3rd gen vs 10th gen - Intel ME

Dear community,

I would like to ask you one thing that is not clear to me and I have not found an answer on the forum.

How is it possible that if we want to remove Intel ME, we have to use a maximum 3rd generation processor (Nitropad T430 for example) but purism offers a 10th generation Intel processor without ME. Is this (librem 14) a full ME removal?

Next I would like to ask what exactly is the reason why the Librem 14 laptop is not certified for Qubes. Is it because the certification process didn’t happen, or does the Librem 14 not meet something that is a requirement for certification? (For example, the difference in Intel ME versus Nitropad?)

Thank you!

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Dear community,

I would like to ask you one thing that is not clear to me and I have not found an answer on the forum.

That is a good question.
The first part is wrong - we do not need to use a 3rd gen processor.
Most people use the me_cleaner script, which is tested and working up to 7th gen
processors.

Purism does offer a 10gen processor without ME, but how they do this
is unclear. Last time I checked their code simply included me_cleaner.
If they have adapted it, they haven’t (yet) given back - if they are
using something else, it wasn’t clear to me what it was.

The reason is that the certification process has not happened
There is some friction between Qubes and Purism, which has been covered
here in the Forum and in the mailing list.

I never presume to speak for the Qubes team.
When I comment in the Forum or in the mailing lists I speak for myself.
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Thank you, so why is nitropad using the T430 and not the newer 7th gen version? Is there a technical reason?

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I would imagine it is because Nitro uses Heads, and that limits the range

These machines, the x230s and t430s, are cheap and there is great
community support.
Nitro do offer the NitroPC with a 10th gen Intel CPU.

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This is not entirely accurate. If you want to completely get rid of Intel ME, you can only do it on a laptop listed here: Laptops | RYF (beware that those machines are likely vulnerable to Spectre and Meltdown). Any other, more modern devices will have at least some parts of Intel ME. The Nitropad T430 does not have removed ME, it has “Deactivated Intel Management Engine”, which is not the same. This might be a bit misleading description on their side if people get confused here. I am not sure exactly what “deactivated” means, couldn’t find on their website.

Purism also do not offer full ME removal, it’s impossible for their CPU. They only offer “disabled Intel Management”. Their older laptops had in addition “neutralized” Interl ME. Details and the difference are here: Deep dive into Intel Management Engine disablement – Purism.

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Thank you for the reply @unman , but the link you sent says it is also compatible with Librem 14. So what is the difference? Is it possible to say that Librem 15 or Nitropad is “safer” to use with Qubes?

If Purism can effectively disabled Intel ME and their deactivation procedure is trustworthy, does it even make sense to use older CPUs (approx 30% performance increase of 3rd gen i7 vs 10th gen i7 + lighter laptop, faster ssd, more ram, etc.)

Sorry for the possibly stupid questions but this matter is still not clear to me, I would like to buy a Qubes compatible laptop and I am deciding between a Librem 14 and a Nitropad T430. The requirement is deactivated (trustworthy) Intel ME, coreboot/heads. Then if both devices are identical the preference is which is lighter (frequent travel) and has faster RAM and SSD and more RAM.

Thank you very much

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Another difference is of course price. A Librem will cost you anything in between $1,570 (8GB and 250GB SSD – useless for Qubes OS) and $3,366 if you want more 64GB RAM, 2TB SSD and actual heads/anti-interdiction services.

To make a fair comparison let’s configure 16GB RAM, 1TB SATA SSD, heads/Librem Key without anti-interdiction … Purism = $2046.00 / NitroPad = 1,314 € (~ $1,500). If you build that “NitroPad” yourself you can have the same machine for < $1,000 with even better specs incl. full HD screen (I have done it, building a second one in the next days). You could probably do the the exact NitroPad spec for < $700.

Those price differences might not be a big deal to you, but there are plenty of folks for whom that is the difference between possible and impossible. Finally, I can’t speak to how well Purism laptops are supported, but the T430 is pure pleasure. Everything is supported and works (makes sense since the tech is 10+ years old).

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I have read numerous articles about the certified laptops and security features which finally led me to this thread.

Thank you @unman and @Sven for your explanations.

A Librem will cost you anything in between $1,570 (8GB and 250GB SSD – useless for Qubes OS)

Could you please explain why 250GB SSD is useles for Qubes? I noticed that you can configure Nitropad X230 with 480GB SSD.

Keep in mind that while older notebooks like T460/X230 etc can properly disable ME and have coreboot support, they are no longer supported with microcode updates. With all the CPU sidechannel vulnerabilities these days, that may be a risk in your threat model.

I found this statement on this forum. Is this a relevant threat for Nitropads? If so, what measures are taken to mitigate the risk?

What about similar risks from outdated and potentially vulnerable firmware of other components and drivers on older notebooks like Nitropads?

If I put all the information together, is it right that there are no disadvantages in terms of security when using a Librem as a basis for Qubes OS (preinstalled) except the following?

  • not certified by Qubes team
  • lack of clarity about how Intel ME is disabled

Could you please tell me if Intel ME is disabled or neutralized on Nitropads as I could not find this detail in the available information?

I would like to add that Purism finalizes assembly, quality control tests, and delivers hardware from USA based on their information. How do you rate this?

Thank you.

Yes afaik, but maybe seek clarification from Nitrokey. Also see Heads: Binary blobs, microcode updates and transient execution vulnerabilities.

Great question! I’m interested in this too.

I believe the details matter here (or might to you based on your questions).

If you haven’t already, I’d also recommend checking out https://insurgo.ca/

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In addition to what others have mentioned (e.g., cost), there is simply the practical matter of support for end users. As Unman mentioned, me_cleaner only supports up to Kaby Lake processors, probably because well supported - community driven solutions lag profit based businesses (e.g., Purism, System76) due to funding/resources. You can see this with related solutions, as well, such as CoreBoot. So, if you want access to a stable ME solution with good support, and an affordable price, “older” technologies are a good option.

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You can’t reduce IME, but you can disable it with the HAP bit, which seems to be confirmed working up to and including 11th gen intel.

Most people don’t buy CPUs with the vPro features, and without vPro IEM doesn’t include AMT. As fare as I know, all RCE exploits against IME have been in the AMT extension. If you have a CPU without ATM, I don’t think you need to reduce IEM, but I could be wrong on this.

This thread has a lot of info from the work dt-zero has done after corna stopped working on the project, but I also think real life work has forced dt-zero to stop working on the project.

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That’s really great information. Intel’s vPRO/AMT is always worth considering when selecting and configuring a device. The HAP bit mod is a new one on me, so thanks.

I could have been more artful in my response to the OP who seemed to be asking the question: “Why not the latest and greatest CPU for a Qubes OS platform?”

A more refined response, on my part, would have been to say that one needs to consider personal interests/requirements as well as the total cost of ownership (TCO) both in terms of money and one’s personal time.

If you’re an organization or individual with deeps pockets, or if having the latest and greatest is your thing, then there’s absolutely nothing wrong with running with a Purism device with a Comet Lake cpu. The Qubes Hardware Compatibility list has listed some great options.

If you’re someone who has the technical savy or “spirit of adventure,” then the The Qubes Hardware Compatibility list documents the hard work of those who have contributed their experience with a multitude of platforms, and that should prove useful.

If you’re an individual or ogranization looking for a Qubes OS device option with the lowest TOC (Money & Time), then the Community Recommended Hardware List provides some well thought out options. I’m personally in this camp, and am planning to pick up a t430 with an i5-3320m and 8 GB of RAM in the next few months. The prices are dropping (currently under $100) on the online auction sites, and availability of replacement/upgrade parts is far superior to the Sony Vaio’s I’ve been using and abusing for years.

IMHO, there really isn’t a “right” answer regarding the best choice in CPUs or devices for Qubes OS. Rather, a choice of options one of which will likely best suit your own use case. Picking up a t430 (i5-3320m) provides a very cost effective solution with a great level of compatibilty and community support. Moreover, you can upgrade at your leisure (e.g., 4 physical cores via a i7-3840QM) and others have made a shopping list for your convenience.

YMMV

Below you can find an update regarding Purism Librem on Intel ME topic. I would be pleased about a neutral evaluation in terms of security.

https://forum.qubes-os.org/t/kill-intel-me-whisky-lake/7903/5

https://forums.puri.sm/t/me-cleaner-and-new-cpus/13003/5?u=snow

You can’t clean IME anymore, so it’s true that me_cleaner doesn’t work.

One of the options me_cleaner has, is to soft disable IME using the HAP or AltMeDisable bit depending on the version of IME, this method still works if you do it manually. The theoretical problem with this approach is that there is no way to know if IME is running, it could be running and just telling the system it’s not.

Cleaning IME is probably the more secure option if you look at it in a vacuum because it removes the code from the ROM, even if IME is running there is no code for it to execute.

But given up microcode updates and secure boot is not a small price to pay for getting the option to remove the code from the ROM. It’s not something for nothing, and if you gain or lose security depends heavily on your personal threat model.

Thanks for your answers. Resarch lead me to further resources which I want to share with you, even though it is not new.


https://troopers.de/downloads/troopers17/TR17_ME11_Static.pdf

https://recon.cx/2014/slides/Recon%202014%20Skochinsky.pdf

I could not find any evidence that using the HAP or AltMeDisable bit prevents the above access options. Does anyone can provide references for this?

@renehoj

How do you evaluate MrChromebox’s following answer on this as he speaks about a 100% sure way to check if Intel ME is disabled?

https://www.reddit.com/r/coreboot/comments/ll1b8r/what_are_the_ways_to_check_if_intel_me_is_disabled/

I have not been able to find any evidence of vulnerabilities as threatening as Intel ME for Qubes certified laptops (Insurgo X230 and Nitropads X230 and T430) regarding CPU microcodes or other firmware for mainboard, network card and hard disks (latter probably less relevant) because of missing updates. Does anyone else has information on this?

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These capabilities of ME is just flat out creepy.

The best video I’ve seen on the matter of the ME was an interview by Bryan Lunduke that included Jeremy Soller of System 76. The video has since been pulled, but I do remember Jeremy saying that with the best “counter measures” there’s still a split second handshake with ME at bootup. I don’t recall them elaborating on what the handshake or modifications mean in terms of vulnerabilities. However, Jeremy seemed well informed and might be a good source of information.

You are mixing the features of Intel management Engine and Intel Active Management Technology, only the vPro line of CPUs have the AMT functions. IME can’t be disabled, but you can disable AMT in the bios.

You can compile Coreboot with the log enabled, it allows CB to write some KBytes of the firmware boot log to the firmware rom, once the system is booted you can extract the log with the flashrom util. I don’t think CB knows more than IME is telling it, a paranoid person probably wouldn’t believe that IME is telling the truth.

For the X230 and T430, it’s probably better to just remove IME, considering they are both vPro. The CPU and laptop is discontinued, you don’t get any microcode or firmware updates, but it does mean you can’t use anti evil maid.

I’m not sure if you were replying to my post, as I don’t think I was disagreeing with you. I was simply noting a resource, who is active on social media, with a strong understanding of how to slim down the Intel Management Engine.

System 76 (Jeremy Soller) uses processors that are not VPro “ellibible”, so as far as I know, AMT functions are not available. However the chip set on the motherboards most likely have the Management Engine, thus why they slim the Management Engine down.

The “handshake” Jeremy Soller mentions likely involves the Management Engines involvement in the initialization process at a point prior to which the “slimming down” takes place (see stage 4 vs stage 5).

Of course, Jeremy Soller was referring to newer proccessors & chip sets, and the technologies (harware & firmware) on which AMT and the Management Engine (arguably an element of AMT) have evolved over the past decade or so.

I agree.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intel_Management_Engine#Difference_from_Intel_AMT

But Intel ME has still following possibilities, has’nt it?

https://www.blackhat.com/docs/eu-17/materials/eu-17-Goryachy-How-To-Hack-A-Turned-Off-Computer-Or-Running-Unsigned-Code-In-Intel-Management-Engine-wp.pdf

I wonder why there is no known case of exploitation in the wild.