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InfoQ Homepage News New Side-Channel Vulnerability in the Linux Kernel Enabling DNS Cache Poisoning

New Side-Channel Vulnerability in the Linux Kernel Enabling DNS Cache Poisoning

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A recent research paper by a team at University of California, Riverside, shows the existence of previously overlooked side channels in the Linux kernels that can be exploited to attack DNS servers.

According to the researchers, the issue with DNS roots in its design, that never really took security as a key concern and that made it extremely hard to retrofit strong security features into it.

Despite its critical role, DNS has been a fragile part of the security chain. Historically, efficiency was the primary consideration of DNS, leading to the design of a single query and response over UDP, which is still the primary mechanism used today.

While DNS security features are available, including DNSSEC and DNS cookies, they are not widely deployed due to backward compatibility, say the researchers. Instead, the only approach to make DNS more secure has been the randomization of UDP ports, known as ephemeral ports, with the aim to makes it harder for an attacker to discover them.

As a result of this, several attacks to DNS have been discovered in the past, including the recent SAD DNS, a variant of DNS cache poisoning that allows an attacker to inject malicious DNS records into a DNS cache, thus redirecting any traffic to their own server and becoming a man-in-the-middle (MITM).

More recently, some of the researchers who first disclosed SAD DNS have uncovered side channels vulnerabilities that had gone undetected inside the Linux kernel for over a decade. Those vulnerabilities enable the use of ICMP probes to scan UDP ephemeral ports and allowed the researchers to develop new DNS cache poisoning attacks.

Specifically, the research focused on two types of ICMP error messages, ICMP fragment needed (or ICMP packet too big in IPv6) and ICMP redirect. As the researchers show, the Linux kernel processes those messages using shared resources that form side channels. What this means, roughly, is that an attacker can target a specific port where they send ICMP probes. If the targeted port is correct, this will cause some change in the shared resource state that can be observed indirectly, thus confirming the guess was right. For example, an attack could lower a server's MTU, which would manifest itself in subsequent responses being fragmented.

The newly discovered side channels affect the most popular DNS software, say the researchers, including BIND, Unbound, and dnsmasq running on top of Linux. An estimated 13.85% of open resolvers are affected. Additionally, the researchers show an end-to-end attack against the latest BIND resolver and a home router only taking minutes to succeed.

This novel attack can be prevented by setting proper socket options, e.g. by instructing the OS not to accept the ICMP frag needed messages, which will eliminate the side-channel altogether; by randomizing the kernel shared caching structure itself; and by rejecting ICMP redirects.

As a consequence of the disclosure of this new vulnerability, the Linux kernel has been patched both for IPv4 and IPv6 to randomize the shared kernel structure. Additionally, BIND 9.16.20 sets IP_PMTUDISC_OMIT on IPv6 sockets.

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