Table of contents
  1. Upgrading Heads
  2. Reflashing the same firmware
  3. Verify upgradeability paths of the firmware
    1. Unlocked IFD and ME
    2. Locked IFD and ME
  4. Internal Flashing
    1. Preparing a compliant USB thumb drive
    2. Flashing new firmware under Heads
  5. Re-Owning the states


Upgrading Heads

The first time you install Heads, you’ll need some SPI programmer to be able to replace the existing vendor firmware.

Outside of migrating from Legacy to Maximized firmware, all subsequent upgrades can be performed internally through Heads menus although you’ll probably want a hardware programmer since we don’t have a fail-safe recovery mechanism in the event of a bad flash or buggy firmware.

Additionally, upgrading the firmware will change the TPM PCRs. This will require resealing TOTP/HOTP and to setup a new TPM Disk Unlock Key and passphrase by setuping a new boot default.

Be sure you have your TPM owner’s password and your Disk Recovery Key passphrase available since, by design, the TPM Disk Unlock Key will become invalid. Also note that TPM PCRs are extended by going to the recovery shell anyway, which does not permit to have access to sealed secrets from there.

Reflashing the same firmware

If you reflash the same firmware image by selecting the retain settings option from Heads GUI, your TOTP/HOTP/TPM Disk Unlock Key and passphrase will stay valid since measurements will repopulate PCRs exactly the same way they were sealed, resulting in the same unsealed secrets from the TPM, resulting in the same HOTP/TOTP/TPM Disk Unlock Key.

So if you are in doubt of the current firmware state, you can consequently reflash the firmware image through the GUI to validate it’s current integrity. It is a good idea to keep last flashed firmware image on a USB drive.

Bonus, Maximized ROMs reflash the whole SPI flash; not just the BIOS region like Legacy ROMs do.

Verify upgradeability paths of the firmware

First things first, verify the supported platforms. If you have a ThinkPad (xx30/xx20 flavors), proceed with caution. Also select hotp variant if you own a Heads supported USB Security dongle for visual remote attestation

Review if the Intel Firmware Descriptor (IFD) and Intel Management Engine (ME) were unlocked or not from the Recovery Shell prior of going forward.

flashrom -p internal

The two following situations must apply, which will define what to do next.

Unlocked IFD and ME

This is the expected output if the initial external flashing of the firmware unlocked IFD and ME regions: CanBeFlashedToMaximizedRom

  • This means you can internally migrate from Legacy boards (xxxx-hotp/xxxx boards ROM) to their Maximized boards counterpart (xxx-hotp-maximized/xxxx-maximized boards ROM).
    • If you are presently on a Legacy board (If Heads boot screen is not showing Maximized):
      • You will have to manually call flashrom from the Recovery Console:
        • mount-usb
        • flashrom -p internal -w /media/heads-hotp-maximized-version-gcommit.rom
      • InternalUpgradeToMaximizedROM
  • If you are already running a Maximized board ROM, you can safely upgrade through Heads GUI keeping your current settings.

Locked IFD and ME

Otherwise, initial external flashing of the firmware didn’t unlock the IFD/ME regions: CantBeInternallyUpgradeToMaximizedROM

  • This means you either have to:
    • Externally reflash Maximized board ROM
      • xx30: xx30-maximized-top.rom(4Mb) and xx30-maximized-bottom.rom(8Mb) ROMs
      • xx20: xx20-*-maximized.rom (8Mb ROM)
    • Stay with Legacy board ROMs. This means you can safely update through Heads GUI, keeping your current settings.

Internal Flashing

Preparing a compliant USB thumb drive

On the laptop used to build/download Heads: For safety, list the drives available without plugging your USB drive:

sudo fdisk -l

Plug your USB flash drive and redo last command to witness appearance of a new drive:

sudo fdisk -l

Note that Heads currently supports Ext3 /Ext4/Exfat/fat32 filesystems, where fat32 limits file size to a maximum of 4Gb. So if you intend to use that USB drive to host bigger files, you should probably backup current content and format to ext3/ext4. Otherwise, fat32 is fine now to put only firmware image.

If you want to reformat your usb drive as ext4 (USB drive is /dev/sdb here) where ExFat is recommended now:

sudo mkfs.ext4 /dev/sdb1

These are the commands I used to create a directory ~/usb/ and mount my usb drive there, but you can mount it wherever you want:

mkdir ~/usb
sudo mount /dev/sdb1 ~/usb/

Move the full Heads rom file to the usb drive and unmount the drive:

sudo cp ~/heads/build/x86/x230/heads.rom ~/usb/
sudo umount /dev/sdb1

Flashing new firmware under Heads

As discussed above:

  • If you are not migrating from Legacy boards to Maximized board configurations, you can safely upgrade from Heads GUI through Options->Flash/Update BIOS and choose the retain settings option. This will copy your GPG keyring and user configuration into the new ROM prior of flashing it the whole combined 12Mb SPI flash with the ROM.

  • If you are migrating from Legacy to Maximized ROM, you need to manually call flashrom from the Recovery Shell, having a copy of your public key on a USB drive to inject it back on next Heads boot.

Re-Owning the states

Reboot and verify that the new firmware is running. Don’t be scared if you have to power off twice The trained memory cache in firmware might have been wiped and reconstructed. Hold the power button for 10 seconds and power back on.

  • If you migrated from Legacy to Maximized builds (no migration of settings), you will be prompted on next reboot by the same prompts following an initial flash. That is:
    • To inject your public key or do OEM Factory Reset/Re-Ownership
      • Injecting the public key will reflash the firmware with your public key fused in.
      • The Factory Reset/Re-Ownership option will guide you into re-owning all security components including resetting USB Security dongle, injecting public key in ROM and signing /boot.
    • Then on next reboot, you will be prompted to generate new TOTP/HOTP token/Reset TPM. Normal, since none of the previous measurements are valid anymore (GPG Admin PIN and TPM Ownership passphrase required)
      • Reset TPM if you ever get TPM counter increments errors (new TPM Owner passphrase will be requested.)
      • Choose HOTP/TOTP otherwise (TPM Owner password will be prompted in TPM2 case + GPG Admin PIN in case of HOTP board)
    • Sign /boot content (GPG User PIN required)
    • Select a new boot default through Boot Options (GPG User PIN required to sign the new default)
      • Optionally set a TPM Disk Unlock Key (Disk Recovery Key passphrase and GPG User PIN required)
  • If you upgraded your firmware by choosing the retain settings options for a same board configuration
    • The same steps above will be required, outside of the public key injection/Re-Ownership.


  • Since commit : users using Heads with that commit or more recent as current firmware can upgrade with zip files. Those automatically verify rom integrity and if valid continue with flashing the rom contained in the zip file.
  • Since commit users having a TPM Disk Unlock Key (DUK) defined previously will be guided to reseal a new passphrase when resealing TOTP/HOTP and to needed magic automatically. Enjoy.