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Browser makers brush me off on DNSSEC support

Kevin Murphy, July 29, 2010, Domain Tech

A couple of weeks back, I emailed PR folk at Microsoft, Mozilla, Google and Opera, asking if they had any plans to provide native support for DNSSEC in their browsers.

As DNS uber-hacker Dan Kaminsky and ICANN president Rod Beckstrom have been proselytizing this week at the Black Hat conference, support at the application layer is the next step if DNSSEC is to quickly gain widespread traction.

The idea is that one day the ability to validate DNSSEC messages will be supported by browsers in much the same way as SSL certificates are today, maybe by showing the user a green address bar.

CZ.NIC has already created a DNSSEC validator plugin for Firefox that does precisely that, but as far as I can tell there’s no native support for the standard in any browser.

These are the responses I received:

Mozilla: “Our team is heads down right now with Firefox 4 beta releases so unfortunately, I am not going to be able to get you an answer.”

Microsoft:
“At this stage, we’re focusing on the Internet Explorer 9 Platform Preview releases. The platform preview is a developer and designer scoped release of Internet Explorer 9, and is not feature complete, we will have more to share about Internet Explorer 9 in the future.”

Google: No reply.

Opera: No reply.

In 11 years of journalism, Apple’s PR team has never replied to any request for information or comment from me, so I didn’t bother even trying this time around.

But the responses from the other four tell us one of two things:

  • Browser makers haven’t started thinking about DNSSEC yet.

Or…

  • Their PR people were just trying to brush me off.

I sincerely hope it’s the former, otherwise this blog post has no value whatsoever.

ICANN chief to address hackers at Black Hat

Kevin Murphy, July 27, 2010, Domain Tech

Globe-trotting ICANN president Rod Beckstrom is heading to Vegas this week, to participate in a panel discussion on DNS security at the Black Hat conference at Caesar’s Palace.

He’ll be joined by Dan Kaminsky, discoverer of the notorious DNS vulnerability that bears his name, and is expected to sing the praises of the new DNSSEC security standard.

Also on tomorrow’s panel, entitled “Systemic DNS Vulnerabilities and Risk Management” are DNS inventor Paul Mockapetris, VeriSign CTO Ken Silva and NERC CSO Mark Weatherford.

ICANN and VeriSign recently signed the DNS root using DNSSEC standard. The challenge they face now is persuading everybody else in the world to jump on the bandwagon.

It’s likely to be slow going. DNSSEC has more than its fair share of skeptics, and even fierce proponents of the standard sometimes acknowledge that there’s not a heck of a lot in the way of a first mover advantage.

I’ll be interested to see if the subject of a DNS-CERT – a body to coordinate DNS security efforts – is raised either during the panel or the subsequent press conference.

From a policy point of view, DNSSEC is pretty much a done deal, whereas a DNS-CERT is still very much a matter for debate within the ICANN community.

I believe this is the first time ICANN has talked publicly at Black Hat. Beckstrom himself has taken the stage under his previous roles in government, but not as ICANN’s top dog.

Despite its name, Black Hat is a pretty corporate event nowadays. In my experience, the proper black/gray hats show up (or swap their lime green corporate polo shirts for Metallica T-shirts) at the weekend for Def Con, which is usually held at a cheaper venue around the corner.

ICANN Brussels trending topics: security and control

Kevin Murphy, June 21, 2010, Domain Policy

Security and politicking over control of the domain name system’s critical functions emerged as key memes during the opening ceremony of ICANN’s 38th public meeting this morning, here in Brussels.

In a speech that addressed a few controversial topics, ICANN president Rod Beckstrom responded unapologetically to those who had criticised the fairly alarmist tone of his remarks about DNS security at ICANN 37, three months ago.

Directly addressing his Nairobi comments, Beckstrom said:

You may disagree with what I said, and openness to different viewpoints is what makes our community strong. Some have asked why I said what I did. Simple. I said it because I believe it is the truth. And more than twenty years of experience in risk management have taught me that in addressing highly complex systems, it is better to be more concerned about risk than less.

The ccTLD constituency – led by .uk and .au – had been concerned about Beckstrom’s warning in Nairobi, which was made at a meeting of the Governmental Advisory Committee, because they risked giving governments reason to interfere with their country’s ccTLD.

Beckstrom’s keynote addressed the risk of too much government control over the DNS, embodied currently in rumblings about another International Telecommunications Union power grab, with a call to action for all those who support ICANN’s model.

We must face the fact that governments control these institutions. Given the serious proposals for an alternative to our bottom-up, multi-stakeholder model, we must redouble our efforts to support it if we are to protect the global public interest. All our stakeholders must step up to the plate and defend our common interest.

We will of course work closely with the Governmental Advisory Committee. But we need the active involvement of all stakeholders. We need your help, through every means available to you, to counter the misinformation and ensure that governments understand what is at stake when these issues are debated in the UN General Assembly later this year.

Beckstrom’s sentiments on security were echoed by both European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and, in a recorded address, European Commissioner for competition Neelie Kroes.

Kroes, in particular, seemed keen to marry the ideas of security risks and control over the internet’s crucial policy-making functions.

I am hopeful that the expiry of the IANA contract next year will be turned into an opportunity for more international cooperation servicing the global public interests.

But don’t misunderstand me. The internet’s day to day functioning works well, and I’m the first to say that if it isn’t broken don’t fix it. We all have an interest that this wonderful platform for innovation, entrepreneurship and free expression works perfectly well at a technical level. It is a great adventure that must continue to flourish. Yet, does it mean all is well in the cyber world?

Take the issue of security and resilience. We need to fight against spam, identity theft, phishing and other evolving types of crime on the internet. Both the public and private sectors have a joint obligation to act. And that approach has to go hand in hand with ensuring the internet itself is not vulnerable to any large-scale failure, whether as a result of an accident of a deliberate attack.

As I type, Beckstrom is hosting a panel discussion with Whit Diffie, Paul Mockapetris, Steve Crocker and Dan Kaminsky on DNS vulnerabilities in front of a packed audience.

NeuStar files for patent on DNSSEC hack

Kevin Murphy, March 25, 2010, Domain Tech

NeuStar has applied for a US patent on a stop-gap technology for authenticating DNS queries without the need for DNSSEC.

The application, published today, describes a system of securing the DNS connection between authoritative name servers and recursive servers belonging to ISPs.

It appears to cover the technology underlying Cache Defender, a service it started offering via its UltraDNS brand last July.

It was created to prevent the kind of man-in-the-middle attacks permitted by the 2008 Kaminsky exploit, which let attackers poison recursive caches, redirecting users to phoney web sites.

The DNSSEC standard calls for DNS traffic to be digitally signed and was designed to significantly mitigate this kind of attack, but it has yet to be widely deployed.

Some ccTLDs are already signed, but gTLD users will have to wait until at least this summer. The .org zone will be signed in June and ICANN will sign the root in July but .com will not be signed until next year.

While Kaminsky’s vulnerability has been broadly patched, brute-force attacks are still possible, according an ISP’s experience cited in the patent filing.

“The patch that experts previously believed would provide enough time to get DNSSEC deployed literally provided the industry just a few extra weeks,” it reads.