7 DNS attack types and how to mitigate them

The Domain Name System remains under constant attack, and there seems to be no end in sight as threats grow increasingly sophisticated.

DNS, known as the internet’s phonebook, is part of the global internet infrastructure that translates between familiar names and the numbers computers need to access a website or send an email. While DNS has long been the target of assailants looking to steal all manner of corporate and private information, the threats in the past year or so indicate a worsening of the situation.

IDC reports that 82% of companies worldwide have faced a DNS attack over the past year. The research firm recently published its fifth annual Global DNS Threat Report, which is based on a survey IDC conducted on behalf of DNS security vendor EfficientIP of 904 organizations across the world during the first half of 2019.

According to IDC’s research, the average costs associated with a DNS attack rose by 49% compared to a year earlier. In the U.S., the average cost of a DNS attack tops out at more than $1.27 million. Almost half of respondents (48%) report losing more than $500,000 to a DNS attack, and nearly 10% say they lost more than $5 million on each breach. In addition, the majority of U.S. organizations say that it took more than one day to resolve a DNS attack.

“Worryingly, both in-house and cloud applications were damaged, with growth of over 100% for in-house application downtime, making it now the most prevalent damage suffered,” IDC wrote. “DNS attacks are moving away from pure brute-force to more sophisticated attacks acting from the internal network. This will force organizations to use intelligent mitigation tools to cope with insider threats.”

Sea Turtle DNS hijacking campaign

An ongoing DNS hijacking campaign known as Sea Turtle is one example of what’s occuring in today’s DNS threat landscape.

This month, Cisco Talos security researchers said the people behind the Sea Turtle campaign have been busy revamping their attacks with new infrastructure and going after new victims.

In April, Talos released a report detailing Sea Turtle and calling it the “first known case of a domain name registry organization that was compromised for cyber espionage operations.” Talos says the ongoing DNS threat campaign is a state-sponsored attack that abuses DNS to harvest credentials to gain access to sensitive networks and systems in a way that victims are unable to detect, which displays unique knowledge on how to manipulate DNS.

By obtaining control of victims’ DNS, the attackers can change or falsify any data on the Internet and illicitly modify DNS name records to point users to actor-controlled servers; users visiting those sites would never know, Talos reports. 

The hackers behind Sea Turtle appear to have regrouped after the April report from Talos and are redoubling their efforts with new infrastructure – a move Talos researchers find to be unusual: “While many actors will slow down once they are discovered, this group appears to be unusually brazen, and will be unlikely to be deterred going forward,” Talos wrote in July.