DNS trouble knocks NSA off Internet

The NSA's DNS servers were unavailable Thursday, knocking the secretive agency off-line

A server problem at the US National Security Agency has knocked the secretive intelligence agency off the Internet.

The nsa.gov Web site was unresponsive at 7 a.m. Pacific time Thursday and continued to be unavailable throughout the morning for Internet users.

The problem was resolved at around 11 a.m. Pacific time, according to Web site measurement company Netcraft.

The Web site was unreachable because of a problem with the NSA's DNS (Domain Name System) servers, said Danny McPherson, chief research officer with Arbor Networks. DNS servers are used to translate things like the Web addresses typed into machine-readable Internet Protocol addresses that computers use to find each other on the Internet.

The agency's two authoritative DNS servers were unreachable Thursday morning, McPherson said.

Because this DNS information is sometimes cached by Internet service providers, the NSA would still be temporarily reachable by some users, but unless the problem is fixed, NSA servers will be knocked completely off-line. That means that e-mail sent to the agency will not be delivered, and in some cases, e-mail being sent by the NSA would not get through.

"We are aware of the situation and our techs are working on it," a NSA spokeswoman said at 9:45 a.m. PT. She declined to identify herself.

A similar DNS problem knocked Youtube.com off-line in early May.

There are three possible reasons the DNS server was knocked off-line, McPherson said. "It's either an internal routing problem of some sort on their side or they've messed up some firewall or ACL [access control list] policy," he said. "Or they've taken their servers off-line because something happened."

That "something else" could be a technical glitch or a hacking incident, McPherson said.

In fact, the NSA has made some basic security mistakes with its DNS servers, according to McPherson. The NSA should have hosted its two authoritative DNS servers on different machines, so that if a technical glitch knocked one of the servers off-line, the other would still be reachable. Compounding problems is the fact that the DNS servers are hosted on a machine that is also being used as a Web server for the NSA's National Computer Security Center.

"Say there was some Apache or Windows vulnerability and hackers controlled that server, they would now own the DNS server for nsa.gov," he said. "That really surprised me. I wouldn't think that these guys would do something like that."

The NSA is responsible for analysis of foreign communications, but it is also charged with helping protect the US government against cyber attacks, so the outage is an embarrassment for the agency.

"I am certain that someone's going to send an e-mail at some point that's not going to get through," McPherson said. "If it's related to national security and it's not getting through, then as a US citizen, that concerns me."

Anders Lotsson with contributed to this report.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Robert McMillan

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Luke Hill

MSI GT75 TITAN

I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Laura Johnston

MSI GS65 Stealth Thin

If you can afford the price tag, it is well worth the money. It out performs any other laptop I have tried for gaming, and the transportable design and incredible display also make it ideal for work.

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?