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Scores of US federal agencies still open to 2008 cache attack

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US federal agencies are still struggling to roll out mandated technology that would make it much harder for attackers to spoof their websites.

The Federal Information Security Management Act set a December 2010 deadline to deploy DNSSEC, or DNS Security Extensions, on federal domains. However a survey by Domain Name System vendor Secure64 found that only 57 per cent of the federal agencies (205 out of 359) have introduced DNSSEC technology into their environments, defined as DNS digital signing happening on at least one of their name servers.

Of the 205 agencies who are now signing, 81 per cent (161) have established a chain of trust to their parent domain, meaning they have gone live with the technology. Secure64 carried out the same exercise last year, just after the mandate came into force, when it found that less than half of federal domains had begun signing.

"It's progress but we would have liked to see a bigger leap," Mark Beckett, VP of marketing at Secure64, told El Reg.

Most of the higher-profile agencies and departments now appear to be signed, with the unsigned ones comprised mostly of lesser known agencies with fewer resources, according to Beckett. However many military and intelligence agencies have not begun deploying the technology. Three of the agencies that had gone live with DNSSEC had made mistakes in their implementation that, if unresolved, would mean users would not be able to read their websites or send email as normal, once their ISPs rely on DNSSEC to validate domains.

DNSSEC uses public key encryption and digital authentication to guard against the cache poisoning attack highlighted by researcher Dan Kaminsky back in 2008. Cryptographic checks make it a hell of a lot more difficult for attackers to spoof the address look-up servers that translate domain names into numerical IP addresses.

Beckett said the perception - that introducing DNSSEC is difficult - is wrong and that Secure64 and its competitors have tools to make the migration easy. Introducing DNSSEC "got serious" after the discovery of the Kaminsky vulnerability, according to Beckett. In the four years since progress to introduce the technology has still only been gradual, even among commercial organisations, because the benefits of the technology will only really bear fruit once ISPs introduce DNSSEC resolvers, a vital component in the overall next generation domain name system. ®

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