IETF: Should we ignore the Kaminsky bug?

Standards body debates fixing DNS or pushing new security scheme

One option is for the IETF to do nothing about the Kaminsky bug. Some participants at the DNS Extensions working group meeting this week referred to all of the proposals as a "hack" of the DNS and argued against spending time and energy developing one of them into an Internet standard because it could delay DNSSEC deployment.

Other participants said it is irresponsible for the IETF to do nothing about the Kaminsky bug because large sections of the DNS will never deploy DNSSEC. "We can do the hack and it might work in the short term, but when DNSSEC gets widely used, we'll still be stuck with the hack," said IETF participant Scott Rose, a DNSSEC expert with the U.S. National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST). "Personally, I'd like to see DNSSEC deployed because I think it's the best solution. But there are going to be places on the Internet that aren't going to do DNSSEC, and I think maybe we should look at an interim solution for [them.]"

Several IETF participants said the threat of Kaminsky-style attacks is real. A representative from Comcast said the ISP has seen "large numbers of cache poisoning attacks" attempted since August. NIST also has seen hackers try to exploit the Kaminsky bug. "People are trying the Kaminsky attack. They're trying to find recursive servers that can be poisoned. We think they are trying to get a list of these servers and sell them," Rose said.

IETF participants pointed out that DNS software packages from BIND, Nominum, Microsoft and NLnet Labs have added patches for the Kaminsky bug, and 75% of DNS servers have been upgraded to thwart Kaminsky-style attacks. The IETF also is putting the finishing touches on a best-practices document that outlines ways for DNS server operators to protect against spoofing attacks like those that exploit the Kaminsky bug.

The co-chairs of the DNS Extensions working group said they hope to make a decision on whether to change the DNS protocols in light of the Kaminsky bug before the group's next meeting, which will be held in San Francisco in March. "There's been an awful lot of urgency to the matter. We want to avoid creating a long-term problem that is caused by a hasty decision," Sullivan said. "There are big reasons to be careful here. The DNS is a really old protocol and it is fundamental to the Internet. We're not talking about patching software. We're talking about patching a protocol. We want to make sure that whatever we do doesn't break the Internet."

In related news, the US federal government is making progress on its efforts to deploy DNSSEC. The Office of Management and Budget issued a mandate in August that requires all federal agencies to support DNSSEC. That order states that .gov must be cryptographically signed at the top level by January 2009; and that all subdomains under .gov, such as www.irs.gov, must be signed by December 2009. IETF participants said .gov already is being signed at the top level ahead of the deadline.

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Carolyn Duffy Marsan

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