Hardening the BIND DNS Server

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Editor’s Note

Your Domain Name Service is the road sign to your systems on the Internet. No matter how secure and robust your Web, mail and other servers are, compromised and corrupted DNS systems can prevent customers and legitimate users from ever reaching you.

DNS, like many of the older protocols, was developed at a time when the Internet was a kinder, gentler place and was meant to provide a simple and unlimited way to provide information about what computers you have to anyone else. Obviously, the model of the Internet has changed, and changes to BIND (Berkeley Internet Name Domain software, the most common implementation of DNS), along with widely accepted configuration guidelines, have improved our ability to lock down DNS.


BIND (the Berkeley Internet Name Domain) 1 is the most frequently used DNS server, maintained by the ISC. It is also known as “named,” since this is the name of the actual daemon itself. BIND has a long history, is a core tool for most Internet sites and is currently at V8.

As with many applications exposed to the increasingly hostile Internet environment, security weaknesses have been discovered in BIND.

Why bother? What risks does an insecure BIND pose?

So what, you say? Yet another program with security problems? There are so many problems in so many applications these days, it’s just not possible to keep up with all these advisories and patches. Do we really have to worry about DNS too? Well, a compromised DNS server can pose some interesting risks:

  1. An attacker can gain much interesting information if zone tranfers are allowed: the entire list of hosts and routers with IP addresses, names and possible even comments indicating location, names etc.

  2. Denial of service: If all your Internet DNS servers go down,
    • Your Website is no longer visible (other Websites can’t look up your IP address).
    • Emails can’t be delivered (some other Internet sites that you frequently exchange data with may have cached DNS entries, but they won’t last more than a few days).
    • An attacker could start up a fake DNS server that pretends to be yours and delivers false DNS information to the Internet about your domain. That is, integrity is lost – see next section.

  3. Loss of integrity: If an attacker can change the DNS data or spoof other sites into believing false data (this is known as DNS poisoning), it gets very dangerous:
    • Fake Websites can be set up to look like yours and capture user input destined for your site, which may be anything from user/passwords to PINs to account information.
    • All email can be diverted to a relay which can copy, change or delete email before passing it to your site.
    • If your firewall or any Internet-accessible host uses DNS hostnames for authentication or trust relationships, these can be completely compromised, especially if a weak packet filter protects the Internet servers and Intranet. Imagine a Web proxy configured to only allow proxy requests from *.mydomain.com. The attacker adds his host to the domain, then the Web proxy may allow requests from him, allowing the attacker HTTP access to the Intranet. Imagine a system administrator who uses SSH (great crypto stuff), but the firewall host has a “.shosts” trust to “admin.mydomain.com,” where “admin” is the administrator’s workstation. If the attacker can replace the entry for “admin.mydomain.com” in the DNS, he has password-free access to the firewall hosts.

So What Needs To Be Done?

BIND weakness may be addressed with several prevention measures, but detection and reaction shouldn’t be forgotten either:

  1. Resource isolation: Use a dedicated, hardened server for Internet DNS, don’t share with other services, and especially do not allow user logins. Minimal services/users means reducing the amount of software running and hence the amount exposed to network attacks. Separation prevents other services or users possibly using local weakness in the system to attack BIND.

  2. Redundancy: Install a secondary on a different Internet connection (foreign branch of your company, another ISP, etc.). If your site dies, at least other sites won’t think you “cease to exist”; they just think you’re “not available,” so that emails, for example, won’t get lost but will be queued (typically up to four days).

  3. Use the latest version (e.g. 8.2.2-P5 or later, which includes security fixes).

  4. Access control: Restrict zone transfers to minimize the amount of information on your networks available to attackers. Consider using transaction signatures. Consider restricting/not allowing recursive queries.

  5. Run BIND with minimum privileges: Run BIND as a non-root user.

  6. More resource isolation: Run BIND in a “chroot” jail, so it is much more difficult for a compromised bind daemon to damage the operating system or compromise other services.

  7. Detection: Monitor logs for unusual activity; monitor the system for unauthorized changes with an integrity checker; keep an eye on relevant advisories.

The procedure in this paper concentrates only on measures 4), 5) and 6), which should help to protect a server against possible future weakness in BIND. This procedure has been tested on several production systems: a secondary on Solaris 2.5 + 2.8, a primary on Solaris 2.6 + 2.7.

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