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Making Domain Names Safe and Reliable: Domain Name System Security Extensions (DNSSEC)

DNSSEC: left: A news site’s home page draws from scores of sources. right: By tracing these sources, DNSSEC-Tools reveals which sources are DNSSEC-compliant (green), suspect (yellow), and bogus (red).As we discussed throughout National Cyber Security Awareness Month, Internet safety is a shared responsibility and each of us has a role to play. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) is doing its part to make websites more secure and reliable by enhancing the Domain Name System (DNS), which translates website names like science.com into a network address like Recognizing the Department's role in this effort, the S&T Domain Name System Security Extensions (DNSSEC) project received the National Cybersecurity Innovation Award at the Sans Institute's Second Annual National Cybersecurity Innovation Conference for its innovation in promoting research that "pays off" by focusing on work that can result in real products and real risk reduction.

At the advent of the Internet thirty years ago, the brand new DNS was trusted by everyone. Today, hackers take advantage of our long-standing trust in DNS and work to trick the system by stealing information and redirecting our data hundreds, if not thousands, of times every day. S&T and its partners are working to restore trust in the system through the creation and implementation of DNSSEC.

Most websites are not self-contained, but are rather a patchwork of information drawn from scores of sources.  DNSSEC authenticates the existence, ownership, and integrity of data while systematically validating sources including hundreds of servers, or nodes. "The value of DNSSEC reaches far beyond preventing hackers from obtaining login information," said Edward Rhyne, DNSSEC program manager in S&T's Cyber Security Division. "DNSSEC is the foundation for a new trust model for all communications on the Internet, essentially protecting our critical infrastructure."

As governments, banks, Internet service providers, businesses, and other stakeholders increase their awareness of DNS-related threats, DNSSEC adoption is gaining momentum. "Users are starting to understand," said Rhyne. "A hacker may insert a malicious server between a user and their bank, enabling collection of login credentials and account information— essentially allowing the hacker to steal an identity and transfer money as the authorized user."

Since 2004, S&T and its partners, including the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the DNS-SEC Deployment Initiative, have worked to build support for DNSSEC, which has resulted in registrars from all over the world. More than 20 country codes, including .us and .uk, are involved in this effort. In addition, DNSSEC was deployed in the .edu, .gov,.org, .net, and .com zones while top-level domains of the U.S. military's .mil are slated to be DNSSEC-signed in December 2011. Adoption by these most commonly utilized domains paves the way for others, and will ultimately create a complete end-to-end chain. By authenticating and protecting data, DHS is continuously working to build a safer, more secure, and more resilient cyberspace.

To request more information about this story, please e-mail st.snapshots@hq.dhs.gov.

Last Updated: 01/10/2023
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