Cloudflare first started talking about DNSSEC in 2014 and at the time, Nick Sullivan wrote: “DNSSEC is a valuable tool for improving the trust and integrity of DNS, the backbone of the modern Internet.”

Over the past four years, it has become an even more critical part of securing the internet. While HTTPS has gone a long way in preventing user sessions from being hijacked and maliciously (or innocuously) redirected, not all internet traffic is HTTPS. A safer Internet should secure every possible layer between a user and the origin they are intending to visit.

As a quick refresher, DNSSEC allows a user, application, or recursive resolver to trust that the answer to their DNS query is what the domain owner intends it to be. Put another way: DNSSEC proves authenticity and integrity (though not confidentiality) of a response from the authoritative nameserver. Doing so makes it much harder for a bad actor to inject malicious DNS records into the resolution path through BGP Leaks and cache poisoning. Trust in DNS matters even more when a domain is publishing record types that are used to declare trust for other systems. As a specific example, DNSSEC is helpful for preventing malicious actors from obtaining fraudulent certificates for a domain. Research has shown how DNS responses can be spoofed for domain validation.

This week we are announcing our full support for CDS and CDNSKEY from RFC 8078. Put plainly: this will allow for setting up of DNSSEC without requiring the user to login to their registrar to upload a DS record. Cloudflare customers on supported registries will be able to enable DNSSEC with the click of one button in the Cloudflare dashboard.

Validation by Resolvers

DNSSEC’s largest problem has been adoption. The number of DNS queries validated by recursive resolvers for DNSSEC has remained flat. Worldwide, less than 14% of DNS requests have DNSSEC validated by the resolver according to our friends at APNIC. The blame here falls on the shoulders of the default DNS providers that most devices and users receive from DHCP via their ISP or network provider. Data shows that some countries do considerably better: Sweden, for example, has over 80% of their requests validated, showing that the default DNS resolvers in those countries validate the responses as they should. APNIC also has a fun interactive map so you can see how well your country does.

So what can we do? To ensure your resolver supports DNSSEC, visit brokendnssec.net in your browser. If the page loads, you are not protected by a DNSSEC validating resolver and should switch your resolver. However, in order to really move the needle across the internet, Cloudflare encourages network providers to either turn on the validation of DNSSEC in their software or switch to publicly available resolvers that validate DNSSEC by default. Of course we have a favourite, but there are other fine choices as well.

Signing of Zones

Validation handles the user side, but another problem has been the signing of the zones themselves. Initially, there was concern about adoption at the TLD level given that TLD support is a requirement for DNSSEC to work. This is now largely a non-issue with over 90% of TLDs signed with DS records in the root zone, as of 2018-08-27.

It’s a different story when it comes to the individual domains themselves. Per NIST data, a woefully low 3% of the Fortune 1000 sign their primary domains. Some of this is due to apathy by the domain owners. However, some large DNS operators do not yet support the option at all, requiring domain owners who want to protect their users to move to another provider altogether. If you are on a service that does not support DNSSEC, we encourage you to switch to one that does and let them know that was the reason for the switch. Other large operators, such as GoDaddy, charge for DNSSEC. Our stance here is clear: DNSSEC should be available and included at all DNS operators for free.

The DS Parent Issue

In December of 2017, APNIC wrote about why DNSSEC deployment remains so low and that remains largely true today. One key point was that the number of domain owners who attempt DNSSEC activation but do not complete it is very high. Using Cloudflare as an example, APNIC measured that 40% of those who enabled DNSSEC in the Cloudflare Dash (evidenced by the presence of a DNSKEY record) were actually successful in serving a DS key from the registry. Current data over a recent 90 day period is slightly better: we are seeing just over 50% of all zones which attempted to enable DNSSEC were able to complete the process with the registry (Note: these domains still resolve, they are just still not secured). Of our most popular TLDs, .be and .nl have success rates of over 70%, but these numbers are still not where we would want them to be in an ideal world. The graph below shows the specific rates for the most popular TLDs (most popular from left to right).

This end result is likely not surprising to anyone who has tried to add a DS record to their registrar. Locating the part of the registrar UI that houses DNSSEC can be problematic, as can the UI of adding the record itself. Additional factors such as varying degrees of technical knowledge amongst users and simply having to manage multiple logins and roles can also explain the lack of completion in the process. Finally, varying levels of DNSSEC compatibility amongst registrars may prevent even knowledgeable users from creating DS records in the parent.