We have seen that DNS is a critical component of the Internet infrastructure, with many important services - including the Web and e-mail - simply incapable of func- tioning without it. We therefore naturally ask, how can DNS be attacked? Is DNS a sitting duck, waiting to be knocked out of service, while taking most Internet applica- tions down with it?

The first type of attack that comes to mind is a DDoS bandwidth-flooding attack (see Section 1.6) against DNS servers. For example, an attacker could attempt to send to each DNS root server a deluge of packets, so many that the majority of legitimate DNS queries never get answered. Such a large-scale DDoS attack against DNS root servers actually took place on October 21, 2002. In this attack, the attackers leveraged a bot- net to send truck loads of ICMP ping messages to each of the 13 DNS root servers. (ICMP messages are discussed in Chapter 4. For now, it suffices to know that ICMP pack- ets are special types of IP datagrams.) Fortunately, this large-scale attack caused minimal damage, having little or no impact on users’ Internet experience. The attackers did succeed at directing a deluge of packets at the root servers. But many of the DNS root servers were protected by packet filters, configured to always block all ICMP ping messages directed at the root servers. These protected servers were thus spared and functioned as normal. Furthermore, most local DNS servers cache the IP addresses of top- level-domain servers, allowing the query process to often bypass the DNS root servers.

A potentially more effective DDoS attack against DNS would be send a deluge of DNS queries to top-level-domain servers, for example, to all the top-level-domain servers that handle the .com domain. It would be harder to filter DNS queries direct- ed to DNS servers; and top-level-domain servers are not as easily bypassed as are root servers. But the severity of such an attack would be partially mitigated by caching in local DNS servers.

DNS could potentially be attacked in other ways. In a man-in-the-middle attack, the attacker intercepts queries from hosts and returns bogus replies. In the DNS poi- soning attack, the attacker sends bogus replies to a DNS server, tricking the server into accepting bogus records into its cache. Either of these attacks could be used, for example, to redirect an unsuspecting Web user to the attacker’s Web site. These attacks, however, are difficult to implement, as they require intercepting packets or throttling servers [Skoudis 2006]. Another important DNS attack is not an attack on the DNS service per se, but instead exploits the DNS infrastructure to launch a DDoS attack against a targeted host (for example, your university’s mail server). In this attack, the attacker sends DNS queries to many authoritative DNS servers, with each query having the spoofed source address of the targeted host. The DNS servers then send their replies directly to the tar- geted host. If the queries can be crafted in such a way that a response is much larger (in bytes) than a query (so-called amplification), then the attacker can potentially over- whelm the target without having to generate much of its own traffic. Such reflection attacks exploiting DNS have had limited success to date [Mirkovic 2005].

In summary, DNS has demonstrated itself to be surprisingly robust against attacks. To date, there hasn’t been an attack that has successfully impeded the DNS service. There have been successful reflector attacks; however, these attacks can be (and are being) addressed by appropriate configuration of DNS servers.

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