPL) is measured into PCR4 and control is transfered to it. For Windows this is bootmgrfw.efi, the Windows Boot Manager. It first initialzes security policies, handles sleep states like hibernation, and finally uses EFI boot services to load the Windos loader, winload.efi.


Winload initializes the system’s page tables in preparation for loading the kernel, loads the system registry hive, loads the Kernel and the Hardware Abstraction Layer (HAL DLL) and early boot drivers. They are all authenticated cryptographically, and their measurement are stored into the TPM. Once thats done, it uses UEFI memory services to initialze the IOMMU. Once everything is loaded into its correct place in memory, the EFI boot service are discarded.


When HVCI, or HyperVisor protected Code Integrity is enabled a different process occurs. Winload does not load the kernel, instead loading the Hypervisor loader (hvload.efi), which in turn loads the hypervisor (hvix64.exe), and sets up a protected virtual machine called VTL1 — Virtual Trust Level 1. It then loads the Secure Kernel (SK) into VTL1, and then setups VTL0, the untrusted level for the normal kernel. Now winload.efi is resumed within VTL0 and continues to boot the system within VTL0. The secure kernel continues running in the background providing security features like authentication as well as memory protection services for VTL0.

Dynamic Root of Trust Model (DRTM)

The whole security model presented so far is based on a chain of verifications. But what happens if that chain is broken by a bug? UEFI implementations have many security bugs, and those will affect the security of the whole system. To alleviate this issue Intel and Microsoft developed the Dynamic Root of Trust Model (DRTM), available since Windows 10 18H2. In DRTM, winload starts a new load verification chain using an Intel security feature called TXT. TXT measures critical parts of the OS during OS loading. The process is initiated by the OS executing a special instruction — GETSEC[SENTER], implemented in microcode, which results in the loading, authentication and execution of an ACM called the Secure Init ACM (SINIT ACM). The ACM can be on the flash, or can be supplied by the OS with the GETSEC instruction.

UEFI Memory Attributes Table

As stated before, Windows wants to run the UEFI runtime services in VTL0. By default the OS cannot lock these memory pages to be W^X (only write or only execute, not both) because many old UEFI systems still mix code and data. Microsoft solves this by introducing a new UEFI table, the UEFI Memory Attributes Table (MAT), which specifies if the runtime service should execute from VTL0 (by marking the memory region as EFI_MEMORY_RO|EFI_MEMORY_XP), or must run with RWX protections. Since this is a gaping whole, the UEFI runtime’s parameters are santized using a VTL code — and this is enabled only for a restricted subset of runtime calls).

Other OSs


More Protections

IOMMU and DMA protections

DMA is a platform feature that allows hardware to write directly to main memory bypassing the CPU. This greatly enhances performance, but comes with a security cost: hardware can overwrite UEFI or OS memory after it has been measured and authenticated. This means malicous hardware can attack the OS after boot and tamper with it.

Secure Devices

Microsoft allows some device to be isolated from VTL0 and used only from code in VTL1 to protect sensitive information used for logon, like the face recognition camera and fingerprint sensors. Secure devices discovered using ACPI table “SDEV” (SDEV_SECURE_RESOURCE_ID_ENTRY, SDEV_SECURE_RESOURCE_MEMORY_ENTRY).


SMM, or the System Managment Mode, is a special mode invoked to handle various hardware and software interrupts, and is implemented as part of the UEFI firmware. For example, SMM can simulate a PS/2 keyboard by handling keyboard interrupts and translating them into USB read/write. When a legacy application performs an IO IN/OUT operation on a PS/2 port, the SMI handler registered for that port is executed, transfers the system into SMM mode, runs the DXE USB keyboard driver, and then returns the result transparently. SMM is also used for security features by allowing certain actions to occur only from SMM. The caveat of SMM is that it has full access to the system, and operates in “ring -2”, even higher then VTL-1 and the hypervisor. It has been used for attacks for many years (look in google for NSA’s SOUFFLETROUGH).

Memory Reset protections

After a warm boot or even a fast cold boot some secrets (keys) might remain in memory. Intel provides security for these secrets using special TXT Secrets registers.



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Umair Akbar

Umair Akbar

Tesla Software Engineer. Autopilot.