The Dangers of DNS Hijacking: Ending Cyber Insecurity

DNS hijacking is an innocuous form of cyberattack, but it can be prevented. Here are a few tips

As technology evolves, cyberattacks are becoming more sophisticated, making it more difficult for experienced security experts to detect. This leads to data breaches for malicious purposes.

AppSec/API Security 2022

The traditional forms of protecting traffic poaching and data compromise are no longer effective in ensuring the total security of sites. To prevent legal issues and losing reputation as business owners and to secure personal data as users, we should educate ourselves on the dangers of DNS hijacking and ways it could be prevented.

The Role of DNS

The Domain Name System (DNS) is a directories system or protocol that fosters a link between a website and its IP address through its database. It puts a name to every IP address to identify them.

DNS is a harbinger of traffic and is paramount to ensure its safety. Its mode of operation is defined by it searching for a website’s IP address from its database anytime a query is sent in from any device and send it back to the device for connection.

The website name typed into browsers is called the fully qualified domain name (FQDN), which is subdivided into a chain-like structure for processing. This includes the top-level domain, subdomain and the host.

These elements are instrumental in fostering a connection between the browser and the website. Each domain and subdomain have a domain name server and the host is one that is configured with a resolver, which resolves the FDQN into an IP address.

DNS Hijacking

DNS  hijacking, also called DNS redirection, is a form of cyberattack that latches on to a website’s traffic using intercepted DNS queries and diverts it to a malicious site. In general, DNS hijacking is a form of DNS exploitation, and servers are usually attacked by installing malware on unsuspecting users’ computers, taking over routers or by hacking DNS communication channels.

Its aim is either for phishing or pharming. Through phishing, attackers display fake versions of sites to enable user access and steal data, while pharming attackers can generate revenue from ads.

There are several ways in which attackers redirect domain name servers, including:

  • The man-in-the-middle attack
  • Cache poisoning
  • Local DNS hijacking
  • Router hijacking
  • Rogue DNS server

The Man-in-the-Middle Attack

As the name implies, the attackers act as a layer between the domain name server and the user redirecting all communication between them to different IP addresses that lead to malicious sites. This is achieved by hacking into the DNS records to intercept queries sent to its server. The attacker in this variation usually uses a Trojan that intercepts the correct IP address and exchanges it with an incorrect address that looks remotely similar to the original address and then sends the user to a “spoof” or fake website.

In most cases, the spoof website is designed to take the form of the original website, thus fooling visitors into thinking the site is legitimate. The chain-like structure of the DNS query process allows multiple entry points for these attacks; as such, there is a guarantee that the request sent to the DNS server is legitimate.

Proper data on consumer behavior helps companies restructure their services and aid further conversion. Attackers use this route to gather information on users for their purposes, thus ensuring that data security on sites is compromised.

The peculiarity of this attack is that it allows attackers to include pharming—another follow-up attack that generates ads and pop-ups for more revenue.

Cache Poisoning

Cache poisoning inserts fake DNS entries into the cache of the local DNS resolver to overwrite the local DNS cache and directly sends the requests to the DNS server to be processed. This automatically redirects the user to an imitation site.

This form of attack could affect a victim’s LAN and endanger all the requests its browser makes by redirecting them. In most cases, a cache-poisoning attack comes in the form of pop-ups on legitimate websites; with one click, the DNS is hijacked easily.

Local DNS Hijacking

Local DNS hijacking is very similar to cache-poisoning as they both originate from fake DNS servers and affect the LAN. However, in local DNS hijacking, attackers make use of Trojan malware to change the local DNS settings of users’ computers to redirect them to malicious sites. They are designed to go to the root, i.e., the DNS server, to intercept requests.

Router Hijacking

Router hujacking involves the attacker exploiting access to the router to change the configuration of its DNS settings to divert traffic. This form of attack configures the router’s DNS server settings to another compromised server so all incoming traffic is directly established on it.

Rogue DNS Server

In rogue DNS server attacks, the attacker hacks into the DNS server and changes its records to redirect users to malicious sites. Most of these attacks are configured to change the DNS settings of the browser, redirecting all queries to a fake DNS server, which equally takes victims to an imitation page or a malicious website.

Preventing DNS Hijacking

Most often, DNS attacks are successful, penetrating the network without being identified immediately, giving criminals time to steal enough information. There are no simple hacks to spotting or diagnosing a DNS hijacked site, especially with the structures of the attacks. However, diligently paying attention to the sites you visit could help to spot any disguised attacks. Here are some of the measures that could help you avoid being a victim of DNS hijacking attacks:

  1. Avoid Interaction With Suspicious Websites

It can be easy to be redirected to another website in the process of searching for content. Before clicking the link, though, check the legitimacy of the website by starting with the website address. Secure addresses will start with “https” instead of “http”. You also could go through the website’s security certificate to ensure the website’s details are verified.

Also, as much as possible, avoid feeding websites with your user details or any identifiable details that could compromise your account security and avoid clicking on just any pop-ups or ads.

  1. Double Up Your Router’s Security

The first step in securing your router is to customize the admin’s credentials. This means that you have to configure the login details to be untraceable. These days, routers are developed with default login credentials. Be sure that the details are not linked to any personal event or information.

Also, equipping your router with an antimalware program or firewall solutions can help in flagging any incoming threat and keep them away from your DNS. It is also important to outfit updated and secure software programs. That way your router stays secure from other forms of threats from software programs.

  1. Integrate DNSSEC (Domain Name System Security Extensions)

The DNSSEC is a security protocol that ensures data provenance authentication and data security for the DNS resolver processing the requests sent to the DNS server.

  1. Avoid Total Reliance on Public Wi-Fi

Public Wi-Fi comes unencrypted, which means the traffic on the website can be accessed and viewed by anyone. These networks run on a different DNS server which,  makes sites relying on them vulnerable to attacks. Hence, it is important to avoid using public Wi-Fi, especially when dealing with sensitive information.

  1. Enable a VPN Solution

Virtual private networks (VPNs) have the unique ability to allow you to go incognito when browsing by hiding your IP address and encrypting your online traffic.

Enabling these high-end solutions allows you to prevent would-be attackers from monitoring the traffic on your site.

How DNS Hijacking Could Impact Your Website

The security of your network is as important to your business as it is to your clients. Encountering security breaches can invariably impact the integrity of your website negatively, hurting your traffic and conversion rate.

Massive advancements in technology means various tools and measures are available to ensure the best security for your website. This is why, as a website owner, it is important to understand the various underlying threats your website could face and how to combat them.

DNS hijacking is one of the most sophisticated—and unnoticed—forms of cyberattacks. Combating them requires that all forms of security baselines are erected such as adopting VPN and antivirus/antimalware solutions and various preventive measures.

Roberta Rottigni

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Roberta Rottigni

Roberta Rottigni is a tech blogger, passionate about cybersecurity. Born in Italy but adopted by the so-called Startup Nation (Israel), she enjoys writing, traveling, and learning about innovative, tech-related trends.

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