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7/28/2010
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Internet Infrastructure Reaches Long-Awaited Security Milestone

The DNS root is now officially signed with security protocol DNSSEC -- next comes development, penetration-testing of the technology

BLACK HAT USA -- Las Vegas -- Two years after a major flaw was exposed in the Internet's Domain Name System (DNS), a major upgrade to the infrastructure protocol that fixes that weakness is now up and running in all of the Internet root servers.

DNSSEC, which has been in the works for nearly two decades, was fully deployed in the root this month, the final level of deployment needed to finally get the deployment of the security protocol officially off the ground. DNSSEC is considered the key to preventing attacks exploiting the now-infamous cache-poisoning vulnerability revealed at Black Hat USA in 2008.

Rod Beckstrom, president and CEO of ICANN, the governing body for Internet domains, today heralded the addition of DNSSEC at the root as the biggest development in the Internet since the introduction of the Web: "By any measure, this is a historic development," he said in a press conference here announcing that the root had been signed with DNSSEC. Nine top-level Internet domains have also now been signed with DNSSEC, including in .uk, .org, and others.

"We expect another dozen or so to take this step over the coming weeks," Beckstrom said. He says others should be DNSSEC-signed in the next 12 months.

DNSSEC certifies that a domain is what it claims to be: "When you receive an email from your bank, you're actually going to know it came from your bank," said Dan Kaminsky, the researcher who exposed the DNS flaw. Kaminsky, who is chief scientist at Recursive Ventures, originally dismissed DNSSEC as a solution due to the major undertaking and cost it would entail to deploy it, but he later endorsed it as the best way to secure DNS.

Kaminsky said DNSSEC allows domains, or companies, to assert that they are who they say they are, and aren't bad guys posing or spoofing. "We've never had the ability to do that efficiently before," he says.

DNSSEC will work hand-in-hand with other authentication technologies, such as the DKIM (DomainKeys Identified Mail) protocol, said Russ Housely, chair of the IETF. "[This] way we're going to reduce vulnerabilities not just for the domain system, but for other apps" such as email, he said.

The next step in addition to building plugins for DNSSEC is to hack at it to find any weaknesses or flaws in the technology, Kaminsky said. "Now it's the time to find any problems with it," he said. "My hope is that we will find all of these things early."

Kaminsky's company has been writing DNSSEC tools as well as working with other researchers to run penetration tests on DNSSEC, and will release a report on the results on September 1. Meanwhile, among the tools Kaminsky and his team have been working on is a tool called Phreebird, which is an online DNSSEC signing application. During a live demonstration in his Black Hat presentation here today, Kaminsky used Phreebird to deploy DNSSEC, noting that it took just two minutes to execute.

The goal is to make DNSSEC deployment simple and fast, he says. "The fix two years ago for DNS was a Band Aid, "he said. "Someday, DNSSEC has to be as easy to deploy as that patch was."

Now that the root is signed with DNSSEC, he said, it's time to build tools for it, and to try to break it.

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Discuss" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message.

Kelly Jackson Higgins is Executive Editor at DarkReading.com. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

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