Shuttleworth Calls for Declarative Firmware

Mar 18, 2014

Ubuntu founder denounces insecurity in proprietary, close-source software blobs.

Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth has called for an end to the dominance of the ACPI power management and device configuration interface used for firmware configuration in many PCs. In a recent blog post, Shuttleworth points out that low-quality, closed source firmware as a major threat to system security.  
"If you read the catalog of spy tools and digital weaponry provided to us by Edward Snowden, you'll see that firmware on your device is the NSA's best friend. Your biggest mistake might be to assume that the NSA is the only institution abusing this position of trust--in fact, it's reasonable to assume that all firmware is a cesspool of insecurity, courtesy of incompetence of the worst degree from manufacturers, and competence of the highest degree from a very wide range of such agencies."
Shuttleworth goes on to call the ACPI system a "trojan horse of monumental proportions," adding portentously, "I've been to Troy; there is not much left."
According to Shuttleworth, blobs of commercial, closed-source code in the firmware just opens the door for sophisticated intruders, whether they are government spies or conventional criminals. His solution:
Firmware should be open source, so the code can be checked and verified, and innovative new features should be submitted through an upstream, peer-reviewed process such as the Linux kernel development process.
Firmware should be declarative, meaning that it describes "hardware linkages and dependencies" and doesn't include executable code.
Mark Shuttleworth is artful enough to sense that the furor over the NSA spying scandal means the world might be especially receptive right now to a pitch about the benefits of free software. Beyond the public relations, however, is an interesting development for Shuttleworth's own beloved Ubuntu project. The Free Sofware Foundation still lists Ubuntu as a "nonfree GNU/Linux distribution," noting that "...the version of Linux, the kernel, included in Ubuntu contains firmware blobs."

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