Signing Linux Kernel Modules and enforce to load only signed Modules


With the enforcement of loading only signed Linux Kernel Modules you can greatly enhance the security of your System.

There are basically two methods of enforcement: Secure (UEFI) Boot and the other is a grub parameter. When using Secure boot you can sign own (or 3rd party) Kernel modules by yourself and add your public key as a MOK (Machine Owner Key) in UEFI. When not using Secure Boot, you can not load self signed modules due to the lack of storing MOKs. At least you can prevent loading unsigned Modules.

Unfortunately I was unable to test Secure Boot with a KVM virtual machine, the MOK was not added. Also on hardware it does not seem to work on all machines. I failed with my Lenovo T450s Notebook. Finally I succeeded with my Workstation with a Gigabyte Z97-D3H motherboard using Fedora 25. If someone has a solution with virtual machines, please let me know.

About Secure boot

Basically it is a chain of trust with x509 certificates. UEFI Firmware -> Shim First-Stage Bootloader -> Grub Second Stage Bootloader -> Kernel -> Modules.

This adds complexity. If something goes wrong it’s not always easy to figure out where and why it goes wrong.

Secure Boot is not without some controversy, its dominated by Microsoft, only Microsoft can sign bootloaders. Yes, the Shim bootloader is signed by Microsoft. If Microsoft decides to no longer sign Shim (or any non-MS loader), the whole Linux landscape is not able to use Secure boot anymore. As of today, most UEFI Firmware let users choose to turn off Secure Boot, how about that in the future?

Creating a dummy Kernel Module

First you need to build a unsigned Kernel module. A “Hello Wold” is good enough

Install the required RPMs

yum -y install kernel-devel.x86_64 gcc keyutils mokutil.x86_64


#include <linux/module.h>
#include <linux/kernel.h>
#include <linux/init.h>

MODULE_AUTHOR("Luc de Louw");
MODULE_DESCRIPTION("Hello World Linux Kernel Module");

static int __init hello_init(void)
    printk(KERN_INFO "Hello world!\n");
    return 0;

static void __exit hello_exit(void)
    printk(KERN_INFO "Unloading Hello world.\n");



obj-m += hello.o

        make -C /lib/modules/$(shell uname -r)/build M=$(PWD) modules

        make -C /lib/modules/$(shell uname -r)/build M=$(PWD) clean

        cp hello.ko  /lib/modules/$(shell uname -r)/extra


make && make install


modprobe hello

To remove the module afterwards run

rmmod hello

Set up the enforcement of loading only signed modules

This is only needed on machines without secure boot.

Add module.sig_enforce=1 to GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX in /etc/default/grub


GRUB_DISTRIBUTOR="$(sed 's, release .*$,,g' /etc/system-release)"
GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX="crashkernel=auto module.sig_enforce=1"

The next step is to update the GRUB configuration. Please check if you are using UEFI or BIOS on your system first.

On system with UEFI

[root@rhel7uefi ~]# grub2-mkconfig -o /boot/efi/EFI/redhat/grub.cfg

On BIOS systems

[root@rhel7test ~]# grub2-mkconfig -o /boot/grub2/grub.cfg

Reboot your system.


modprobe hello

The Module will not load. You will see an error message instead:

modprobe: ERROR: could not insert 'hello': Required key not available

Signing the module

Needless to say that this must be done on a protected system and not on production servers.

First you need to create an OpenSSL config file like this:


cat >>/tmp/x509.conf <<EOF
[ req ]
default_bits = 4096
distinguished_name = req_distinguished_name
prompt = no
string_mask = utf8only
x509_extensions = extensions

[ req_distinguished_name ]
O = Example, Inc.
CN = Example, Inc. Kernel signing key
emailAddress =

[ extensions ]

Generating the Keypair

[root@rhel7uefi ~]# openssl req -x509 -new -nodes -utf8 -sha256 -days 99999 -batch -config /tmp/x509.conf -outform DER -out pubkey.der -keyout priv.key 

Adding the Public key as a MOK (Machine Owner Key)

Note: This does only work on systems with UEFI, on BIOS machines you will get an error.

[root@rhel7uefi ~]# mokutil --import pubkey.der

You will be prompted for a password that will be used for the second part of the MOK enrollment. Reboot your machine, the shim UEFI Key Manager will appear. After waiting 10sec the system continues to boot the normal system.

You can list the enrolled keys with

root@rhel7uefi ~]# mokutil --list-enrolled

Signing the Module

After successfully enroll the MOK you can sign and test the Kernel Module.

First lets have a look at the Module

root@rhel7uefi ~]# modinfo hello
filename:       /lib/modules/3.10.0-514.16.1.el7.x86_64/extra/hello.ko
description:    Hello World Linux Kernel Module
author:         Luc de Louw
license:        GPL
rhelversion:    7.3
srcversion:     4A5235839200E8580493A17
vermagic:       3.10.0-514.16.1.el7.x86_64 SMP mod_unload modversions 
[root@rhel7uefi ~]# 

Sign it.

[root@rhel7uefi ~]# /usr/src/kernels/$(uname -r)/scripts/sign-file sha256 priv.key pubkey.der /lib/modules/$(uname -r)/extra/hello.ko

Lets have a look to the module again.

[root@rhel7uefi ~]# modinfo hello.ko
filename: /root/hello.ko
description: Hello World Linux Kernel Module
author: Luc de Louw
license: GPL
rhelversion: 7.3
srcversion: 4A5235839200E8580493A17
vermagic: 3.10.0-514.16.1.el7.x86_64 SMP mod_unload modversions
signer: Example, Inc. Kernel signing key
sig_key: 71:F7:AA:48:60:A0:B5:D9:D8:A8:1D:A4:6F:92:30:DF:87:35:81:19
sig_hashalgo: sha256
[root@rhel7uefi ~]#

Now you should be able to load your module.

[root@rhel7uefi ~]# modprobe hello

If something went wrong, you will see an error message such as

modprobe: ERROR: could not insert 'hello': Required key not available

Syslog and Journald are more verbose:

Request for unknown module key 'Example, Inc. Kernel signing key: 22e37ef0c0784c7a2c1e2690dc8b27c75533b29d' err -11

Further reading


If your hardware works with secure boot, you can easily enhance security and keep the flexibility to load 3rd party Kernel modules by signing them.

On virtual machines you can make use of signing enforcement which prevents to load any 3rd party module. This may, or may not be a problem.

A major drawback I see is scalability. It may be okay to manually enroll keys on a few workstations or notebooks. On a larger enterprise scale I see problems. For really large environments, you can probably talk with the hardware vendor to include the MOK (Machine Owner Key) factory preinstalled.

Have fun 🙂

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