Protect Your Privacy: Opt Out of Public DNS Data Collection

We’ve all seen the check boxes. They’re hidden at the bottom of webpages. You can’t ignore them, but sometimes you forget they are there. They offer to send you deals and coupons. Some even offer to connect you with their partners for similar benefits. Do you check the box?

In these situations you are given a choice of how you want your personal information used. These sites provide the option to trade some of your personal information for a future benefit. If you decide to opt in, your personal information will be transferred, traded or sold to others, and in exchange you will receive something in return, i.e., 10 percent off your next purchase, advance notice of upcoming events, a free gift, etc. If you opt out, you will receive nothing. Regardless of the return, you were given a choice; opt in and receive a benefit for the use of your personal information, or opt out and be content that your personal information won’t be sold.

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Blue Folder With Keyhole on digital background

Thinking Ahead on Privacy in the Domain Name System

Earlier this year, I wrote about a recent enhancement to privacy in the Domain Name System (DNS) called qname-minimization. Following the principle of minimum disclosure, this enhancement reduces the information content of a DNS query to the minimum necessary to get either an authoritative response from a name server, or a referral to another name server. This is some additional text.

In typical DNS deployments, queries sent to an authoritative name server originate at a recursive name server that acts on behalf of a community of users, for instance, employees at a company or subscribers at an Internet Service Provider (ISP). A recursive name server maintains a cache of previous responses, and only sends queries to an authoritative name server when it doesn’t have a recent response in its cache. As a result, DNS query traffic from a recursive name server to an authoritative name server corresponds to samples of a community’s browsing patterns. Therefore, qname-minimization may be an adequate starting point to address privacy concerns for these exchanges, both in terms of information available to outside parties and to the authoritative name server.

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Introducing Verisign Public DNS: A Free Recursive DNS Service That Respects Your Privacy

There are two types of information that can be found online about you: the information you intentionally post and the information that is automatically collected.

The information that you intentionally post is what you want everyone to know about you. Your professional life is documented on LinkedIn. Your social activities with friends and family are chronicled on Facebook. You alert the world of your immediate thoughts on Twitter. You even choose to provide your address and credit card information when buying things online. All of this personal information about you is deliberately posted and collected with your consent.

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Minimum Disclosure: What Information Does a Name Server Need to Do Its Job?

Two principles in computer security that help bound the impact of a security compromise are the principle of least privilege and the principle of minimum disclosure or need-to-know.

As described by Jerome Saltzer in a July 1974 Communications of the ACM article, Protection and the Control of Information Sharing in Multics, the principle of least privilege states, “Every program and every privileged user should operate using the least amount of privilege necessary to complete the job.”

Need-to-know is the counterpart for sharing information: a system component should be given just enough information to perform its role, and no more. The US Department of Health and Human services adopts this principle in the HIPAA privacy policy, for example, which states: “protected health information should not be used or disclosed when it is not necessary to satisfy a particular purpose or carry out a function.”

There may be tradeoffs, of course, between minimizing the amount of privilege or information given to a component in a system, and other objectives such as performance or simplicity. For instance, a component may be able to do its job more efficiently if given more than the minimum amount.  And it may be easier just to share more than is needed, than to extract out just the minimum required. The minimum amounts of privilege may also be hard to determine exactly, and they might change over time as the system evolves or if it is used in new ways.

Least privilege is well established in DNS through the delegation from one name server to another of just the authority it needs to handle requests within a specific subdomain. The principle of minimum disclosure has come to the forefront recently in the form of a technique called qname-minimization, which aims to improve privacy in the Domain Name System (DNS).

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New from Verisign Labs: Measuring the Leakage of Onion at the Root

If you are trying to communicate anonymously on the internet using Tor, this paper may be an important read for you. Anonymity and privacy are at the core of what the Tor project promises its users. Short for The Onion Router, Tor provides individuals with a mechanism to communicate anonymously on the internet. As part of its offerings, Tor provides hidden services, specifically anonymous networking between servers that are configured to receive inbound connections only through Tor. In order to route requests to these hidden services, a namespace is used to identify the resolution requests to such services. Tor uses the .onion namespace under a non-delegated (pseudo) top-level-domain. Although the Tor system was designed to prevent .onion requests from leaking into the global DNS resolution process, numerous requests are still observed in the global DNS, causing concern about the severity of the leakage and the exposure of sensitive private data.

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New from Verisign Labs – Measuring Privacy Disclosures in URL Query Strings

Have you ever gone to socially share or email a URL and found that it was much longer than you had expected? Take the following contrived URL as an example:

http://www.example.com/path/submit.php?user=userabc&pageid=012345&utm_referrer=rss&localtime=+0500

In your personal experience, as in our example, you might have realized that the URL was as much about you, the client, as it was about the web resource you were trying to access. Indeed, internet addresses may contain a wealth of information about the identities and activities of the users visiting them. URLs often utilize query strings (i.e., key-value pairs appended to the URL path; in our example, everything after the question mark) as a means to pass session parameters and form data. While sometimes benign and necessary to render the web page, query strings often contain tracking mechanisms, user names, email addresses and other information that users may not wish to publicly reveal. In isolation this is not particularly problematic, but the growth of web 2.0 platforms such as social networks and micro-blogging means such URLs are increasingly being publicly broadcast.

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