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Diving into the DNS

The turning of the DNS from a distributed database query tool into a malicious weapon in the cyber warfare arena has had profound impacts on the thinking about the DNS. I remember hearing the rallying cry some years back: “Lets all work together to find all these open resolvers and shut them down!” These days I don't hear that any more. It seems that, like SPAM in email, we’ve quietly given up on eradication, and are now focusing on how to preserve service in a toxic world. I suppose that this is yet another clear case of markets in action – there is no money in eradication, but there is money in meeting a customer’s requirement to allow their service to work under any circumstances. We’ve changed our self-perception from being the public DNS police to private mercenaries who work diligently to protect the interests of our paying customers. We are being paid to care about the victim, not to catch the attacker or even to prevent the attack.

The Internet of Stupid Things

In those circles where Internet prognostications abound and policy makers flock to hear grand visions of the future, we often hear about the boundless future represented by “The Internet of Things”. In the vision of the Internet of Things we are going to expand the Internet beyond people and press on with connecting up our world using billions of these chattering devices in every aspect of our world. What do we know about the “things” that are already connected to the Internet? Some of them are not very good. In fact some of them are just plain stupid. And this stupidity is toxic, in that their sometimes inadequate models of operation and security can affect others in potentially malicious ways.

The Mobile Internet

It has been observed that the most profound technologies are those that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it, and are notable only by their absence. So how should we regard the Internet? Is it like large scale electricity power generators: a technology feat that is quickly taken for granted and largely ignored? Are we increasingly seeing the Internet in terms of the applications and services that sit upon it and just ignoring how the underlying systems are constructed? To what extent is the mobile Internet driving this change in perception of the Internet as a technology we simply assume is always available, anytime and anywhere? What is happening in the mobile world?

Decision Time for the Open Internet

On February 26 of this year the Federal Communications Commission of the United States will vote on a proposed new ruling on the issue of "Network Neutrality" in the United States, bringing into force a new round of measures that are intended to prevent certain access providers from deliberately differentiating service responses on the carriage services that they provide.

Addressing 2014

Time for another annual roundup from the world of IP addresses. What happened in 2014 and what is likely to happen in 2015? This is an update to the reports prepared at the same time in previous years, so lets see what has changed in the past 12 months in addressing the Internet, and look at how IP address allocation information can inform us of the changing nature of the network itself.

BGP in 2014

The Border Gateway Protocol, or BGP, has been holding the Internet together, for more than two decades and nothing seems to be falling off the edge so far. As far as we can tell everyone can still see everyone else, assuming that they want to be seen, and the distributed routing system appears to be working smoothly. All appears to be working within reasonable parameters, and there is no imminent danger of some routing catastrophe, as far as we can tell. For a protocol designed some 25 years ago, when the Internet of that time contained some 10,000 constituent networks, its done well to scale fifty-fold, to carry in excess of half a million routed elements by the end of 2014.

The Resolvers We Use

The theme of a workshop, held at the start of December 2014 in Hong Kong, was the considerations of further scaling of the root server system, and the 1½ day workshop was scoped in the form of consideration of approaches to that of the default activity of adding further anycast instances of the existing 13 root server anycast constellations. This was a workshop operating on at least three levels. Firstly there was the overt agenda of working through a number of proposed approaches that could improve the services provided by the DNS root service. The second was an unspoken agenda concerned with protecting the DNS from potential national measures that would “fragment” the DNS name space into a number of spaces, which includes, but by no means not limited to, the DNS blocking activities that occur at national levels. The third level, and an even less acknowledged agenda, is that there are various groups who want to claim a seat at the Root Server table.

Who’s Watching?

It's been more than a year since Edward Snowden released material concerning the activities of US agencies in the area of cyber-intelligence gathering. A year later, and with allegations of various forms of cyber spying flying about, it's probably useful to ask some more questions. What is a reasonable expectation about privacy and the Internet? Should we now consider various forms of digital stalking to be "normal"? To what extent can we see information relating to individuals' activities online being passed to others?

The Resolvers We Use

The Internet's Domain Name System is a modern day miracle. It may not represent the largest database that has ever been built, but nevertheless it's truly massive. The DNS is consulted every time we head to a web page, every time we send an email message, or in fact every time we initiate almost any transaction on the Internet. We assume a lot about the DNS. For example, content distribution networks are observed to make use of the location of the DNS resolver as being also the same location as the user. How robust is this assumption of co-locality of users and their resolvers? Are users always located "close" to their resolvers? More generally, what is the relationship between the end user, and the DNS resolvers that they use? Are they in fact closely related? Or is there widespread use of distant resolvers?

ECDSA and DNSSEC

Yes, that's a cryptic topic, even for an article that addresses matters of the use of cryptographic algorithms, so congratulations for getting even this far! This is a report of a an experiment conducted in September and October 2014 by the authors to measure the extent to which deployed DNSSEC-validating resolvers fully support the use of the Elliptic Curve Digital Signature Algorithm (ECDSA) with curve P-256.

NANOG 62

NANOG 62 was held at Baltimore from the 6th to the 9th October. These are my observations on some of the presentations that occurred at this meeting.

Privacy and Security – Five Objectives

It has been a very busy period in the domain of computer security. What with "shellshock", "heartbleed" and NTP monlink adding to the background of open DNS resolvers, port 445 viral nasties, SYN attacks and other forms of vulnerability exploits, it's getting very hard to see the forest for the trees. We are spending large amounts of resources in reacting to various vulnerabilities and attempting to mitigate individual network attacks, but are we making overall progress? What activities would constitute "progress" anyway?

Internet Regulation: Section 706 vs Title II

At the NANOG meeting in Baltimore this week I listened to a presentation by Patrick Gilmore on “The Open Internet Debate: Section 706 vs Title II”. It’s true that this is a title that would normally induce a comatose reaction from any audience, but don’t let the title put you off. Behind this is an impassioned debate about the nature of the retail Internet for the United States, and, I suspect, a debate about the Internet itself and the nature of the industry that provides it.

How Big is That Network?

There is a careful policy path to be followed that encourages continued investment and innovation in national telecommunications-related infrastructure and services, while at the time same time avoiding the formation of market distortions and inefficiencies. What helps in this regulatory process is clear information about the state of the industry itself. One of those pieces of information concerns the market scope of the retail Internet Service Provider sector. To put it another way, how “big” is a particular network? How many customers does it serve? Is its market share increasing or falling?

What’s so special about 512?

The 12th August 2014 was widely reported as a day when the Internet collapsed. Despite the sensational media reports the following day, the condition was not fatal, and perhaps it could be more reasonably reported that some parts of the Internet were having a bad hair day. What was happening was that the Internet’s growth had just exceeded the default configuration limits of certain models of network switching equipment. In this article I'll look at how the growth of the routing table and the scaling in the size of transmission circuits impacts on the internal components of network routing equipment.

The Cost of DNNSEC

If you’re playing in the DNS game, and you haven’t done so already, then you really should be considering turning on security in your part of the DNS by enabling DNSSEC. There are various forms of insidious attack that start with perverting the DNS, and end with the misdirection of an unsuspecting user. DNSSEC certainly allows a DNS resolver to tell the difference between valid intention and misdirection. But there's no such thing as a free lunch, and the decision to turn on DNSSEC is not without some additional cost in terms of traffic load and resolution time. In this article, I'll take our observations from running a large scale DNSSEC adoption measurement experiment and apply them to the question: What’s the incremental cost when turning on DNSSEC?

Where is Metadata Anyway?

There is an emerging picture that while networks, and network operators, make convenient targets for various forms of national security surveillance efforts, the reality of today’s IP network’s are far more complex, and Internet networks are increasingly ignorant about what their customers do. The result is that it's now quite common for Internet networks not to have the information that these security agencies are after. Not only can moderately well-informed users hide their activities from their local network, but increasingly this has been taken out of the hands of users, as the applications we have on our smartphones, tablets and other devices are increasingly making use of the network in ways that are completely opaque to the network provider.

What is Metadata and Why Should I Care?

August 2014 is proving yet again to be an amusing month in the Australian political scene, and in this case the source of the amusement was watching a number of Australian politicians fumble around the topic of digital surveillance and proposed legislation relating to data retention measures.