VeriSign, NeuStar and others team on DNS security

Coalition of top-level domain operators seeks protection against the Kaminsky bug

Momentum continues to build for rapid deployment of DNS encryption mechanisms.

Seven leading domain name vendors -- representing more than 112 million domain names or 65% of all registered domain names -- have formed an industry coalition to work together to adopt DNS Security Extensions, known as DNSSEC.  Members of the DNSSEC Industry Coalition include: VeriSign, which operates the .com and .net registries; NeuStar, which operates the .biz and .us registries; .info operator Afilias Limited; .edu operator EDUCAUSE; and The Public Interest Registry, which operates the .org registry.

DNSSEC prevents hackers from hijacking Web traffic and redirecting it to bogus sites. The Internet standard prevents spoofing attacks by allowing Web sites to verify their domain names and corresponding IP addresses using digital signatures and public-key encryption.

The coalition is "a really good and public statement by all of the members that we believe that DNSSEC is vital to securing the stability and trust of the Internet, and we will do everything we can as members to get the technology in place and get our zones signed," says Rodney Joffe, senior vice president and senior technologist for NeuStar.

List of domain name vendors

DNSSEC is viewed as the best way to bolster the DNS against vulnerabilities such as the Kaminsky bug discovered this summer. It's because of threats such as these that the U.S. government is rolling out DNSSEC across its .gov and .mil domains.  

The DNSSEC Industry Coalition announced its formation weeks after the U.S. federal government closed a formal comment period for the domain name industry to provide suggestions on deploying DNSSEC across the DNS root zone, which operates at the highest level of the DNS hierarchy. DNS root servers make it possible for top-level domains, including .com, .net and .org, to match domain names with corresponding IP addresses and Web sites. Without the DNS root being cryptographically signed via DNSSEC, the Internet's top-level domains aren't safe from attack even if they deploy DNSSEC. 

The domain name industry is being driven to adopt DNSSEC because of worries about the Kaminsky bug, a serious security flaw in the DNS that was discovered in July by researcher Dan Kaminsky. The bug allows for cache poisoning attacks, where a hacker redirects traffic from a legitimate Web site to a fake one without the user knowing.

"The Kaminsky bug changed the debate about DNSSEC," says Alexa Raad, CEO of The Public Interest Registry, which supports 7 million domain names registered under .org. "Until then it was a question of is DNSSEC necessary. Then it became how do we do DNSSEC."

The Public Interest Registry announced plans to deploy DNSSEC in June, prior to the discovery of the Kaminsky bug. Since then, the nonprofit has been trying to educate its 600 channel partners around the world about the need for DNSSEC. It has signed up five registrars for a DNSSEC test that will take place in early 2009.

The Public Interest Registry initated the DNSSEC Industry Coalition because it wants to share its experiences with DNSSEC deployment and simplify the upgrade process for registrars.

"It's not just important that .org implement DNSSEC, but DNSSEC needs to be seen as an infrastructure upgrade to the entire DNS because of all the applications that ride on DNS today and all the applications that will ride on DNS in the future," Raad says. "This cannot be done by one organization alone."

NeuStar says it has enabled its registry platform to support DNSSEC. NeuStar provides the underlying DNS resolution services for 2 million .biz domain names and 1.4 million .us domain names. Now NeuStar is encouraging DNSSEC deployment among companies like GoDaddy, Enom and Network Solutions that sell domain names to businesses and individuals.

"We're doing everything we can to work with our customers to go through the process of supporting DNSSEC," Joffe says. "They may or may not understand the urgency. From our point of view, this is not something that is going to be delayed. It is the single most important thing that needs to be done to try and maintain public trust in the Internet."

The DNSSEC Industry Coalition hopes to drive adoption of DNSSEC across all registries and registrars around the globe. The group includes two country code top-level domains -- .se for Sweden and .uk for the United Kingdom -- along with Internet security companies such as Shinkuro, NL Net labs and Secure64 Software. The group's members say DNSSEC is the best known mechanism for thwarting a variety of attacks including cache poisoning, DNS redirection and pharming that are used to commit fraud and personal identity theft.

The DNSSEC Industry Coalition is creating implementation manuals and educational materials designed to make it easier and less costly for the domain name industry to adopt DNSSEC.

"My hope for the DNSSEC Industry Coalition as its chair is to help encourage collaborative efforts to make for a safer and more secure DNS," says Lauren Price, senior marketing manager for The Public Interest Registry. "We're trying to find ways to streamline the implementation of DNSSEC across all of the DNS registries…We're trying to take the burden off the registrars."

The main goal of the DNSSEC Industry Coalition is to speed up deployment of this security standard, but leaders admit that they can't fix DNS security until the U.S. government signs the DNS root.

"The domino that starts everything is the root being signed," Raad says. "Even with a very well-intentioned industry coalition, it is unrealistic for us to set a particular date for DNSSEC deployment without the root being signed….That's why we're urging the signing of the root using the best technical solution that is the most expedient."

Afilias, which is a registry service provider to more than 15 top-level domains in addition to .info, said it is managing the technical implimentation of DNSSEC for .org. In a statement, Afilias said it "views the implementation of DNSSEC as critical to advancing the security of the Internet. As PIR's technical provider, we are working closely with them on providing the technical infrastructure to support the signing of the .org zone. We are also investigating DNSSEC deployments for our other gTLD and ccTLD customers who have expressed interest. We fully support the DNSSEC coalition and hope its activities will encourage the adoption of DNSSEC throughout the rest of the chain of trust.''

There were 174 million domain names registered across all of the top-level domains as of Sept. 30, VeriSign says. The DNSSEC Industry Coalition members represent 112.5 million or 65% of all domain names.

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