Revisiting How Registrants Can Reduce the Threat of Domain Hijacking

Recent events1,2 have shown the threat of domain hijacking is very real; however, it is also largely preventable. As Verisign previously noted3, there are many security controls that registrants can utilize to help strengthen their security posture. Verisign would like to reiterate this advice within the context of the recent domain hijacking reports.

Domains are an important element of internet infrastructure; their functionality and security rely upon many factors such as their delegated name servers. Name server delegations introduce complex and subtle inter-dependencies between domains and their authoritative name servers. Compromise of any name server in the delegation hierarchy can lead to a potential hijacking scenario. Targeted name server compromises in the delegation hierarchy can facilitate a complete hijack of a domain or set of domains, while name server compromises deeper in the delegation hierarchy may result in partial hijacking, since not all name servers in the hierarchy are involved in every DNS resolution request. A compromised name server is capable of diverting DNS requests to malicious servers controlled by threat actors and can be weaponized for phishing attacks or other nefarious purposes.

Over the past several weeks, security professionals have issued reports1, 2 about the hijacking of various domains via their name server delegations. These changes were likely made using compromised registrar credentials and are believed to be backed by a foreign nation state entity1, 2. During the attacks, the threat actors used the traffic directed to their infrastructure to launch spear phishing campaigns against various government entities in northern Africa and the Middle East. These targeted spear phishing attempts were facilitated by the transitive trust4 placed on the compromised domains and their delegated name servers.

Several of the compromised domains contained hosts that were specified as name servers for numerous top-level domains (TLDs) including country code TLDs5 in the northern African and Middle East regions. Subsequently, DNS traffic resolution for corresponding reliant zones were partially/completely routed to the threat actors’ infrastructure. This redirection of DNS traffic facilitated their ability to target specific government and industry entities in the targeted countries. While the domains did not employ a domain locking tool, some were DNSSEC6 signed, which helped mitigate the attack for resolving parties that perform validation.

As part of the response to this incident, the Department of Homeland Security issued Emergency Directive 19-017 requiring federal civilian agencies to address the risks presented by this activity. The order mandated four actions to be taken: 1) Audit DNS records, 2) Change DNS account passwords, 3) Add multi-factor authentication to DNS accounts and 4) Monitor Certificate Transparency logs.

Verisign is engaged with various industry and government entities regarding this incident and has provided technical insights into the DNS ecosystem regarding the complex mechanisms and system-to-system interactions/dependencies involved. To date, there is no evidence that the scope of compromise extends beyond the sets of credentials at various registrars.

Verisign encourages registrants to research their registrar’s security offerings and to take advantage of the tools and services they offer. Techniques such as locking services offered by registrars and registries8, two-factor authentication, password strengthening, and other common security hygiene practices9 are all best practice security recommendations that Verisign encourages and promotes.

Additional security recommendations are available in the following ICANN SSAC reports:

  • SAC04010: “Measures to Protect Domain Name Registration Service Against Exploitation or Misuse”
  • SAC04411: “A Registrant’s Guide to Protecting Domain Name Registration Accounts”
  • SAC07412: “Best Practices for Preserving Security and Stability in the Credential Management Lifecycle”

1 https://www.fireeye.com/blog/threat-research/2019/01/global-dns-hijacking-campaign-dns-record-manipulation-at-scale.html

2 https://www.crowdstrike.com/blog/widespread-dns-hijacking-activity-targets-multiple-sectors/

3http://www.circleid.com/posts/20130722_how_registrants_can_reduce_the_threat_of_domain_hijacking/ 

4https://www.usenix.org/legacy/events/imc05/tech/full_papers/ramasubramanian/ramasubramanian_html/dns.html

5 https://www.internic.net/domain/root.zone

6 https://www.verisign.com/en_US/domain-names/dnssec/how-dnssec-works/index.xhtml

7 https://cyber.dhs.gov/ed/19-01/

8 https://www.verisign.com/en_US/channel-resources/domain-registry-products/registry-lock/index.xhtml

9https://www.markmonitor.com/download/checklist/MarkMonitor_Domain_Security_Best_Practices.pdf

10 https://www.icann.org/en/system/files/files/sac-040-en.pdf

11 https://www.icann.org/en/system/files/files/sac-044-en.pdf

12 https://www.icann.org/en/system/files/files/sac-074-en.pdf

DNS-Based Threats: Cache Poisoning

The Domain Name System (DNS) is the cornerstone of communication for the internet. Navigating to the sites you access every day often starts with a DNS request. Cybercriminals recognize the value of DNS and may look for ways to abuse improperly secured DNS to compromise its uptime, integrity or overall response efficacy—which makes DNS an important area for enforcing security and protecting against threats.

One such threat: cache poisoning. (more…)

DNS-Based Threats: DNS Reflection and Amplification Attacks

The Domain Name System (DNS), if not properly secured, may be susceptible to abuse by malicious actors. Cybercriminals recognize the value of DNS availability and look for ways to compromise DNS uptime and the DNS servers that support it. As such, DNS becomes an important point of security enforcement and a potential point in the Cyber Kill Chain®1 for many cyber-attacks.

This blog discusses one such threat, DNS reflection and amplification attacks.

(more…)

A Framework for Resilient DNS Security: DNS Availability Drives Business

To establish connectivity with other users and devices, almost anything that interfaces with the internet depends on the accuracy, integrity and availability of the Domain Name System (DNS). Most online transactions and data movement are critically dependent on DNS services.

As such, DNS is an important point of security enforcement and a potential point in the Cyber Kill Chain for many cyber-attacks. Organizations are beginning to recognize this and are using DNS security mechanisms as a first line of defense for preventing or mitigating online threats.

(more…)

Verisign Extends its DNS Firewall Service to Include Protection of Microsoft Azure Cloud Workloads

Verisign is excited to announce that its easy-to-configure, cloud-based, recursive DNS filtering service, Verisign DNS Firewall, is now certified to run on Microsoft Azure. This service will help protect your Microsoft Azure virtual machines from malware command-and-control traffic and navigation to undesirable websites.

(more…)

Verisign Named to the Online Trust Alliance’s 2017 Audit and Honor Roll

Verisign is pleased to announce that we qualified for the Online Trust Alliance’s (OTA) 2017 Honor Roll for showing a commitment to best practices in security, privacy and consumer protection. This is the fifth consecutive year that Verisign has received this honor.

The OTA is an initiative within the Internet Society (ISOC) with the mission to promote best practices for online trust. Now in its ninth year, the 2017 OTA audit analyzed nearly 1,000 websites across multiple industry segments, evaluating the websites for consumer protection, security and privacy protection practices, and has been embraced by organizations worldwide as an objective benchmark report.

(more…)

Defense in Depth — Protect Your Organization at the DNS Layer with DNS Firewall

Security professionals agree that a strong security posture is one that is implemented in a layered approach. This layered approach is also referred to as “defense-in-depth.” A defense-in-depth strategy consists of applying security mechanisms across your organization to ensure sufficient coverage against the wide variety of cyber threats.

A comprehensive defense-in-depth strategy requires security mechanisms to be applied through the implementation of hardware, software and security policies. Hardware protection includes, but is not limited to, the implementation of next generation firewalls (NGFW), intrusion prevention systems/intrusion detection systems (IPS/IDS) and secure Web gateways (SWG). Software-based protection is done through anti-virus software deployments, automated patch management or tools for Internet monitoring. Finally, no defense-in-depth strategy would be complete without the implementation of strong security policies that prescribe processes for incident reporting, service and system audits, and security awareness training.

(more…)

Verisign Champions Cybersecurity Awareness in October

Cybersecurity is no longer a concern for just IT and security professionals. Recent breaches at organizations like Sony, Target, JP Morgan Chase, and numerous U.S. government entities have brought the issue of cyber-attacks very close to home. If you bank online, use your debit card at a local store or engage in any activity that relies on an Internet-connected system, you are at risk.

As part of National Cyber Security Awareness Month (NCSAM), Verisign is joining with organizations and companies around the country to promote online safety and champion a safer, more secure and trusted Internet. Every week in October, we’ll share research and online safety tips from our resident cybersecurity experts via our blog and LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter posts.

(more…)

Verisign iDefense Analysis of XcodeGhost

At Verisign we take our Internet stewardship mission very seriously, so when details emerged over the past week concerning the XcodeGhost infection, researchers at Verisign iDefense wanted to help advance community research efforts related to the XcodeGhost issue, and leveraging our unique capabilities, offer a level of public service to help readers determine their current and historical level of exposure to the infection.

Background

First identified in recent days on the Chinese microblog site Sina Weibo, XcodeGhost is an infection of Xcode, the framework developers use to create apps for Apple’s iOS and OS X operating systems. Most developers download secure Xcode from Apple. However, some acquire unofficial versions from sites with faster download speeds.
Apps created with XcodeGhost contain instructions, unknown to both the app developers and the end users, that collect potentially sensitive information from the user’s device and send it to command-and-control (C2) servers managed by the XcodeGhost operator. This way, the XcodeGhost operators circumvented the security of Apple’s official Xcode distribution, and the security of Apple’s App Store.

Image 1: iDefense IntelGraph chart and intelligence alert, “XcodeGhost”

The infection had widespread impact. As of September 25th, Palo Alto Networks and Fox-IT had identified more than 87 infected apps by name, and FireEye claimed to have identified more than 4,000 infected apps. This activity impacts millions of users both in China and elsewhere in the world. To understand key aspects of the infection, iDefense researchers leveraged authoritative DNS traffic patterns to the C2 domains.

(more…)