After the year 2000, when technology use and development skyrocketed, the progression of cyber risk has been cumulative.
The cybersecurity sector concentrated on new security standards and compliance during this time, and then went beyond compliance to look at the core business risks posed by cyber threats.
In 2022 and beyond, the industry and society have matured, and we're now focusing on security suites and infrastructure unification, as well as managing cyber risks. The opportunities and driving factors of one decade do not take the place of those in the one before it.
Instead, they broaden the perspective and emphasize well-known ideas in new ways. One such example is DNS – although its roots can be traced back to 1966, DNS security must be a part of every robust cybersecurity strategy today.
What is DNS security?
Wondering what exactly DNS security is and why it matters for your business? Let us first have a look at DNS and how it all started.
The Domain Name System (DNS) is an internet protocol that provides human-readable names for a variety of web-based services, including e-mail. Acting as the phonebook of the internet, DNS converts human-readable names to IP addresses, then changes IP addresses back to names.
The project started by American Internet pioneer Bob Taylor in 1966 and known as Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) represents the beginning of DNS history. Names to address translations were formerly kept on the ARPANET in a single table contained within a file called HOSTS.TXT. This document was used to manually assign addresses.
However, maintaining the addresses manually had grown extensive and challenging. As a result, American computer scientist Paul Mockapetris proposed a new framework in 1983 that provided a dynamic and distributed system known as the Domain Name System.
With the help of Mockapetris, the DNS became able to look up IP address names rather than just hostnames, making it easier for regular users to access the web. Simply put, without it, there would be no internet as we know it today.
Additionally, the Domain Name System Security Extensions (DNSSEC) protects DNS from threats like cache poisoning and guarantees the security and confidentiality of data. All server responses are digitally signed by DNSSEC servers. DNSSEC resolvers check a server's signature to see if the information it received matches the information on the authoritative DNS server. The request will not be granted if this is not the case.
So what exactly is DNS security?
DNS security refers to all the procedures created to keep the DNS infrastructure safe from cyber threats in order to maintain speed and dependability, and prevent the (sometimes) disastrous effects of cyberattacks.
Why is DNS security important?
DNS provided us with the internet as we know it today. How much do you think it would have developed if people had to remember long strings of numbers instead of domain names?
It's obvious that the majority of internet users use domain names to describe the websites they wish to access. However, computers employ IP addresses to distinguish between various internet-connected systems and to route traffic over the internet. By enabling the use of domain names, the Domain Name System serves as the internet's backbone and makes it functional.
DNS as a security vulnerability
Although its importance is unquestionable, DNS was not necessarily designed with security in mind. Therefore, there are many cyberattacks that can affect it – cyberattacks that can impact companies’ money, workflow, and reputation.
The most common DNS risks include denial-of-service (DoS), distributed denial-of-service (DDoS), DNS hijacking, DNS spoofing, DNS tunneling, DNS amplification, DNS typosquating.
DNS security risks
DNS attacks are among the most prevalent and effective web security threats. Let's discuss more about them.
DNS attack types
Below are common DNS attack types.
DoS: A denial-of-service (DoS) attack aims to bring down a computer system or network so that its intended users are unable to access it. DoS attacks achieve this by sending the target an excessive amount of traffic or information, causing it to crash.
Malicious actors that employ DoS attacks frequently target the web servers of well-known companies in industries like media, banking, and commerce, as well as governmental and commercial organizations.
DDoS: A distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack takes place when multiple systems coordinate a synchronized DoS attack against a target. Therefore, the main distinction from DoS is that the target is attacked simultaneously from multiple spots rather than just one.
DDoS attacks can affect the customer experience and workflow, but also the revenue and brand reputation.
DNS hijacking: Attackers use DNS hijacking, also known as DNS redirection, to direct users to malicious websites by misresolving DNS requests. If malicious players control a DNS server and direct traffic to a fake DNS server, the fake DNS server will then translate a valid IP address into the IP address of a malicious site.
Source: Heimdal Security
Other indirect attacks: The critical importance of DNS security is underscored by the fact that other forms of cyberattacks may use DNS as a tool or be tools used by hackers to compromise the DNS. Man-in-the-middle attacks, along with bot and zero-day attacks, are the most crucial to mention in this context.
DNS attack methods
These are the most common DNS attack methods.
DNS spoofing: DNS spoofing is an attack method where users are sent to a fake website that has been made to look like a real one, in order to redirect traffic or steal user credentials.
Spoofing attacks can last for a very long time without being discovered and, as you can imagine, lead to significant security issues.
DNS tunneling: Network traffic is routed through the Domain Name System (DNS) using a process known as DNS tunneling to create an additional path for the transmission of data. Bypassing network filters and firewalls is just one of the many uses for this technique.
DNS tunneling can be employed maliciously to send data through DNS requests. This technique is typically used to spoof content without being noticed by filtering or firewalls or to generate occluded channels for transferring information over a network that would normally not authorize the traffic.
DNS amplification: In DNS amplification attacks, the threat actor takes advantage of flaws in DNS servers to transform initially small requests into bigger payloads that are then used to overtake the victim's servers.
Typically, DNS amplification involves tampering with publicly accessible domain name systems by flooding a target with a multitude of User Datagram Protocol (UDP) packets. The size of these UDP packets can be magnified by the attackers using a variety of amplification techniques, making the attack effective enough to topple even the strongest Internet infrastructure.
DNS typosquating: Typosquatting is the fraudulent process of registering domain names that have a strong resemblance to well-known brands and companies in order to deceive users. The users could enter the website address incorrectly and end up on a malicious site that perfectly resembles a legitimate website. The risky part is that users might then carry out transactions and reveal private information.
Typosquatting might be combined with phishing and other online attacks.
How to ensure DNS security
As can be seen in the IDC 2022 Global DNS Threat Report, although the DNS attack impact on in-house application downtime and cloud service downtime slightly decreased in 2022 compared to 2021, the percentage of loss of business and brand damage increased.
Users need DNS in order to access their apps and services, whether they are hosted locally or in the cloud. If DNS services are compromised, users cannot access their applications.
No DNS simply equals no business, so regardless of the size of the organization, DNS security is mandatory.
DNS security as part of a strong defense-in-depth strategy
A cybersecurity strategy that uses a multi-faceted approach to safeguard an information technology (IT) infrastructure is known as a defense-in-depth strategy – and DNS security is and must be regarded as one of its key components.
A defense-in-depth strategy incorporates redundancy in case one system fails or becomes susceptible to attacks in order to protect against a variety of threats.
When it comes to DNS security, you must take into account both the endpoints and the network.
Endpoint DNS security
Learn more about endpoint DNS security, specifically DNS content filtering and threat hunting, below.
DNS filtering: DNS content filtering is the process by which an internet filter restricts access to a particular website's content based on its IP address rather than its domain name.
DNS content filtering methods include category filters (for example, racial hatred, pornography websites, etc.), keyword filters (restricting access to specific websites or web applications based on keywords found in the content of those websites), and administrator-controlled blacklists and whitelists.
Threat hunting: Threat hunting, one of the key components of modern cybersecurity, is the process of identifying and understanding threat actors who may compromise a company's infrastructure by concentrating on recurring behaviors.
Using the presumption of compromise, threat hunting is a proactive cyber defense tactic that enables you to focus on potential risks in your network that may have gone undetected.
What should you do to ensure endpoint DNS security?
Look for a security solution that includes a threat-hunting component.
You can search for a security solution or suite with a threat-hunting component. In order to help you block malicious domains, communications to and from command-and-control (C&C), and malicious servers, it should proactively evaluate traffic and filter all network packages.
Network DNS security
In terms of network DNS security, you must take into account the rise of BYOD and IoT and clearly establish how you determine who and what connects to your online network perimeter – especially in light of the shift toward remote or hybrid work that we've witnessed in the last couple of years.
Rise of BYoD
Bring your own device (BYOD) policy refers to the practice whereby employees connect their personal devices to the networks of their employers and perform everyday tasks.
Some of the benefits of BYOD include reduced costs, increased employee productivity, and higher staff satisfaction, but the disadvantages are equally worth mentioning: high (or even higher) security risks, potential loss of privacy, a lack of devices, and the need for a more complex IT support system.
The most significant threats that a BYOD policy implies are cross-contamination of data, a lack of management and outsourced security, unsecured use and device infection, security breaches and GDPR concerns, obscure applications, hacking and targeted attacks, phishing, adware, spyware, activity recording software, inadequate policies, and last but not least, human error and mixing business with pleasure.
Rise of IoT
The physical items that are embedded with software, sensors, and other technologies that enable them to connect and exchange data with other devices and systems over the internet are referred to as internet of things (IoT) objects.
An impressive number of factors, such as simple connectivity and data transfer, access to inexpensive and low-power sensor technology, increased cloud platform availability, advancements in machine learning and analytics combined with the enormous amounts of data stored in the cloud, and the rise of conversational AI, have all contributed to the emergence of IoT.
The risks to IoT security are substantial. Threats to identity and access management, potential data breaches, the growing number of devices and the substantial attack surface, insecure user interfaces or the convenience of devices, poor software updates, and the ease with which someone with physical access to a product can extract the owner's password from the plaintext, private keys, and root passwords are just a few examples.
What should you do to ensure network DNS security?
Look for a solution that can protect your company at the perimeter/network level.
By utilizing network prevention, detection, and response technology, strong network security solutions effectively eliminate threats. They can work in conjunction with firewalls to prevent malicious requests from reaching perimeter servers in the first place.
Ways to enhance DNS security
Although a high percentage of businesses acknowledge the importance of DNS security, the average time to mitigate attacks increased by 29 minutes, now taking 6 hours and 7 minutes, with 24% taking longer than 7 hours, according to the 2022 Global DNS Threat Report.
The amount of lost time translates into lost revenue, so it's important to be aware of alternative techniques for enhancing DNS security to ensure you don't end up being the next victim of malicious players. Here are some examples:
Onsite DNS backup
You might consider hosting your own specialized backup DNS server to improve DNS security. Although managed DNS service providers and Internet service providers can both be attacked, having a backup is crucial not just in the event of a planned attack on your vendor. Hardware or network failures are more frequently to blame for DNS performance problems or outages.
Response policy zones
The use of response policy zones (RPZ) is an additional method for enhancing DNS security. A nameserver administrator can use RPZ to provide alternative responses to queries by superimposing custom data on top of the global DNS.
How can a response policy zone help? Well, with an RPZ, you can:
Direct users to a walled garden in order to prevent them from accessing a known malicious hostname or domain name
Prevent users from accessing hostnames that point to subnets or known malicious IP addresses
Restrict user access to DNS data managed by nameservers that only host malicious domains
Internet protocol address management (IPAM) is a system that enables IP address management in a corporate setting. It does this by facilitating the organization, tracking, and modification of data pertaining to the IP addressing space.
The network services that assign IP addresses to machines in a TCP/IP model and resolve them are DNS and Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP). These services will be connected by IPAM, enabling each to be informed of modifications in the other. For example, DNS will update itself in accordance with the IP address selected by a client via DHCP.
Security tasks automation
Automation is one of the key strategies for increasing DNS security and should be used whenever and wherever possible.
Automated solutions can help you respond to potential security threats with advanced threat intelligence, deal with security-related issues automatically in real time, and gather crucial security metrics, as well as streamline breach incident response. Moreover, it can minimize human input in time-consuming remediation tasks and increase employee productivity, but also speed up breach incident response and aid in making well-informed decisions.
Despite being the foundation of the internet as we know it, cybercriminals have often chosen DNS as a target in order to take advantage of vulnerabilities, access networks, and steal data.
What does this mean for businesses? Loss of money, time, brand damage, as well as potential fines and legal repercussions.
Every business must therefore be aware of the most significant security risks that DNS implies, including DoS, DDoS, DNS hijacking, DNS spoofing, DNS tunneling, DNS amplification, DNS typosquating.
Equally crucial is knowing what you can do to guarantee DNS security. Businesses can choose to use response policy zones, onsite DNS backups, IPAM, DNS content filtering, and IPAM. Most importantly, they should try to automate security tasks and find security solutions that rely on advanced threat hunting components.
When it comes to staying ahead of cyberthreats, prevention will always be the best course of action.
Ready to bump up your security? Find the best DNS security software to secure DNS servers and the websites they support.
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Elena Georgescu is a cybersecurity specialist within Heimdal. Her main interests are mobile security, social engineering, and artificial intelligence. In her free time, she studies Psychology, Neuroscience, and Marketing.
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