Domain-name security measure expands

Provider's plan will add millions of domains to 'chain of trust'

Thirteen more top-level domains will get the DNS Security Extensions this year, thanks to an Irish company called Afilias, a provider of Internet registry and back-end services. The company plans to begin with  the .info TLD in September.

The project, called Project Safeguard, will expand the number of TLDs with DNSSEC digital signatures by 50 percent. The 26 TLDs currently signed contain from 10 million to 11 million domain names. The 13 new TLDs will bring more than 8 million domains in to the chains of trust that enables Internet devices and users to cryptographically verify the results of DNS queries.

This is a small percentage of the estimated 200 million Internet domain names now registered around the world, but it follows on the deployment last month of DNSSEC signatures at the Internet’s authoritative root zone, which sIts at the top of the hierarchical Domain Name System and helps to link the DNSSEC chains of trust being established.

“Now that the root is signed, we are the next step in the chain,” said Afilias Chief Technology Officer Ram Mohan. “What we’re signing will more or less double the number of Internet domains” that can be signed. “It makes it more real.”

Related coverage:

How DNSSEC provides a baseline of Internet security

Can .gov trust .com?

The Domain Name System maps domain names to IP addresses and underlies nearly all Internet activities. DNSSEC lets DNS queries and responses be digitally signed so they can be authenticated with public cryptographic keys, making them harder to spoof or manipulate. This will help to combat attacks such as pharming, cache poisoning, and DNS redirection that are used to commit fraud and identity theft and to distribute malware. The Internet’s 13 root zone DNS servers have been digitally signed since May. On July 15 the signed root zone was made available and a trust anchor was published with cryptographic keys that will allow users to verify the authenticity of DNS address requests.

To be fully effective, DNSSEC must be deployed throughout the Internet’s domains, but the publication of the trust anchor for the Internet root means it now is possible to begin linking together the “islands of trust” that have been created by the deployment of DNSSEC.

The Office of Management and Budget mandated the deployment of DNSSEC in the .gov domain space, which contains about 4,000 domains, last year. Agencies have begun signing second tier domains, such as The largest top-level domain to deploy DNSSEC to date has been .org, which contains about 8 million domain names. The Internet’s largest domain, .com with around 80 million registered domain names, is expected to be signed next year. Mohan said the number of domain names able to use DNSSEC signatures should pass the 100 million mark in 2011.

“When .com is signed, it will go mainstream,” he said.

Afilias, the .org Public Interest Registry’s back-end service provider, will be building on experience gained in deploying DNSSEC in .org. That deployment included a two-year testing period with 18 live “friends and family” domains within the .org space. Deployments in the next 13 TLDs also will include “friends and family” phases, but they are expected to be much shorter, a matter of days or weeks, before the service goes live.

Afilias is the registry for .info, meaning that it maintains the domain names that are sold by the registrars within that domain. It will sign the top zone for .info and will be working with the registries for other TLDs for which it provides technical services to sign those TLDs. Customers will work with the registrars to sign the DNS records for their domains. The next step in the process is for Internet services providers to enable DNSSEC so that they can validate digitally signed DNS query responses for their customers.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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