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The Basics of DNS Security

the basics of DNS security interior

With an estimated 367 million domain names registered as of 2021, domain name security is paramount to millions of businesses. However, like many other internet protocols, it was not designed with security in mind, making it a frequent target for new-age cyberattacks.

In this guide, IT leaders will learn:

  • What is DNS security?
  • What does DNS stand for?
  • What does DNS do?
  • The importance of DNS security
  • Different types of DNS cyberattacks
  • How to prevent DNS attacks

What Is DNS Security and What Does “DNS” Stand For?

“DNS” stands for Domain Name System. Domain names are a basic architecture of the internet, and when users are browsing the web, they use domain names to direct where they want to go. Computers then use IP addresses to route that traffic through the internet. The DNS is both widely adopted and trusted, and organizations allow this traffic to pass uncontested through network firewalls.

According to IDC’s 2022 Global DNS Threat Report, seventy-three percent of IT leaders are also aware that DNS security is critical to their business. However, cybercriminals target DNS, making domain name security a critical component of network protection. Without it, cybercriminals can target security vulnerabilities and easily redirect a domain name to their own location with malicious intent.

What Does DNS Do?

The DNS is a foundational naming convention of the internet. It operates in the background, creating a common pathway and source of truth for navigating online. It turns user-facing website names into IP addresses, which allows Internet users to reach their desired destination. A great analogy is the “phonebook of the internet.”

Importance of DNS Security

As mentioned above, DNS was originally built without any security, which is why adjunct solutions were developed to secure DNS. In addition, 25% of organizations don’t perform any analytics on their DNS traffic according to the 2022 Global DNS Threat Report, making it especially vulnerable.

So why exactly would cyber cybercriminals attack DNS traffic? The same Global DNS Threat Report uncovered that almost 80% of security incidents involve a DNS query because it’s the first point of entry. Once through, the cyberattack can continue on to other systems. DNS attacks are incredibly common, yet many organizations fail to take the necessary steps to secure the entire network. Sometimes, “trusted” traffic is white-flagged, making it easy for cybercriminals to take advantage of that seemingly authenticated traffic.

DNS protection helps stop threats by identifying security risks and stopping them before they infiltrate the network. Different types of DNS protection work against different types of attacks as well.

Types of DNS Attacks

There are many different types of DNS attacks, from attacks that hijack the domain name and take the user to a fraudulent website to overloading the server. Here are the most common ones to be aware of. DNS attacks are especially painful for businesses, costing an average of $942,000 in damages according to the 2020 Global DNS Threat Report. In this section, TPx will also share how to protect against some of these individualized attacks.


This distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack exploits vulnerabilities and essentially floods the DNS servers in an effort to overwhelm the system. This is also often called a reflection or amplification attack and uses a two-step process to first send massive requests to DNS servers.

As this type of attack makes up 30% of DNS incidents, one way to prevent a DNS DDoS attack is to ensure that data centers are distributed and that multiple networks connect these dispersed data centers. This helps mitigate the disruption of the entire network.

2. DNS Hijacking

DNS hijacking tricks the user into thinking they’re headed to a legitimate website when it’s actually a fraudulent one. For example, a user might search for news on “cnn.com,” but they are directed to a malicious domain impersonating “cnn.com.”

To avoid DNS hijacking, take preventive measures to protect against cache poisoning and patch vulnerabilities immediately.

3. DNS Spoofing

Perhaps the most popular type of DNS attack, DNS spoofing impersonates a legitimate website, corrupting the legitimate DNS data. A famous DNS spoofing attack occurred in 2018 when cyberattacks successfully infiltrated Route 53 DNS server and public Google DNS servers. Cybercriminals redirected 1,300 IP addresses to malicious sites in an effort to get victims to share digital wallet info. This attack was successful in stealing $152,000 from users.

4. DNS Zero-Day Attack

This type of DNS attack infiltrates the software where no current solution exists. It exploits software vulnerabilities, bugs, or defects that the owner isn’t aware of.

5. DNS Cache Poisoning

DNS cache poisoning creates a DNS hijack where a DNS server is tricked into storing incorrect DNS data. In cache poisoning, cyberattackers insert fake info into the DNS cache, forcing the user’s browser to return an incorrect response.

6. DNS Tunneling Attack

Because DNS is so trusted, it’s often allowed to freely enter and leave organizations’ private networks. In a tunneling attack, attackers sneak in through the DNS protocol to attack the network overall. DNS tunneling involves abuse of the DNS requests and replies, and IT leaders should be on the lookout for unusual domain requests or high DNS traffic volume.

One way to prevent DNS tunneling is to establish a specific firewall to detect tunneling. This helps quickly identify the abnormal behavioral qualities of queries and serves as a way to exfiltrate.

How Does DNS Security Work?

DNS Security is often an integral part of endpoint security and works through traffic redirection, advanced DNS filtering, and threat intelligence.

Traffic Redirection

Similar to DNS hijacking, DNS queries are incorrectly resolved, redirecting users to malicious websites instead of their intended destination. Attackers accomplish this by installing malware, taking over routers, or hacking the DNS communication.

Advanced DNS Filtering

So how should businesses stop these attacks? First, DNS filtering removes harmful or inappropriate content. It blocks malicious content at the DNS level, categorizing all domains and cross-referencing those domain names with websites you might want to block. DNS filtering is one of the easiest first lines of defense to implement, and it can also be highly effective at protecting an organization using AI and machine learning. However, more than basic DNS filtering, running audits, understanding the entire DNS architecture, analyzing DNS data, and more can be effective in protecting against DNS attacks.

Threat Intelligence

Modern-day threat intelligence involves the gathering of cybersecurity data with advanced algorithms to turn it into actionable trends and insights for IT leaders and innovators to use. It helps businesses proactively mitigate and detect threats, and it’s typically classified into three types of threat intelligence.

  1. Operational Intelligence: This focuses on the tools that cybercriminals have at their disposal. It’s important for IT leaders to be aware of the different types of malware, infrastructure, and popular techniques used by attackers so they can rapidly detect them and proactively mitigate against them.
  2. Strategic Intelligence: Strategic intelligence focuses on high-level trends that are sweeping through the cybersecurity arena. This type of information is geared toward high-level leadership who aren’t as familiar with the technical nuances of cyberattacks but need to know about overarching threats and vulnerabilities to properly allocate budget, resources, and more.
  3. Tactical Intelligence: These are the tools and info used to actively block and protect against attacks. Using compromise indicators, it focuses on the different types of malware and other types of cyberattacks.
Check out this comprehensive guide to learn more about what endpoint security is and how DNS security plays an integral role.

How to Prevent DNS Attacks

From the basics of auditing your DNS zones and keeping servers up to date to more advanced protocols like disabling DNS recursion, there are several ways to protect against DNS attacks with some best practices. Previously mentioned were specific prevention methods for specific types of DNS attacks, and below are recommendations that are more standard protections to guard against general attacks.

1. Audit DNS Zones

A basic step is to audit the DNS zone. Organizations can explore DNS public records to review all their zones, records, and IP addresses. Take the time to quickly analyze and audit A, CNAME, and MX records to double-check that everything is using the most relevant software.

2. Understand Your Entire DNS Structure

Between different silos, orphaned zones, or disjointed internal teams, it’s easy to forget or remain unaware of the entire DNS structure from top to bottom.

3. Analyze DNS Data

Stay on top of logging and monitoring DNS requests and queries. This will help you quickly monitor and respond to abnormalities. It also provides retroactive data if a problem sneaks in. Plus, quarterly or annually, businesses can run diagnostics on traffic and data.

4. Enable Multi-Factor Authentication

Restrict employee and user access on the domain registrar account to ensure that multiple steps need to occur before anything is changed.

Why Use TPx for DNS Security Solutions?

TPx’s DNS Protection is part of the comprehensive endpoint security offering that protects devices from internet threats anywhere, anytime.

1. Leading Threat Intelligence

TPx leverages Webroot’s world-class threat intelligence for our DNS Protection, which offers customers proactive insights and protection. This leading platform offers customers the ability to see unparalleled historical threat insights and use this information to safeguard systems.

2. Flexible Deployment

TPx DNS protection safeguards any device connecting to the internet from anywhere. This is now even more important because employees can access sensitive data and files from multiple devices around the world. Network edge deployment helps protect any device.

3. Fully Managed by the Experts

A unique, turnkey solution TPx DNS Protection orchestrates the entire process from beginning to end and is accessible to your team 24/7. With customized security policies as well as monthly reporting, organizations can take comfort in knowing that their security is in the hands of experts. Managed DNS protection is a key part of TPx’s industry-leading security services portfolio.

For more information, contact TPx to see what DNS protection could look like for your business.

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