The critical role of DNS in cybersecurity and digital thriving

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Over the past few years, there has been unprecedented growth in digital transformation and technology has become tightly integrated with our daily lives. But this landscape has become a breeding ground for escalating cybersecurity threats.

The first three quarters of 2023 witnessed an alarming surge in cyber incidents, surpassing any prior annual breach records. By November 2023, nearly 6 billion cyber incidents had been recorded. As businesses navigate this perilous digital terrain, the need for robust cybersecurity measures has reached an all-time high.

Amidst the myriad discussions on different technologies, frameworks and approaches to reducing cybersecurity risk one integral part of the ecosystem often stands in the shadows – the Domain Name System (DNS).

Often overlooked, DNS is one of the linchpins in the intricate web of online security.

In 2023 alone, Vercara detected and mitigated over 13,000 attacks involving DNS specifically and another 26,000 attacks that were generic UDP floods some of which targeted DNS services.

Carlos Morales

SVP at Vecara.

DNS, the silent enabler

At its core, DNS is the unsung hero facilitating the very fabric of our interconnected lives. In the complex environment of the internet, where individuals and companies rely on seamless interactions, transactions, education, and information flow, DNS emerges as the quiet enabler.

Every day, without conscious acknowledgement, we rely on DNS to navigate the vast expanse of the digital realm. Imagine it as the “phone book” of the internet, a behind-the-scenes operator that transforms any user's web query into a direct pathway to their desired online destination.

Because of DNS’ role in distributing the flow of information, it’s also a critical potential point of failure in a website’s digital defenses, and a prime target for cybercriminals. Any disruption in the DNS lookup process can have cascading effects on the entire online experience. It is here, that the significance of DNS in cybersecurity becomes quickly apparent.

DNS attacks exploit limitations in domain resolution architectures and security shortcomings in many DNS implementations to disrupt the normal functioning of the DNS or manipulate it for malicious purposes. One common method is DNS Spoofing or DNS Cache Poisoning. Attackers will manipulate a DNS cache with false information, so queries return an incorrect response and redirect unsuspecting users to malicious and fraudulent websites. DNS records that don’t take advantage of DNSSEC to ensure record integrity are susceptible to this kind of attack.

DNS servers are commonly targeted with direct DDoS attacks ranging from generic UDP floods to more complex application layer attacks such as DNS water torture or enumeration-based attacks. By targeting DNS infrastructure, attackers can take down an application just as easily as if they had attacked the application directly.

Another way DNS can be exploited is through amplification attacks. This is where bad actors send out large requests to a DNS recursive resolvers using the source IP address of the attack victim as the source of the query. The response, which can be much larger than the original request, is sent to the unexpecting victim. Attackers send many of these spoofed requests resulting in a large flood of amplified responses towards the victim. This is a popular form of Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) used to disrupt services, and cause downtime.

These attacks highlight the critical importance of securing DNS, as any compromise in its functionality can have far-reaching consequences for a business and its online real estate.

Moreover, the impact of DNS extends beyond the realm of cybersecurity, and can impact user experience. The speed at which a webpage materializes on our screens or whether it appears at all is intricately tied to DNS.

Shoring up your DNS

A proven way to mitigate the risks associated with these DNS issues is to contract a Managed DNS Provider that can provide reliable and fast resolution, ensure security best current practices are employed, and are operated by experienced DNS experts.

Performance is a critical consideration, ensuring minimal network latency for users that may be scattered across different geographical locations. Using a robust Managed DNS provider ensures that the response to domain queries is swift, providing users with a seamless online experience, irrespective of their global location.

Equally, if not more important, is the emphasis on security. A reliable Managed DNS Provider should substantially decrease vulnerability to potential threats such as Spoofing and Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks.

This pivotal security layer is crucial in safeguarding the integrity of online operations, preserving the trust of users and protecting against the increasingly sophisticated array of cyber threats prevalent in the digital landscape.

In addition to performance and security, enterprises must prioritize reliability. The assurance that internet domain queries will be consistently and accurately resolved establishes a foundation of trust with site visitors. This should be backed by availability SLAs. Availability is a fundamental criterion, as it is critical to ensure that users can access the business' website at any time, from any corner of the world.

Lastly, scalability is a key consideration, demanding that the Managed DNS Provider possesses the capacity to efficiently manage increased traffic query per second (QPS) demands as the organisation's business expands. This also ensures that the provider can withstand any attempted DDoS attack.

DNS is a crucial part of the internet backbone and can quickly become a single point of failure if left unprotected. With a variety of attack vectors targeting this one element of internet infrastructure, it’s imperative for businesses to secure it. Businesses that invest in securing their DNS infrastructure not only mitigate the risk of disruptions and potential data breaches but also establish a foundation for trust, resilience, and sustained success in the dynamic and challenging environment of cybersecurity.

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Carlos Morales is SVP at Vecara. He responsible for product management of Vercara’s portfolio of application security, DNS, and threat data services, the office of the CTO, and professional services. In his role, he manages and empowers a senior group of product managers to define product strategy, product requirements, and roadmaps, and oversees the release process to create service differentiation and accelerate growth. He also helps define the strategy for security acquisitions and the execution of strategic partnerships.