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Caribbean Businesses Can Make Good Use of Free DNS Security

Gerard Best

IBM Security, Packet Clearing House (PCH) and Global Cyber Alliance (GCA) unveiled a free Domain Name System (DNS) service designed to protect all Internet users from a wide range of common cyber threats. Launched on November 16 with simultaneous press events in London, Maputo and New York, the public DNS resolver has strong privacy and security features built-in, and can be enabled with a few changes to network settings, as outlined on the organization's website.

Using the IP address 9.9.9.9, the aptly named Quad9 service leverages IBM X-Force threat intelligence and further correlates with more than a dozen additional threat intelligence feeds from leading cybersecurity firms, in order to help keep individual users' data and devices safe. It automatically protects users from accessing any website or internet address identified as dangerous.

"Leveraging threat intelligence is a critical way to stay ahead of cybercriminals," Jim Brennan, Vice President Strategy and Offering Management, IBM Security, said in a release. "Consumers and small businesses traditionally didn't have free, direct access to the raw data used by security firms to protect big businesses. With Quad9, we're putting that data to work for the industry in an open way and further enriching those insights via the community of users. Through IBM's donating use of the 9.9.9.9 address to Quad9, we're applying these collaborative defense techniques while giving users greater privacy controls."

The open, free service became the latest to provide security to end users on a global scale by leveraging the DNS system to deliver a smart threat intelligence feed.

"Quad9 is a free layer of protection that can put the DNS to work for all Internet users," said John Todd, executive director of Quad9. "It allows optional encryption of the query between the user and the server, and it minimises the amount of data that can leak to unknown destinations. And it uses DNSSEC to cryptographically validate the content of the DNS answers that it's passing back to users for domain names that implement this security feature."

It allows users to select from secure and unsecured service, the latter being for more advanced users who may have specific reasons they want to get to malware or phishing sites, or who want to perform testing against an unfiltered DNS recursive resolver. The service can also be extended to IoT devices, which face vulnerabilities such as botnet command-and-control requests.

Not only does Quad9 help Internet users avoid millions of malicious websites, but it also promises to help keep their browsing habits private. Deep-pocketed online advertisers are constantly investing in ways to take personal data from unsuspecting Internet users, in order to edge out competitors and expand markets. Frequently, low-security DNS servers are used to build extensive personal profiles of Internet users, including their browsing habits, location and identity.  Many DNS providers, including many larger ISPs, are already in the lucrative business of storing personal data for resale to market research firms or digital advertising groups. 

A further blow was struck in April when the US Federal Communications Commission repealed broadband privacy rules that would have required Internet service providers to get consumer consent before selling or sharing personal information with advertisers and other companies. But the fight is far from over. With the launch of Quad9, a group of Internet non-profits has made available a free service specifically designed to put Internet users back in control of their personal data.

The service is deliberately engineered to not store or analyze personally identifiable information (PII). Todd said that decision was, in part, a deliberate stance against the ingrained practice among Internet service providers (ISPs) who collect and resell private information to commercial data brokers such as online marketers.

"Our foremost goal is to protect Internet users from malicious actors, whether the threat be from malware or fraud or the nonconsensual monetization of their privacy. Quad9 doesn't collect or store any PII, including Internet Protocol addresses. We don't have accounts or profiles or ask who our users are. Since we don't collect personal information, it can't be sold or stolen," he said.

The new service comes at a time when better protection of consumer data and Internet user privacy are being demanded by stakeholders, including governments. In May 2018, the European Union will adopt the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), a set of sweeping regulations meant to protect the personal data and privacy of its citizens.

Like their counterparts in Europe and USA, Caribbean stakeholders also stand to gain from these security and privacy benefits. By some estimates, global cybercrime will cost approximately $6 trillion per year on average through 2021. For businesses in developing economies of the Caribbean, cybercrime is a major concern. Around the region, legislators, law enforcement officials and security experts are locked in a struggle to keep pace with the escalating sophistication of transnational cybercriminal operations. The high cost typically involved in protecting against attacks by blocking them through DNS could explain why that technique has not been used widely by Caribbean businesses and Internet users.

"Sophisticated corporations can subscribe to dozens of threat feeds and block them through DNS, or pay a commercial provider for the service. However, small to medium-sized businesses and consumers have been left behind — they lack the resources or are not aware of what can be done with DNS. Quad9 solves these problems. It is memorable, easy to use, relies on excellent and broad threat information, protects privacy and security, and is free," Phil Reitinger, president and CEO of GCA, said in a release.

The new Quad9 service shares the global infrastructure of PCH, a US-based non-profit which has over the last two decades established the world's largest authoritative DNS service network, extending from heavily networked parts of North America, Europe and Asia to the less well-connected areas of sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean. PCH hosts multiple root letters and more than 300 TLDs on thousands of servers in 150 locations across the globe.

Quad 9 has 100 points of presence in 59 countries, including 12 in the Caribbean, and plans to double that location count by 2019. Leveraging the expertise and global assets of PCH, the new DNS service promises to offer security and privacy to users in the Caribbean, without compromising speed. Bill Woodcock, executive director of Packet Clearing House, said Quad9 users in those regions could actually experience noticeable improvements in performance and resiliency.

"Many DNS service providers are not sufficiently provisioned to be able to support high-volume input/output and caching, and adequately balance load among their servers. But Quad9 uses large caches, and load-balances user traffic to ensure shared caching, letting us answer a large fraction of queries from cache. Because Quad9 shares the PCH DNS infrastructure platform, all root and most TLD queries can be answered locally within the same stack of servers, without passing query onward and making it vulnerable to interception and collection by others. When Quad9 does have to pass a query onward to a server outside of our control, unlike other recursive resolvers, we use a variety of techniques to ensure that the very minimum necessary information leaves our network and users' privacy is maximised," he said.

"This is a service that is squarely aimed at improving the Internet security and privacy situation for the global Internet user base, not just the developed world," he added. "The fact that we can do it faster is just icing on the cake."

By Gerard Best, Development Journalist
Related topics: Cybersecurity, DNS, DNS Security, Privacy
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Promoted Post

Buying or Selling IPv4 Addresses?

Watch this video to discover how ACCELR/8, a transformative trading platform developed by industry veterans Marc Lindsey and Janine Goodman, enables organizations to buy or sell IPv4 blocks as small as /20s.