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VeriSign, NeuStar and others team on DNS security

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

By , Network World
December 09, 2008 10:19 AM ET

Network World - 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.

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.

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