DNS project - Year 1 Report

This report is excerpt from CAIDA Annual Report 2005.

Sponsored by:
National Science Foundation (NSF)

Principal Investigator: kc claffy

Funding source:  OAC-0427144 Period of performance: September 15, 2004 - August 31, 2009.

DNS-ITR: Improving the Integrity of Domain Name System (DNS) Monitoring and Protection

September 15, 2004 - August 31, 2005


The main function of the Domain Name System (DNS) is to provide translation between Internet hostnames and IP addresses. Therefore, the DNS is a critical infrastructure service whose efficiency and robustness are crucial for the flawless operation of the Internet. Despite the essential nature of the DNS, long-term research and analysis in support of its performance, stability, and security is extremely sparse. Our goal is to enable DNS research pertinent to the real Internet problems by supplying the research community with the best available, operationally relevant and methodologically sound, measurement data. In addition, the tools, models, and analysis methodologies developed in the course of this project contribute to ensuring the DNS vitality and integrity facing sustained growth of the Internet user population worldwide.

During the first year of the project CAIDA actively collaborated with the Internet Systems Consortium (ISC), a not-for-profit corporation internationally known for their long-term operational experience and leadership in DNS activities. ISC is a founding member of the DNS Operations, Analysis, and Research Center (OARC) that provides a trusted platform for bringing together key operators, implementers, and researchers so they can identify problems, test solutions, share information, and learn together.


Our main task for the first year of the project was to survey the current status of the Domain Name System (DNS) and identify the biggest problems in the DNS. In support of the measurement aspects of this goal, we developed a measurement software tool (DSC - DNS Statistics Collector) and made it available to researchers and operators wishing to monitor their name servers. We also deployed this monitoring tool at three root servers and investigated individual cases of DNS abuse and misuse.

At the end of Year 1, we conducted a large scale simultaneous DNS data collection for 48 hours at 37 worldwide locations. OARC hopes to make this data available to the research community sometime during 2006.

For public outreach we conducted the first DNS workshop. Participants were operators (OARC members) and invited international researchers studying the DNS. We also started an annotated bibliography that reviews DNS-related research publications for their operational implications.

Major Milestones

  • DNS measurements
  • We developed the DNS Statistics Collector (dsc) software tool which is an application for collecting and analyzing statistics from busy DNS servers. A downloadable source package includes full documentation. The application may be run directly on a DNS node or on a standalone system configured to see bi-directional traffic for a DNS node. DSC captures many different statistics such as: query types, return codes, most-queried TLDs, popular names, IPv6 root abusers, query name lengths, reply lengths, and much more. These statistics can aid operators in tracking or analyzing a wide range of problems including: excessive queries, misconfigured systems, DNS software bugs, traffic count (packets/bytes), and possibly routing problems. DSC can store data indefinitely, providing long-term historical statistics related to DNS traffic. DSC also supports IP address anonymization and visualization of real-time or delayed data.

    Currently the DSC is deployed and running on 7 nodes of c-root, 4 nodes of e-root, 5 nodes of f-root, and by some of the OARC members in their organizations. Real-time visualization of measured statistics is available to OARC members. Unfortunately, no DSC graphs are currently publicly available.

    The task of making DSC collected data available to academic researchers turned into an unexpected challenge as existing contractual relationships did not specify the data Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) in sufficient detail. Now that we have realized the extent of the problem, CAIDA will make sure that all data collections for this project in year 2 are released using a legal framework based on that of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) DHS PREDICT project.

  • DNS abuse
  • We investigated a number of cases of DNS abuse and were able to track down and contact responsible parties. We are still discussing how to present a public list of DNS abusers on a regular basis and make it more widely known, i.e., to NANOG.

    We surveyed the occurrences of DNS poisoning and reported our findings to ISC and other OARC members. There are privacy issues involved in making the DNS poisoning report public, we need to work these out before the Year 2 subcontract is signed.

    We also isolated a bug in BIND 8.3.4 that under certain conditions cause large spikes of AAAA and A6 queries at the root servers.

    Finally, we analyzed the properties and sources of spurious RFC1918 updates that are deflected from root servers to a specially created protective system of name servers known as AS112. (The so called RFC1918 or private addresses are intended strictly for use inside networks and should not leak to the outside world.) We found various flavors of Windows OSes to be responsible for 96-98% of these spurious updates. We informed the vendor about our findings and submitted an Internet draft to the IETF suggesting mitigating changes to the default configuration of full service resolvers. We will analyze the behavior of the most recent Windows versions in Year 2. We will also continue our community discussion regarding the most cost-effective ways to alleviate the RFC1918 updates problem.

  • Hardening the DNS infrastructure
  • During the 1st year of the project eight anycast nodes were added to F-root: four in Europe (Munich, Prague, Barcelona, London), two in Asia (Chennai, Osaka), one in Africa (Nairobi) and one in the USA (Chicago). These new nodes improve the DNS service in regions with large user populations and increase the overall robustness of the worldwide DNS.

    Special measurement boxes (Y-boxes) have been deployed at six anycast nodes of F-root (in Amsterdam, Munich, Palo Alto, San Francisco, Seoul, and Taipei). These boxes passively monitor all traffic coming to the actual DNS server, record the data to disk and asynchronously transmit them to an aggregation site at ISC.

    We sampled a random 5% of the routed IPv4 address space in order to estimate the number of nameservers on the Internet and which software they are running. These results will provide the statistical baseline for models of DNS behavior and reaction to new algorithms.

  • Scaling trust infrastructure
  • We developed web-based communication forum that enables secure communication among members with member-configurable access privileges. We also provided a secure jabber channel for trusted communications (ejabber). These new communication channels were opened for test use to OARC members.

    We then conducted a survey of OARC members to identify their approaches and concerns regarding trust issues and to assess the utility of secure text-based channels. We summarized the answers to this survey and resulting insights into scaling trust in a technical report. We found that we underestimated the complexity of this task, which we learned is less amenable to a straightforward technical approach than we hoped. There are tremendous Human-Computer Interaction and even sociological and communication theory challenges. We will continue searching for more trust-enticing and cooperative approaches during the 2nd year of this project.

  • Student Involvement
  • Hao Shang (a graduate student) examined replies received from randomly selected 376K unique domain name servers, analyzed their correctness, and identified several important types of misbehaviors.

    Ritesh Kumar (a graduate student) looked at the behavior of various popular caching/recursing/forwarding nameserver software and end host resolvers. He ran laboratory tests simulating legitimate (or semi-legitimate) DNS traffic to assess robustness to denial-of-service attacks and other malicious probes.

  • First DNS-OARC Workshop
  • In July 2005, CAIDA and ISC organized the First DNS-OARC workshop that brought together key operators of the global DNS and researchers analyzing and modeling DNS behavior. The workshop focused on the current status and future directions of DNS-related Internet measurements, security, and research and received high marks from all the participants.

Last Modified