DNS attack could signal Phishing 2.0

Researchers at Google and Georgia Tech are warning that a new generation of DNS attacks could make phishing much harder to detect.

Researchers at Google and the Georgia Institute of Technology are studying a virtually undetectable form of attack that quietly controls where victims go on the Internet.

The study, set to be published in February, takes a close look at "open recursive" DNS servers, which are used to tell computers how to find each other on the Internet by translating domain names like google.com into numerical Internet Protocol addresses. Criminals are using these servers in combination with new attack techniques to develop a new generation of phishing attacks.

The researchers estimate that there are 17 million open-recursive DNS servers on the Internet, the vast majority of which give accurate information. Unlike other DNS servers, open-recursive systems will answer all DNS lookup requests from any computer on the Internet, a feature that makes them particularly useful for hackers.

The Georgia Tech and Google researchers estimate that as many as 0.4 percent, or 68,000, open-recursive DNS servers are behaving maliciously, returning false answers to DNS queries. They also estimate that another two percent of them provide questionable results. Collectively, these servers are beginning to form a "second secret authority" for DNS that is undermining the trustworthiness of the Internet, the researchers warned.

"This is a crime with few witnesses," said David Dagon, a researcher at Georgia Tech who co-authored the paper. "These hosts are like carnival barkers. No matter what you ask them, they'll happily direct you to the red light store, or to a Web server that does nothing more than spray your eyeballs with ads."

Attacks on the DNS system are not new, and online criminals have been changing DNS settings in victim's computers for at least four years now, Dagon said. But only recently have the bad guys lined up the technology and expertise to reliably launch this particular type of attack in a more widespread way. While the first such attacks used computer viruses to make these changes, lately attackers have been relying on Web-based malware.

Here's how an attack would work. A victim would visit a Web site or open a malicious attachment that would exploit a bug in his computer's software. Attackers would then change just one file in the Windows registry settings, telling the PC to go to the criminal's server for all DNS information. If the initial exploit code was not stopped by antivirus software, the attack would give attackers virtually undetectable control over the computer.

Once they'd changed the Windows settings, the criminals could take victims to the correct Web sites most of the time, but then suddenly redirect them to phishing sites whenever they wanted -- during an online banking session, for example. Because the attack is happening at the DNS level, anti-phishing software would not flag the phoney sites.

Or an attacker could simply take complete control over the victim's Internet experience, Dagon said. "If you look up the address of a Christian Science Reading Room site, they'll point you to skin exotica," he said. "If you ask where Google.com is located, they'll point you to a machine in China selling luggage."

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
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

Cool Tech

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

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.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?