Because, obviously, I have nothing I'd rather do than try to fathom how Secure Boot works on a Monday evening, I'm writing this up.

Maybe you're experiencing this problem right now. Maybe you're not, but you're intrigued as to how I go about diagnosing computer problems.

A stubborn PC

I maintain a PC that has Windows 7 installed (due to be upgraded to Windows 10) and, yesterday evening, installed several optional updates.1 Nothing unusual there.

A day later, an owner of the machine restarted it. Except, well, the PC refused.

Instead it said this:

The system found unauthorized changes on the firmware, operating system or UEFI drivers.

Hmm. That's certainly not good since it's related to Secure Boot's check of boot integrity. Warily, I disabled Secure Boot in the BIOS to get the machine to boot Windows, and checked the System Event Log.

Looking around the log, it turns out that the last time that the machine had previously successfully started was just before I installed the updates, which is consistent with what had happened. As the PC was fine until that point, it ruled out anything malicious, and pointed to the update as being a likely candidate.

Having looked through the list of recently installed updates, most of them seemed fairly routine, except the KB3133977 update for a Bitlocker issue. What stood out were the changes to Windows Boot Manager files Bootmgr.efi and Bootmgfw.efi, which also suggested the update was at fault.


Searching around led me to several recent links, as I mentioned in comments on this SuperUser question.

In those posts, Windows users were reporting the same issue: the BIOS complaining that there was an unauthorised change. This being a relatively new issue isn't surprising as the update was only released on March 14th, 2016.

ASUS being the motherboard manufacturer seems to be common to those experiencing the problem. It seems to affect different models; here it's a H87-PRO. Even then it's unclear what the root cause is:

  • maybe ASUS motherboards are the only ones that allow you to enable Secure Boot with Windows 7?

  • maybe there's something unusual with the signing process of this update that only affected ASUS motherboards?

  • or maybe it's just a coincidence? (But, it's odd that it's a common link in several cases. You'd think if users with other motherboards would have been affected, they'd have mentioned it too.)

As linked above, Microsoft's site suggests Secure Boot is supported on Windows 8 and up, and I can't find any documentation to suggest Secure Boot should work on Windows 7. It's possible that this is just behaviour out of specification that didn't cause any problem until now.

Edit 2016-05-15: It turns out that it was a bad configuration on the part of ASUS as documented by their FAQ. Judging from the news stories published around 4th May 2016 and onwards, that note has only been released by ASUS this month. Pretty slow response, really, seeing as this problem's been known for several weeks. Their fix is one of those already suggested here: disable Secure Boot.

(It's a while ago since I installed the PC, but I guess that I originally must have tried turning on Secure Boot during installation and, since the PC booted without a problem, left it enabled.)

What to do?

Other posts I'd read indicated that removing KB3133977 didn't solve this. Perhaps there are EFI changes that don't get reverted when you uninstall the update? Who knows?

However, restoring a previous system backup fixes the issue. You could then leave everything as is, but have to make sure that you don't install this update (hiding it would work). This is inconvenient then, but fine provided you have regular backups.

Oh, but the update might actually fix a problem you're experiencing with Bitlocker. In which case, you're going to have to install it regardless then, aren't you?

Another solution is to disable Secure Boot in the BIOS. That's not a perfect solution though, especially if you're booting other operating systems that work with Secure Boot.

It's always possible, but unlikely, that Microsoft could reissue the update and enabling the Secure Boot option might be possible again.

None of that explains completely what happened, but that's at least enough to hopefully stop you panicking and make your Windows install accessible, if you've been affected.

What fun will today's later batch of updates brings, I wonder?

Edit 2016-05-20: Marc-Andre Renaud kindly emailed me to share his experience:

Your hunch about deleting keys while booting in UEFI mode possibly fixing this was correct. I deleted the keys on my ASUS Sabertooth z97 motherboard and was able to boot.

One more thing

Incidentally, I wondered what happens if you disable Secure Boot, then do an in-place upgrade of Windows in this situation, where we can't enable Secure Boot? Can you later enable it?

My hunch is that you should be able to, provided your operating system was installed when your BIOS was in UEFI mode. With the ASUS motherboard I was looking at, if you were doing an in-place upgrade in this particularly strange case, I think you'd need to clear the Secure Boot keys to disable Secure Boot while allowing UEFI (otherwise you wouldn't be able to boot Windows 7).

Once the upgrade's complete, I'd then expect I could go back to the BIOS and install the default Secure Boot keys, which should let you set Secure Boot again.

Edit September 2016: Having tested this on a PC with this exact problem, the answer is yes, this works fine. This Windows 7 was installed in UEFI mode, had Secure Boot enabled until this ASUS problem occurred earlier this year, and was then upgraded to Windows 10 with Secure Boot disabled. Enabling Secure Boot after the upgrade was successful.

  1. Previously, I had recommended updates set to automatically install, but unfortunately it's now necessary to make sure you don't inadvertently install Windows 10