One of ICANN’s Seven Secret Key-Holders To The Internet got taken out as part of an elaborate heist or something on American TV this week.
In tense scenes, a couple of secret agents or something with guns were forced to break into one of ICANN’s quarterly root zone key signing ceremonies to prevent a hacker or terrorist or something from something something, something something.
The stand-off came after the secret agents or whatever discovered that a hacker called Mayhew had poisoned a guy named Adler, causing a heart attack, in order to secure his position as a replacement ICANN key-holder and hijack the ceremony.
This all happened on a TV show called Blacklist: Redemption that aired in the US March 16.
I’d be lying if I said I fully understood what was supposed to be going on in the episode, not being a regular viewer of the series, but here’s the exposition from the beginning of the second act.
Botox Boss Lady: Seven keys control the internet? That can’t be possible.
Neck Beard Exposition Guy: They don’t control what’s on it, just how to secure it. All domain names have an assigned number. But who assigns the numbers?
Soap Opera Secret Agent: Key holders?
Neck Beard Exposition Guy: Seven security experts randomly selected by ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.
Bored Secret Agent: Max Adler’s wife mentioned a key ceremony.
Neck Beard Exposition Guy: Yeah, four times a year the key holders meet to generate a master key and to assign new numbers, to make life difficult for hackers who want to direct folks to malicious sites or steal their credit card information.
Botox Boss Lady: But by being at the ceremony, Mayhew gets around those precautions?
Neck Beard Exposition Guy: Oh, he does more than that. He can route any domain name to him.
That’s the genuine dialogue. ICANN, jarringly, isn’t fictionalized in the way one might usually expect from US TV drama.
The scene carries on to explain the elaborate security precautions ICANN has put in place around its key-signing ceremonies, including biometrics, smart cards and the like.
The fast-moving show then cuts to the aforementioned heist situation, in which our villain of the week takes an ICANN staffer hostage before using the root’s DNSSEC keys to somehow compromise a government data drop and download a McGuffin.
Earlier this week I begged Matt Larson, ICANN’s VP of research and a regular participant in the ceremonies (which are real) to watch the show and explain to me what bits reflect reality and what was plainly bogus.
“There are some points about it that are quite close to how the how the root KSK administration works,” he said, describing the depiction as “kind of surreal”.
“But then they take it not one but two steps further. The way the ceremony happens is not accurate, the consequences of what happens at the ceremony are not accurate,” he added.
“They talk about how at the ceremony we generate a key, well that’s not true. It’s used for signing a new key. And then they talk about how as a result of the ceremony anyone can intercept any domain name anywhere and of course that’s not true.”
The ceremonies are used to sign the keys that make end-to-end DNSSEC possible. By signing the root, DNSSEC resolvers have a “chain of trust” that goes all the way to the top of the DNS hierarchy.
The root keys just secure the bit between the root at the TLDs. Compromising them would not enable a hacker to immediately start downloading data from the site of his choosing, as depicted in the show. He’d then have to go on to compromise the rest of the chain.
“You’d have to create an entire path of spoofed zones to who you wanted to impersonate,” Larson said. “Your fake root zone would have to delegate to a fake TLD zone to a fake SLD zone and so on so you could finally convince someone they were going to the address that you wanted.”
“If you could somehow compromise the processes at the root, that alone doesn’t give you anything,” he said.
But the show did present a somewhat realistic description of how the ceremony rooms (located in Virginia and California, not Manhattan as seen on TV) are secured.
Among other precautions, the facilities are secured with smart cards and PINs, retina scans for ICANN staff, and have reinforced walls to prevent somebody coming in with a sledgehammer, Larson said.
Blacklist: Redemption airs on Thursday nights on NBC in the US, but I wouldn’t bother if I were you.
ICANN is about to embark on a year-long effort to warn the internet that it plans to replace the top-level cryptographic keys used in DNSSEC for the first time.
CTO David Conrad told DI today that ICANN will rotate the so-called Key Signing Key that is used as the “trust anchor” for all DNSSEC queries that happen on the internet.
Due to the complexity of the process, and the risk that something might go wrong, the move is to be announced in the coming days even though the new public key will not replace the existing one until October 2017.
The KSK is a cryptographic key pair used to sign the Zone Signing Keys that in turn sign the DNS root zone. It’s basically at the top of the DNSSEC hierarchy — all trust in DNSSEC flows from it.
It’s considered good practice in DNSSEC to rotate keys every so often, largely to reduce the window would-be attackers have to compromise them.
The Zone Signing Key used by ICANN and Verisign to sign the DNS root is rotated quarterly, and individual domain owners can rotate their own keys as and when they choose, but the same KSK has been in place since the root was first signed in 2010.
Conrad said that ICANN is doing the first rollover partly to ensure that the procedures in has in place for changing keys are effective and could be deployed in case of emergency.
That said, this first rotation is going to happen at a snail’s pace.
Key generation is a complex matter, requiring the physical presence of at least three of seven trusted key holders.
These seven individuals possess physical keys to bank-style strong boxes which contain secure smart cards. Three of the seven cards are needed to generate a new key.
Each of the quarterly ZSK signing ceremonies — which are recorded and broadcast live over the internet — takes about five hours.
The first step in the rollover, Conrad said, is to generate the keys at ICANN’s US east coast facility in October this year. A copy will be moved to a facility on the west coast in February.
The first time the public key will appear in DNS will be July 11, 2017, when it will appear alongside the current key.
It will finally replace the current key completely on October 11, 2017, by which time the DNS should be well aware of the new key, Conrad said.
There is some risk of things going wrong, which could affect domains that are DNSSEC-signed, which is another reason for the slowness of the rollover.
If ISPs that support DNSSEC do not start supporting the new KSK before the final switch-over, they’ll fail to correctly resolve DNSSEC-signed domains, which could lead to some sites going dark for some users.
There’s also a risk that the increased DNS packet sizes during the period when both KSKs are in use could cause queries to be dropped by firewalls, Conrad said.
“Folks who have things configured the right way won’t actually need to do anything but because DNSSEC is relatively new and this software hasn’t really been tested, we need to get the word out to everyone that this change is going to be occurring,” said Conrad.
ICANN will conduct outreach over the coming 15 months via the media, social media and technology conferences, he said.
It is estimated that about 20% of the internet’s DNS resolvers support DNSSEC, but most of those belong to just two companies — Google and Comcast — he said.
The number of signed domains is tiny as a percentage of the 326 million domains in existence today, but still amounts to millions of names.
ICANN is to webcast the second of its root server DNSSEC key generation ceremonies, this coming Monday.
The ceremony, which will likely take several hours, takes place in El Segundo, California.
In it, staff will create the Key Signing Key used in cryptographically signing the very root of the DNS according to the DNSSEC standard.
The first such ceremony took place last month at a facility in Virginia. While it was recorded, as well as witnessed by several well-known security experts, it was not streamed live.
The full transition to a validatable DNSSEC-signed root is still scheduled for next Thursday, July 15.
Abley’s update is likely to be available here shortly.
ICANN took the penultimate step towards adding DNSSEC to the root of the domain name system, during in a lengthy ceremony in Virginia yesterday.
The move means we’re still on track to have the DNSSEC “trust anchor” go live in the root on July 15, which will make end-to-end validation of DNS answers feasible for the first time.
DNSSEC is an extension to the DNS protocol that enables resolvers to validate that the DNS answers they receive come from the true owner of the domain.
Yesterday, ICANN generated the Key Signing Key for the root zone. That’s one of two keys required when adding DNSSEC to a zone.
The KSK is used to sign the DNSKey record, the public half of a key pair used to validate DNS responses. It has a longer expiration date than the Zone Signing Key used to sign other records in the zone, so its security is more important.
The videotaped ceremony, held at a facility in Culpeper, Virginia, was expected to take six hours, due to a lengthy check-list of precautions designed to instil confidence in the security of the KSK.
During the ceremony, participants were present within a secure facility and witnessed the preparations required to ensure that the so-called key-signing-key (KSK) was not only generated correctly, but that almost every aspect of the equipment, software and procedures associated with its generation were also verified to be correct and trustworthy.
Ten hand-picked independent observers were present to bear witness.
ICANN expects to perform the ceremony four times a year. The second will be held at a backup facility in California next month.