BOLOS Features | Developers

BOLOS Features

Secrets, Passphrases and Attestations

Estimated reading time: More than 10 minutes


In this article, we’ll discuss some of the features that are built into BOLOS. These features are available through the dashboard app and / or can be used by userspace applications.

Management of Cryptographic Secrets

There are two important cryptographic secrets that are stored and managed by BOLOS:

  • the Device keypair (which is generated in-factory)
  • the BIP 32 master node (which is derived from the user’s BIP 39 mnemonic seed).

Both of these secrets are stored by BOLOS and are not directly accessible to applications for security reasons. The Device keypair can be used indirectly by applications for purposes of application attestation. Applications can derive secrets from the BIP 32 master node using a system call to BOLOS, provided the app was given the appropriate permissions when loaded onto the device.

Passphrases in BOLOS

Since firmware version 1.3 on the Ledger Nano S, BOLOS allows users to load multiple BIP 39 passphrases onto the device at once. As described in the previous chapter, passphrases are a method to add additional entropy to the BIP 39 master seed in order to completely change the HD tree. Users can set a temporary passphrase which is activated until the device is disconnected, or store a passphrase on the device by attaching it to a PIN. When a passphrase is attached to a PIN, it is only activated when the user unlocks the device using the PIN corresponding to that passphrase. See our Help Center article on the advanced passphrase options for more information about using passphrases.

When a passphrase is activated, the binary seed derived according to BIP 39 is changed and consequently the entire HD tree is changed. This means that using a different passphrase causes applications that derive information from the HD tree (like cryptocurrency wallet applications) to derive entirely different information (different cryptocurrency addresses will be generated).


Attestation is a process used by Ledger devices to prove that they are genuine Ledger devices. It can be used by BOLOS when connecting to a host computer to prove that the device has not been tampered with. It can also be used by applications to prove that they are running on a genuine Ledger device. BOLOS also supports endorsement of the device by third parties (called Owners) for attestation purposes.

Anti-Tampering with Attestation

Ledger devices are protected from interdiction attacks (being tampered with while en route from Ledger’s warehouses to your home) due to anti-tampering technology built into the firmware. Using attestation, the authenticity of the device is verified in software every time you plug it into one of the Ledger Live applications.

When all Ledger devices are provisioned in the factory, they first generate a unique Device public-private keypair. The Device’s public key is then signed by Ledger’s Issuer key to create an Issuer Certificate which is stored in the device. This certificate is a digital seal of authenticity of the Ledger device. By providing the Device’s public key and Issuer Certificate, the device can prove that it is a genuine Ledger device.

When the Ledger device connects to one of the Ledger Chrome applications, the device uses the Issuer Certificate to prove that it is an authentic device (this takes place during establishment of the Secure Channel, as we’ll discuss later in this section). If an attacker created a clone of the device running rogue firmware, this attestation process would fail and the device would be rejected as non-genuine. It is impossible for an attacker to replace the firmware on the device and have it pass attestation without having a Device private key and the corresponding Issuer Certificate, signed by Ledger.

It is extremely unlikely for the Device private key to become compromised, because the Secure Element is designed to be a stronghold against such physical attacks. It is theoretically possible to extract the private key, but only with great expense and time, so only an organization such as the NSA could do it.

For more information about the benefits of Ledger's use of a Secure Element for verifying device authenticity, see our blog post How to protect hardware wallets against tampering (though keep in mind that not all of the information in this article applies to Ledger's latest products).

Endorsement & Application Attestation

As discussed in the previous subsection, the Device private key can be used to prove authenticity of a Ledger device. However, direct access to the device private key is limited to BOLOS, so it can’t be directly used by individual applications on the device (to avoid compromising the key). However, applications can indirectly use the Device private key for attestation purposes by generating attestation keypairs.

Attestation keypairs can be generated on demand by the user for applications to use. An attestation key can be setup using the or When generating an attestation keypair, the host computer connects to the dashboard application and initiates a Secure Channel before instructing the device to create an attestation keypair. The device generates a new attestation keypair and signs it using the Device private key to create a Device Certificate. The device then returns the attestation public key, the Device Certificate, and the Issuer Certificate over the Secure Channel to the host. The host, which may be Ledger or a third party, then signs the attestation public key with an Owner private key, thus creating an Owner Certificate which is sent back over the Secure Channel and stored by the device (in this way, the Owner “endorses” the authenticity of the device). The device can then prove that the attestation key belongs to a genuine Ledger device using the Device Certificate and the Issuer Certificate, and that the attestation key is trusted by the Owner using the Owner Certificate.

The attestation keys are not accessible to apps directly, instead BOLOS provides attestation functionality to userspace applications through cryptographic primitives available as system calls. There are two different Endorsement Schemes available to applications (Endorsement Scheme #1 and Endorsement Scheme #2). When creating an attestation keypair, the user must choose which scheme the keypair belongs to. Applications can then use that keypair by using the cryptographic primitives offered for the appropriate Endorsement Scheme.

Endorsement Scheme #1 offers two cryptographic primitives:

  • os_endorsement_key1_get_app_secret(...) Derive a secret from the attestation private key and the hash of the running application.

  • os_endorsement_key1_sign_data(...) Sign a message concatenated with the hash of the running application using the attestation private key (this signature can be verified using

Endorsement Scheme #2 offers a single cryptographic primitive:

  • os_endorsement_key2_derive_sign_data(...) Sign a message using a private key derived from the attestation private key and the hash of the running application (this signature can be verified using

For an example of how these features may be used, check out blue-app-otherdime and this blog post which discusses the app in detail.

Attestation Chain of Trust

The chain of trust for Ledger's attestation model
The chain of trust for Ledger's attestation model

This diagram shows the chain of trust of our attestation model. All data signed by the attestation keys can be trusted to have been signed by an authentic Ledger device. This is because the Device Certificate is proof that the attestation keys belong to a device, and the Issuer Certificate is proof that the device is genuine. Additionally, the Owner Certificate is proof that the attestation keys are trusted by Owner (which may be Ledger or a third party).

Secure Channel

Throughout the standard device lifecycle, it is possible for a host computer to establish a Secure Channel with a device to verify its authenticity and to securely exchange secrets with it.

As discussed in anti-tampering, the authenticity of a Ledger device can be verified when it connects to a host computer by requesting the device’s Issuer Certificate, which is signed by Ledger. This is done when establishing a Secure Channel with the device. However, the Secure Channel is not only a means to verify the authenticity of a Ledger device, it also allows the host computer to establish an encrypted communication channel with the device. Only the dashboard application is able to establish a Secure Channel with the host computer, as doing so requires access to the Device private key.

The Secure Channel protocol is built on top of the APDU (Application Protocol Data Unit) protocol used to communicate with the device over USB. As such, the protocol consists of a series of Command APDUs being sent from the host computer, and then associated Response APDUs being sent back from the device, with a one-to-one correspondence. The Secure Channel exists between two parties: the Signer and the Device. The Signer is the remote host connecting to the device. This may be the Issuer (Ledger) connecting to the device through our APIs, a Custom Certificate Authority connecting to the device using a previously enrolled Custom CA public key, or another end-user using a randomly generated keypair.

When establishing the Secure Channel, both parties (the Signer and the Device) generate an ephemeral keypair which is later used to calculate a shared secret using ECDH for encrypted communications between the two parties. Both parties prove that they trust their respective ephemeral public keys by each providing a certificate chain. These certificate chains incorporate both a Signer nonce and a Device nonce to avoid reuse of the certificates by an eavesdropper. If the root certificate in the certificate chain provided by the Signer is signed by a party that is trusted by the device, then the device grants the remote host special permissions after establishing the Secure Channel. For example, if the root certificate in the Signer’s certificate chain is signed by a previously enrolled Custom CA keypair or Ledger’s Issuer keypair, then the host can add or remove apps from the device without the user’s confirmation.

The process of establishing a Secure Channel is illustrated in the following diagram.

An admittedly not-so-simple diagram of the Secure Channel protocol handshake
An admittedly not-so-simple diagram of the Secure Channel protocol handshake

In the above diagram, during segment (6), the Device provides a Signer serial. The Signer serial is a number stored by the device which identifies the specific Issuer keypair used to sign the device’s Issuer Certificate, as Ledger does not use the same Issuer keypair for every device.

The Signer certificate chain is generated, sent to the device, and verified from (7) to (11). The Device certificate chain is generated, sent to the Signer, and verified from (12) to (16). In this example, both certificate chains consist of two certificates. The root certificate in the Signer certificate chain is self-signed. The final certificate in the Signer certificate chain is signed by the Signer and verifies the authenticity of the Signer ephemeral public key. The root certificate in the Device certificate chain is the Issuer Certificate (as such, verifying this certificate implicitly verifies the authenticity of the device). The final certificate in the Device certificate chain is signed by the Device and verifies the authenticity of the Device ephemeral public key.

Custom CA Public Key Enrollment

A Custom Certificate Authority has the option to generate a keypair (using and enroll their public key onto the device (using Enrolling the Custom CA public key onto the device gives them the following special privileges:

  • The Custom CA can open an authenticated Secure Channel with the device (using the --rootPrivateKey option of the Python Loader).
  • The Custom CA can sign applications (using to create a signature which can be used to avoid the user confirmation when loading the app on the device.

This feature may be used by BOLOS application developers to simplify the development process, but it is intended to be much wider in scope than that. This feature may also be used by third party companies to give their own application manager permissions to manage the device without needing user confirmation on every action.

Parties Involved in our Model

Below is a definition of all of the parties involved in our public key cryptography model.


Device Certificate The meaning of this term should be self-evident, however in our public key cryptography model it has a distinct meaning. Each Device has a unique public-private keypair that is known only to that device. In the factory, the Device generates it’s own public-private keypair. The Device’s private key is not known by Ledger. The Device public-private key pair can be used to sign certificates.


Issuer Certificate The Issuer is the party that initially provisions the Device. This party is always Ledger. The Issuer has a public-private keypair that can be used to sign Issuer Certificates. Note that Ledger uses multiple Issuer keypairs, not just one.


Owner Certificate An Owner is simply a party that owns and / or verifies the authenticity of a Ledger device. An Owner has a public-private keypair that can be used to sign certificates. A single Device can have zero or more Owners, and the Owner doesn’t have to be Ledger. The device uses Owner Certificates exclusively for the purposes of application attestation.

Custom CA

Custom CA Certificate A Custom Certificate Authority has a public-private keypair, where the public key is enrolled on the device. The Custom CA’s private key can then be used to establish an authenticated Secure Channel with the device and sign applications.

A Custom CA may be a BOLOS application developer or a third party company that would like to give their application manager special administration permissions with a BOLOS device.

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