Recognizing Lessons Learned From the First DNSSEC Key Rollover, a Year Later

A year ago, under the leadership of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the internet naming community completed the first-ever rollover of the cryptographic key that plays a critical role in securing internet traffic worldwide. The ultimate success of that endeavor was due in large part to outreach efforts by ICANN and Verisign which, when coupled with the tireless efforts of the global internet measurement community, ensured that this significant event did not disrupt internet name resolution functions for billions of end users.  

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Unexpected Effects of the 2018 Root Zone KSK Rollover

March 22, 2019 saw the completion of the final important step in the Key Signing Key (KSK) rollover – a process which began about a year and half ago. What may be less well known is that post rollover, and until just a couple days ago, Verisign was receiving a dramatically increasing number of root DNSKEY queries, to the tune of 75 times higher than previously observed, and accounting for ~7 percent of all transactions at the root servers we operate.

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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

Operational Update Regarding the KSK Rollover for Administrators of Recursive Name Servers

Currently scheduled for October 11, 2018, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) plans to change the cryptographic key that helps to secure the internet’s Domain Name System (DNS) by performing a Root Zone Domain Name System Security Extensions (DNSSEC) key signing key (KSK) rollover.

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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…)

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.

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Verisign’s Perspective on Recent Root Server Attacks

On Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, 2015, some of the Internet’s Domain Name System (DNS) root name servers received large amounts of anomalous traffic. Last week the root server operators published a report on the incident. In the interest of further transparency, I’d like to take this opportunity to share Verisign’s perspective, including how we identify, handle and react, as necessary, to events such as this.

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How DANE Strengthens Security for TLS, S/MIME and Other Applications

The Domain Name System (DNS) offers ways to significantly strengthen the security of Internet applications via a new protocol called the DNS-based Authentication of Named Entities (DANE). One problem it helps to solve is how to easily find keys for end users and systems in a secure and scalable manner. It can also help to address well-known vulnerabilities in the public Certification Authority (CA) model. Applications today need to trust a large number of global CAs. There are no scoping or naming constraints for these CAs – each one can issue certificates for any server or client on the Internet, so the weakest CA can compromise the security of the whole system. As described later in this article, DANE can address this vulnerability.

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web network

3 Tips for Improving Your Website DNS Performance During the Holidays

With the biggest shopping season just around the corner, it is more important than ever that your website is available and consumers can find it. As companies add eye-catching images, social share buttons and attractive promotions to grab consumers’ attention, they may also inadvertently be slowing down their website.
47% of customers expect a page to load in 2 seconds

For consumers who are increasingly impatient and expect a website to load within two seconds or less, the majority will quickly abandon a slow-loading page along with their shopping cart, resulting in lost revenue. With so many potential problems to slow down your site, the domain name system (DNS) doesn’t have to be one of them.

What is DNS?

DNS is the Internet’s equivalent to a phone book. It maintains a directory of domain names and translates them to their respective Internet Protocol (IP) addresses, enabling the end user to access a desired Web page. Any disruption to the DNS during the holiday season can be disastrous for retailers.

“DNS is the Achilles’ heel of the Web, often forgotten, and its impact on website performance is ignored until it breaks down,” explains Mehdi Daoudi, CEO of Web performance monitoring firm Catchpoint. However, it doesn’t have to be.

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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.

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