AWS Compute Blog

Deep dive into NitroTPM and UEFI Secure Boot support in Amazon EC2

Contributed by Samartha Chandrashekar, Principal Product Manager Amazon EC2

At re:Invent 2021, we announced NitroTPM, a Trusted Platform Module (TPM) 2.0 and Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) Secure Boot support in Amazon EC2. In this blog post, we’ll share additional details on how these capabilities can help further raise the security bar of EC2 deployments.

A TPM is a security device to gather and attest system state, store and generate cryptographic data, and prove platform identity. Although TPMs are traditionally discrete chips or firmware modules, their adaptation on AWS as NitroTPM preserves their security properties without affecting the agility and scalability of EC2. NitroTPM makes it possible to use TPM-dependent applications and Operating System (OS) capabilities in EC2 instances. It conforms to the TPM 2.0 specification, which makes it easy to migrate existing on-premises workloads that use TPM functionalities to EC2.

Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) Secure Boot is a feature of UEFI that builds on EC2’s long-standing secure boot process and provides additional defense-in-depth that helps you secure software from threats that persist across reboots. It ensures that EC2 instances run authentic software by verifying the digital signature of all boot components, and halts the boot process if signature verification fails. When used with UEFI Secure Boot, NitroTPM can verify the integrity of software that boots and runs in the EC2 instance. It can measure instance properties and components as evidence that unaltered software in the correct order was used during boot. Features such as “Measured Boot” in Windows, Linux Unified Key Setup (LUKS) and dm-verity in popular Linux distributions can use NitroTPM to further secure OS launches from malware with administrative that attempt to persist across reboots.

NitroTPM derives its root-of-trust from the Nitro Security Chip and performs the same functions as a physical/discrete TPM. Similar to discrete TPMs, an immutable private and public Endorsement Key (EK) is set up inside the NitroTPM by AWS during instance creation. NitroTPM can serve as a “root-of-trust” to verify the provenance of software in the instance. Sensitive information protected by NitroTPM is made available only if the OS has booted correctly (i.e., boot measurements match expected values). If the system is tampered, keys are not released since the TPM state is different, thereby ensuring protection from malware attempting to hijack the boot process. NitroTPM can protect volume encryption keys used by full-disk encryption utilities (such as dm-crypt and BitLocker) or private keys for certificates.

NitroTPM can be used for attestation, a process to demonstrate that an EC2 instance meets pre-defined criteria, thereby allowing you to gain confidence in its integrity. It can be used to authenticate an instance requesting access to a resource (such as a service or a database) to be contingent on its health state (e.g., patching level, presence of mandated agents, etc.). For example, a private key can be “sealed” to a list of measurements of specific programs allowed to “unseal”. This makes it suited for use cases such as digital rights management to gate LDAP login, and database access on attestation. Anti-malware software (e.g., Windows Defender) can initiate remediation actions if attestation fails.

NitroTPM uses Platform Configuration Registers (PCR) to store system measurements. These do not change until the next boot of the instance. PCR measurements are computed during the boot process before malware can modify system state or tamper with the measuring process. These values are compared with pre-calculated known-good values, and secrets protected by NitroTPM are released only if the sequences match. PCRs are recalculated after each reboot, which ensures protection against malware aiming to hijack the boot process or persist across reboots. For example, if malware overwrites part of the kernel, measurements change, and disk decryption keys sealed to NitroTPM are not unsealed. Trust decisions can also be made based on additional criteria such as boot integrity, patching level, etc.

The workflow below shows how UEFI Secure Boot and NitroTPM work to ensure system integrity during OS startup.


To get started, you’ll need to register an Amazon Machine Image (AMI) of an Operating System that supports TPM 2.0 and UEFI Secure Boot using the register-image primitive via the CLI, API, or console. Alternatively, you can use pre-configured AMIs from AWS for both Windows and Linux to launch EC2 instances with TPM and Secure Boot. The screenshot below shows a Windows Server 2019 instance on EC2 launched with NitroTPM using its inbox TPM 2.0 drivers to recognize a TPM device.

NitroTPM and UEFI Secure Boot enables you to further raise the bar in running their workloads in a secure and trustworthy manner. We’re excited for you to try out NitroTPM when it becomes publicly available in 2022. Contact for additional information.