At long last, internet's root zone to be secured
VeriSign and ICANN to share DNSSEC duties
The US government said Wednesday it plans to digitally sign the internet's root zone by the end of the year, a move that would end years of inaction securing the internet's most important asset.
The US Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) said it was turning to ICANN, or the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, and VeriSign to implement the measure, which is known as DNSSEC. In October, the two organizations submitted separate proposals that offered sharply contrasting visions for putting the complicated framework in place.
"The parties are working on an interim approach to deployment, by year's end, of a security technology - Domain Name System Security Extensions (DNSSEC) - at the authoritative root zone (i.e., the address book) of the internet," a statement issued by the NTIA read. "There will be further consultations with the internet technical community as the testing and implementation plans are developed."
The statement left many unanswered questions about the roll-out, most notably the specific roles of the two organizations. It also omitted details about exactly how far the temporary solution would go and when a permanent fix can be expected.
The answers to such questions are crucial given known vulnerabilities in today's DNS. Last year, researcher Dan Kaminsky of security firm IOActive demonstrated a simple way to plant fraudulent entries in the root zone, which serves as the authoritative document for routing email, web requests, and other internet traffic. The bug had the potential to destroy trust as we know it on the net because it provided a low-cost way for criminals to hijack the websites of banks, government agencies, and similarly sensitive organizations.
By August, the majority of the world's DNS servers had been updated to resist Kaminsky's DNS cache-poisoning bug, but he warned the move was a temporary band-aid rather than a permanent solution.
DNSSEC is designed to fix that. It affixes a cryptographic seal to results returned from a DNS server to ensure that they haven't been forged. At the heart of the hierarchical DNS is the root zone, which contains the list of servers authorized to provide lookups for each top-level domain such as .com or .gov.
In its current form, DNSSEC has existed for about a decade but has yet to be implemented, largely due to the complexity and geopolitical tensions surrounding management of the unwieldy technology. Of particular importance is management of the root key because it controls the topmost tier of the hierarchy. Should it ever fall into the wrong hands, the internet could cease to function.
Under the interim solution, VeriSign will manage the root-signing key and ICANN will manage a separate key-signing key, Paul Levins, vice president of corporate affairs for ICANN told The Register.
Under last year's proposals, ICANN and VeriSign offered competing arguments why each should manage the root key. (The proposals and public comments responding to them are here.) Representatives from VeriSign didn't return phone calls seeking comment, and an NTIA spokesman declined to confirm ICANN's account.
"This is big," said Bart Forbes, the NTIA spokesman. "It's not something we do quickly, but we need to socialize whatever decision is made and make sure everyone is on board."
He declined to elaborate on the process the NTIA will use to seek feedback from members of the internet technical community.
ICANN is the non-profit group that was established in the late 1990s to oversee the internet's address system. VeriSign operates a wide range of businesses, including management of two of the internet's root-name servers and several businesses that manage digital certificates.
While Kaminsky and other experts claim DNSSEC is crucial for securing the internet, not everyone is so sure. Among then is Paul Mockapetris, inventor of DNS. He has long argued that widespread adoption of DNSSEC will be marred by the cost involved and incompatibilities across different systems.
"To paraphrase Neil Armstrong, this is one giant step for DNSSEC and one small step for the internet," said Mockapetris, who is chairman and chief scientist for Nominum, which sells DNS servers to service providers and telecos. "This will get us on the road to finding out if DNSSEC will work or not, but it's not going to revolutionize things anytime soon. ®
Breaking the key?
How would anyone need to break any key to break DNSSec?
Typical short-sighted gizmo-lovers, believing that the security of a system is this of it's stronger element. Hey, I've got whole-disk encryption, the key is a SuperSecureGaranteedUnbreakable Version 67 hash (4GB) stored on a stick labelled "enc. key" that sits on top of the machine. You'd need trillions of trillions years and more energy than is contained in the whole universe to break in. Or 30 seconds. Which is it?
You can get as strong a key as you want (which, dear AC, means NO MD5). It won't change a thing.
Anyway my point was that DNSSec would probably be broken very fast, if any bad guy really cared (the important part being that no-one is going to even remotely think about it. Because it has strictly no interest for a black hat.). The only people interested will be white hats, for the fame and glory (it means money).
Now deploy DNSSec all you want. It's certainly not going to make the internet any more secure. Hopefully it won't make it any *less* secure. And it certainly has the potential to make it *a lot* less neutral. Actually there's almost no way it's not completely and thoroughly abused and raped. Same as anti-terror laws used to chase fly-tippers and the like.
Same good old method: make up a fantastic (in all the meanings) threat, take "vigorous" action resulting in a "totally legitimate" landgrab. That's how the US annexed Iraq, that's how anti-paedo laws are used against, well, pretty much anyone including those they are supposed to protect, that's how your council can spy on you and how the plods can steal you camera for no good reason. That's also, closest to the point, how Arkansas got a bunch of oversea-based websites' domain names handed to them...
MD5 has been broken, now that people can create bogus HTTPS certificates which validate using MD5. So web browsers recently had to be updated to not accept MD5 signatures as valid, rendering invalid MD5 based certificates not by then updated. SHA is a family of hash algorithms, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SHA currently going up to SHA512, likely one of the strongest currently known in widespread use. Some earlier SHA versions are now thought to have weaknesses, though probably not yet as readily exploitable as MD5 now is.
What having a signed DNSSEC root creating a heirarchical global PKI for the first time will mean is that much more attention will be given to the strength of the algorithms used, resulting incorrespondingly more fame and fortune for whoever publishes successful attacks.
We will never know that a particular algorithm is secure, we only know when published insecurities exist. What can be said about their security, for algorithms developed within the public domain, is what it would be worth to the person who succeeds in breaking it and publishing a feasible attack, from which we can estimate the amount of talented effort directed towards doing so without published success. (For the paranoid, we don't known what the NSA and GCHQ knows about unpublished weaknesses, but we can still assume their budgets for maintaining the loyalty of those who do know to keep this knowledge secret is finite. We can also assume they can only use their top secret knowledge for attacks of high enough value to them that these justify the risks of leaking this knowledge in the process of using it. )
In the past attracting this kind of effort has required large prizes on offer to the first successful published attack. But we will need be in no doubt about the fame and fortune that will come to a cryptanalyst who can publish a paper which describes a feasible attack breaking the algorithms used to sign the DNSSEC root.
Root key security
According to AEP Networks (HSM vendor), ICANN's using FIPS140-2 level 4 devices for key storage and signing so the root keys should be as secure as is feasibly possible claiming to be "a sealed, designed-for-purpose unit with no moving parts. It runs an embedded operating system..."
So at least they're not in keys.txt on a Windows XP PC. More like on a physically secure device accessed by multiple security personnel, in a physically secure room, in a physically secure building.