A Great Collaborative Effort: Increasing the Strength of the Zone Signing Key for the Root Zone

A few weeks ago, on Oct. 1, 2016, Verisign successfully doubled the size of the cryptographic key that generates Domain Name System Security Extensions (DNSSEC) signatures for the internet’s root zone. With this change, root zone Domain Name System (DNS) responses can be fully validated using 2048-bit RSA keys. This project involved work by numerous people within Verisign, as well as collaborations with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) and National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, the root zone originally used a 1024-bit RSA key for zone signing. In recent years the internet community transitioned away from keys of this size for SSL and there has been pressure to also move away from 1024-bit RSA keys for DNSSEC. Internally, we began discussing the root Zone Signing Key (ZSK) length increase in 2014. However, another important root zone change was looming on the horizon: changing the Key Signing Key (KSK).


Increasing the Strength of the Zone Signing Key for the Root Zone, Part II

A few months ago I published a blog post about Verisign’s plans to increase the strength of the Zone Signing Key (ZSK) for the root zone. I’m pleased to provide this update that we have started the process to pre-publish a 2048-bit ZSK in the root zone for the first time on Sept. 20. Following that, we will publish root zones with the larger key on Oct. 1, 2016.

To help understand how we arrived at this point, let’s take a look back.


Blue Folder With Keyhole on digital background

Increasing the Strength of the Zone Signing Key for the Root Zone

One of the most interesting and important changes to the internet’s domain name system (DNS) has been the introduction of the DNS Security Extensions (DNSSEC). These protocol extensions are designed to provide origin authentication for DNS data. In other words, when DNS data is digitally signed using DNSSEC, authenticity can be validated and any modifications detected.

A major milestone was achieved in mid-2010 when Verisign and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Commerce, successfully deployed DNSSEC for the root zone. Following that point in time, it became possible for DNS resolvers and applications to validate signed DNS records using a single root zone trust anchor.

DNSSEC works by forming a chain-of-trust between the root (i.e., the aforementioned trust anchor) and a leaf node. If every node between the root and the leaf is properly signed, the leaf data is validated. However, as is generally the case with digital (and even physical) security, the chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

Resolving a Query with DNSSEC

To strengthen the chain at the top of the DNS, Verisign is working to increase the strength of the root zone’s Zone Signing Key (ZSK), which is currently 1024-bit RSA, and will sign the root zone with 2048-bit RSA keys beginning Oct. 1, 2016.


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.