This blog contains experience gained over the years of implementing (and de-implementing) large scale IT applications/software.

Is my AWS hosted SLES 12 Linux VM Affected by the BootHole Vulnerability

In an effort to spin this story out a little further, I’ve taken my previous Azure specific post and decided to do some further research into whether the same is true in Amazon Web Services (a.k.a AWS).


In July 2020, a GRUB2 bootloader vulnerability was discovered which could allow attackers to replace the bootloader on a machine which has Secure Boot turned on.
The vulnerability is designated CVE-2020-10713 and is rated 8.2 HIGH on the CVSS (see here).

Let’s recap what this is (honestly, please see my other post for details, it’s quite technical), and how it impacts an AWS virtual machine running SUSE Enterprise Linux 12, which is commonly used to run SAP systems such as SAP HANA or other SAP products.

What is the Vulnerability?

Essentially, some evil input data can be entered into some part of the GRUB2 program binaries, which is not checked/validated.
By carefully crafting the data that is the overflow, it is possible to cause a specifically targeted memory area to be overwritten.

As described by Eclypsium here (the security company that detected this) “Attackers exploiting this vulnerability can install persistent and stealthy bootkits or malicious bootloaders that could give them near-total control over the victim device“.

Essentially, the vulnerability allows an attacker with root privileges to replace the bootloader with a malicious one.

What is GRUB2?

GRUB2 is v2 of the GRand Unified Bootloader (see here for the manual).
It can be used to load the main operating system of a computer.

What is Secure Boot?

There are commonly two boot methods: “Legacy Boot” and “Secure Boot” (a.k.a UEFI boot).
Until Secure Boot was invented, the bootloader would sit in a designated location on the hard disk and would be executed by the computer BIOS to start the chain of processes for the computer start up.

With Secure Boot, certificates are used to secure the boot process chain.
This BootHole vulnerability means a new CA certificate needs to be implemented in every machine that uses Secure Boot!

But the attackers Need Root?

Yes, the vulnerability is in a GRUB2 configuration text file owned by the root user. Additional text added to the file can cause the buffer overflow.
Anti-virus can’t remove the bootloader if the bootloader boots first and “adjusts” the anti-virus.

NOTE: The flaw also exists if you also use the network boot capability (PXE boot).

What is the Patch?

Due to the complexity of the problem (did you read the prior Eclypsium link?), it needs more than one piece of software to be patched and in different layers of the boot chain.

The vulnerable GRUB2 software needs patching.
To be able to stop the vulnerable version of GRUB2 being re-installed and used, three things need to happen:

  1. The O/S vendor (SUSE) needs to adjust their code (known as the “shim”) so that it no longer trusts the vulnerable version of GRUB2. Again, this is a software patch from the O/S vendor (SUSE) which will need a reboot.
  2. Since someone with root could simply re-install O/S vendor code (the “shim”) that trusts the vulnerable version of GRUB2, the adjusted O/S vendor code will need signing and trusting by the certificates further up the chain.
  3. The revocation list of Secure Boot needs to be adjusted to prevent the vulnerable version of the O/S vendor code (“shim”) from being called during boot. (This is known as the “dbx” (exclusion database), which will need updating with a firmware update).

What is SUSE doing about it?

There needs to be a multi-pronged patching process because SUSE also found some additional bugs during their analysis.

You can see the SUSE page on CVE-2020-10713 here, which includes the mention of the additional bugs.

How does this impact AWS VMs?

In the previous paragraphs we found that a firmware update is needed to update the “dbx” exclusion database.
Since AWS virtual machines are hosted in a KVM based hypervisor, the “firmware” is actually software.

Whilst looking for details on “Secure Boot” in AWS virtual machines, there is absolutely no mention of it being supported for Linux.
If we dig into the the VM import/export documents here on the AWS docs site, we find:

So the above states that for VMs imported/exported, “UEFI/EFI boot partitions are supported only for Windows boot volumes with VHDX as the image format. Otherwise, a VM’s boot volume must use Master Boot Record (MBR) partitions.“.
The words “…only for Windows…” are the key part of this.
Because if we scan just a little further down the page, it says that the UEFI boot partitions are actually “supported” for Windows, by being converted to MBR (not Secure Boot compatible):

I feel we can surmise that AWS does not support running Linux VMs with Secure Boot.
Apart from this little gem of information here.
This slide shows that the launch of the AWS Graviton2 chip enables ARM based Linux distributions to support Secure Boot.
We can read the Amazon EC2 User Guide here (updated August 28, 2020), to find that SLES 15 is the only SUSE Linux that supports ARM cpus on AWS:

So we know that Secure Boot is not available in AWS on any of the SLES x86 operating systems, and SLES 12 on ARM is not supported on Graviton based cpus.


The BootHole vulnerability is far reaching and will impact many, many devices (servers, laptops, IoT devices, TVs, fridges, cars?).
However, only those devices that actually *use* Secure Boot will truly be impacted, since the devices not using Secure Boot do not need to be patched (it’s fruitless).

If you run SLES 12 on AWS virtual machines, you cannot possibly use Secure Boot, so there is no point patching to fix a vulnerability for which you are not affected.
You are only introducing more risk by patching.

If however, you do decide to patch (even if you don’t need to) then follow the advice from SUSE and patch to fix GRUB2, the “shim” and the other vulnerabilities that were found.

If you are running SLES 12 on AWS, then there is no specific order of patching, because you do not use Secure Boot, so there is no possibility of breaking the trust chain that doesn’t exist.

On a final closing point, you could be running a HANA system in AWS on what is known as “Bare Metal” (“High Memory Instances” or a.k.a “*.metal”). These are physical machines using the Nitro based hyper-visor. So whilst EC2 Virtual Machines can’t use Secure Boot, these “Bare Metal” machines may well do so through the use of the Nitro Security Chip (see a good deep dive here). You would be wise to contact your AWS account representative to establish if they will be patching the firmware.

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