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Expanding DNSSEC Adoption


7 min read

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 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.

As an example, at Cloudflare, we took a minimalist UX approach for adding DS records for delegated child domains. A novice user may not understand the fields and requirements for the DS record:


As mentioned in the aforementioned APNIC blog, Cloudflare is supportive of RFC 8078 and the CDS and CDNSKEY records. This should come as no surprise given that our own Olafur Gudmundsson is a co-author of the RFC. CDS and CDNSKEY are records that mirror the DS and DNSKEY record types but are designated to signal the parent/registrar that the child domain wishes to enable DNSSEC and have a DS record presented by the registry. We have been pushing for automated solutions in this space for years and are encouraging the industry to move with us.

Today, we are announcing General Availability and full support for CDS and CDNSKEY records for all Cloudflare managed domains that enable DNSSEC in the Cloudflare dash.

How It Works

Cloudflare will publish CDS and CDNSKEY records for all domains who enable DNSSEC. Parent registries should scan the nameservers of the  domains under their purview and check for these rrsets. The presence of a CDS key for a domain delegated to Cloudflare indicates that a verified Cloudflare user has enabled DNSSEC within their dash and that the parent operator (a registrar or the registry itself) should take the CDS record content and create the requisite DS record to start signing the domain. TLDs .ch and .cz already support this automated method through Cloudflare and any other DNS operators that choose to support RFC8078. The registrar Gandi and a number of TLDs have indicated support in the near future.

Cloudflare also supports CDS0 for the removal of the DS record in the case that the user transfers their domain off of Cloudflare or otherwise disables DNSSEC.

Best Practices for Parent Operators

Below are a number of suggested procedures that parent registries may take to provide for the best experience for our users:

  • Scan Selection - Parent Operators should only scan their child domains who have nameservers pointed at Cloudflare (or other DNS operators who adopt RFC8078). Cloudflare nameservers are indicated *
  • Scan Regularly - Parent Operators should scan at regular intervals for the presence and change of CDS records. A scan every 12 hours should be sufficient, though faster is better.
  • Notify Domain Contacts - Parent Operators should notify their designated contacts through known channels (such as email and/or SMS) for a given child domain upon detection of a new CDS record and an impending change of their DS record. The Parent Operator may also wish to provide a standard delay (24 hours) before changing the DS record to allow the domain contact to cancel or otherwise change the operation.
  • Verify Success - Parent Operators must ensure that the domain continues to resolve after being signed. Should the domain fail to resolve immediately after changing the DS record, the Parent Operator must fall back to the previous functional state and should notify designated contacts.

What Does This All Mean and What’s Next?

For Cloudflare customers, this means an easier implementation of DNSSEC once your registry/registrar supports CDS and CDNSKEY. Customers can also enable DNSSEC for free on Cloudflare and manually enter the DS to the parent. To check your domain’s DNSSEC status, DNSViz (example has one of the most standards compliant tools online.

For registries and registrars, we are taking this step with the hope that more providers support RFC8078 and help increase the global adoption of technology that helps end users be less vulnerable to DNS attacks on the internet.

For other DNS operators, we encourage you to join us in supporting this method as the more major DNS operators that publish CDS and CDNSKEY, the more likely it will be that the registries will start looking for and use them.

Cloudflare will continue pushing down this path and has plans to create and open source additional tools to help registries and operators push and consume records. If this sounds interesting to you, we are hiring.

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Sergi Isasi|@sgisasi

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