[[!meta title="Bootless: 'evil maid' (sic) mitigator"]]

Bootless is a scheme allowing a computer with encrypted disk to stay without attached bootloader in order to make more difficult to tamper the initialization process. Bootless is a bootloader installed in a removable media and used to initialize computers.

It offers partial protection against the so-called evil maid attacks.


The user has at least one USB thumb drive which will be used to boot multiple operating systems in multiple machines for multiple different projects/farms (personal, work, hackerspace, etc). User keeps the bootless thumb drive in a safe place protected from physical intrusions.

The bootless application wraps around grub-mkrescue to create a USB bootdisk with preloaded custom configuration and optional kernel and initramfs images.


  • GNU Grub.
  • Reference implementation is targeted to Debian like operating systems.
  • Optionally use git and git-annex to manage your repository and images.


Don't want to install another piece of software and prefer to build a bootless rescue disk yourself? Then read about the barebones tutorial.

Just clone

git clone https//git.fluxo.info/bootless

You can also verify the latest commit's OpenPGP signature:

/usr/bin/git -C kvmx verify-commit HEAD

Note that /usr/bin/git is called to avoid any other git wrappers or aliases you might have available on your shell.

You can optionally add the bootless script it to your $PATH environment variable or package it to your preferred distro.



bootless init <folder> [repository]

Create an image:

boootless image <folder> [image]

Write image to thumb drive:

boootless write <folder> <device>

Check device/image signatures:

bootless check <folder> <device>


  • Place your custom images into custom folder.
  • Edit custom/custom.cfg to suit your needs.

Threat Model

Does bootless mitigate all types of Evil Maid attacks? No.

  1. It reduces the attack surface by placing the bootloader and images away from the physical machine and recommending you to use Full Disk Encryption (FDE) to store your operating system, swap and data.

  2. Infection is still possible in plenty of unencrypted/unauthenticated software residing in the machine, such as BIOS, network firmware and potential backdoors such as Intel's AMT/ME.

  3. The USB stick itself is not a static device: it's has a built-in controller that could be exploited to present to your computer a compromised kernel or initramfs (BadUSB attacks).


  • Bootless does not remove the threat of an evil tamperer but significantly reduces the attack surface. Exploits in the bootloader's stage0 would need to be significantly smaller to do their jobs and optionally also load an operating system (in case it's intended not to be noticed).

  • Spyware could still be installed in the firware or in specialized harware, which are plentyful in current computers.

Additional mitigations

  1. For physical attempts to tamper with your bare metal, you might try to protect and monitor your perimeter.

  2. From inside threats such as preloaded backdoors in the hardware, the best you can do is to look for laboratory audits and build and use open hardware.

  3. Check your boot using something like anti-evil-maid (repository), smartmonster (original repository) or chkboot.

  4. Against additional perimeter attacks, you could combine bootless with a solution like Edward Snowden's Haven or even always stay with your TPC - Trusted Physical Console.

  5. When turning on your machine, make sure that the ethernet and wireless networks are switched off (this could be done by removing cables, antennas or switching the "rfkill" button in laptops), preventing any bootloader exploit that broadcasts keystrokes.