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You are here: Home Campaigns Secure Boot vs Restricted Boot The Restricted Boot Webcomic Contest: Defend user freedom on tablets and smartphones

The Restricted Boot Webcomic Contest: Defend user freedom on tablets and smartphones

by Joshua Gay Contributions Published on Feb 28, 2012 05:43 PM
The Restricted Boot Webcomic Contest is now closed.

Update: The Restricted Boot Webcomic Contest is closed.
Learn more about the winning entry!

In December, Microsoft apparently conceded to public pressure by quietly updating the Windows 8 logo certification requirements with a mandate that a desktop computer user must be able to control (and disable) the Secure Boot feature on any Windows 8 computer that is not based on ARM technology. This looks like a victory for free software users, as it will allow a person to install GNU/Linux or other free software operating system in place of Windows 8. But, this is no time for celebration, because Microsoft has also added a treacherous mandate for makers of ARM-based computers — such as a tablets, netbooks, and smartphones — requiring them to build their machines with Restricted Boot technology. Such computers are designed to lock a user into only being able to run Windows 8, absolutely preventing her from being able to install a free software operating system on her computer. Since smartphones and tablets are some of the most commonly used computers, it's vital that we get straightforward and clear information about this threat out to the public.

Already know what this is about? Then take action now:

If this is the first you're hearing about this whole Restricted Boot vs. Secure Boot business, here's the story...

Last Fall, Microsoft announced that if computer makers wish to distribute machines with the Windows 8 compatibility logo, they will have to implement a measure called "Secure Boot."

When done correctly, "Secure Boot" is designed to protect against malware by preventing computers from loading unauthorized binary programs when booting. This could be a feature deserving of the name, as long as the user is able to authorize the programs she wants to use, so she can run free software written and modified by herself or people she trusts.

However, when these boot restrictions are implemented in a way that prevents a user from booting anything other than Windows, we are better off calling the technology Restricted Boot, since such a requirement would be a disastrous restriction and not a security feature at all.

Initially, Microsoft did not specify whether or not they would require computer makers to implement Secure Boot or Restricted Boot in their Windows 8 logo program requirements.

Out of concern that they would require Restricted Boot, we published a statement urging "all computer makers implementing UEFI's so-called 'Secure Boot' to do it in a way that allows free software operating systems to be installed." (Since that time, over 24,000 individuals have signed on to our statement.)

Then, in an attempt to appease these concerns, Microsoft wrote a blog post stating, "Microsoft does not mandate or control the settings on PC firmware that control or enable secured boot from any operating system other than Windows."

But, we now know this was a lie.

In December, Microsoft added the following requirement for computer makers:

On non-ARM systems, it is required to implement the ability to disable Secure Boot via firmware setup. A physically present user must be allowed to disable Secure Boot via firmware setup without possession of PKpriv. [...] Disabling Secure [Boot] MUST NOT be possible on ARM systems. (emphasis added)

For non-ARM systems, we might consider this a victory, since it seems like Microsoft is doing the right thing when it comes to common desktop computers. However, we won't take their word for it, since they have already directly lied about this issue -- we'll keep an eye on them, and make sure users are able to control the security of their own machines in a straightforward way.

Furthermore, we know they are doing the wrong thing when it comes to ARM systems. Users who wind up with a Windows 8 ARM-based computer, tablet, or netbook, won't be able to install a free distribution of Android, such as Replicant, or a free distribution of GNU/Linux, such as Trisquel. In fact, they won't be able to install anything other than what Microsoft authorizes.

Therefore, we must make our voices heard. We need to let Microsoft know that we will not accept their Restricted Boot requirements and we need to continue to urge computer makers to implement their boot technology in a way that will allow the user to install his or her own custom and free software operating systems.

Webcomic Contest

Millions of people will purchase smartphones and tablets, so it is imperative that we convey the importance of this issue to the general public -- not just to programmers. What better way is there to grab people's attention and give people an informed perspective on an issue than through a webcomic?

So, get creative and have fun while helping us raise awareness and put pressure on Microsoft and computer makers.

We are accepting submissions between now and March 16th. While we hope to publish all the comics we can, the number one selection will be displayed on the front page of fsf.org for a month.

Individual, organization, and corporate signatures

In addition to the over 26,000 individual signatures we've collected, I'm pleased to announce that today we are also adding several corporate and organizational signers to the list, including: FSF Europe, FSF Latin America, Fight for the Future, the Arab Digital Expression Foundation, the Software Freedom Law Center, and more.

Please, sign the statement as an individual if you have not already done so. We are inviting more organizations and corporations to sign as well.

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