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INDUSTRY INSIGHT

How private DoH can help protect data for remote workers

Almost a year since lockdowns from COVID-19 were enforced around the globe, the landscape of the modern workplace has completely and irrevocably changed. Large segments of the workforce are no longer dealing with a temporary shift to remote work but rather a more systematic and long-term transition of flexible remote work policies.

COVID-19 has been a true field test for remote working as cyber threats have grown substantially and the added complexity of enterprise networks has created new openings for hackers to exploit. With more users working outside the protected walls, agencies of all sizes want to increase the security of their activities and resources, including those of IT. Improving control over the traffic between each remote worker and an agency’s applications is key for smooth business operations and reducing potential of security risks.

As the field test of remote work continues, organizations have found that one propitious solution for reducing the potential of security issues that could cause significant damage is by utilizing a DNS-over-HTTPS (DoH) service.  

Public DoH: Enhanced encryption but privacy concerns remain

In short, DoH is intended to encrypt data traffic in the Domain Name System by routing DNS queries over an Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS) session up to the first DNS resolver. DoH represents a secure alternative to the standard unencrypted transmission of DNS queries and responses; it aims to protect DNS information from unauthorized access or manipulation and to ensure the privacy of internet users. 

While still being a relatively new protocol, DoH is quickly gaining popularity. The newest versions of Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge are already using it, creating a default configuration that requires users to push their DNS traffic to public DoH providers. 

Critics, however, have voiced concerns that relying on public DoH providers carries certain risks: Users’ browsing data becomes visible as do the types of applications they use. This type of visibility could reveal valuable information that is protected or restricted by agency policy.

In January, the National Security Agency issued a guide on the benefits and risks of encrypted DNS protocols like DoH. It warned against using DoH with external resolvers, claiming that this may lead to “a false sense of security” and to a loss of control over the DNS usage within the agency network.

The solution: Setting up a private DoH infrastructure

Agencies must provide a comfortable and secure working environment to their employees -- those sitting in the office as well as those working from home without a VPN. Relying on DoH with a random and trustless provider brings neither value nor ability to protect the user efficiently. 

In order to truly benefit from DoH, agencies should follow a different approach, one that leverages the same technologies but relies on a trusted infrastructure. A DoH set up by the agency can ensure that any DNS traffic from users and devices uses the organization’s infrastructure, which allows for improved security, filtering and observability. This brings notable benefits such as controlled privacy, easier enforcement of agency security and unified security policies for all users and devices. 

This is why NSA also recommends the use of a private DoH solution. As the agency noted, using only designated enterprise DNS resolvers allows organizations to “properly leverage essential enterprise cybersecurity defenses, facilitate access to local network resources, and protect internal network information.”

The whole DoH solution can be hosted as part of an existing infrastructure. It would allow remote workers to establish the DoH-secured tunnel up to a DNS server that is controlled and trusted by the agency.

Once set up, this controlled DNS infrastructure guarantees that security measures can match agency expectations and that data related to traffic is kept within the organization. A private infrastructure therefore protects the DNS request by avoiding “eavesdropping through ciphering,” or interception of communications, and it also keeps the requests away from public DNS providers that may make unauthorized use of this information. This is especially urgent in an IT landscape where remote workers bring additional complexity in managing application access and overall security. 

Setting up a private DoH solution for remote users, therefore, is essential in bringing value and coherence to an agency’s DNS security approach. Not only that, launching one is neither overly complicated nor expensive, making it an obvious protocol to deploy in the context of this new remote work reality.

About the Author

Ronan David is vice president of strategy for EfficientIP.

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