Which DNS server to use?

Update 4 August 2020: replace CHAOS class by CH in dig commands so they work with kdig too, Quad9 now does support QNAME minimisation, Quad9 has alternative servers available with ECS support and without QNAME minimisation, Google now also does QNAME minimisation.

DNS is a crucial part of the Internet. However DNS traffic is usually not encrypted and can leak lots of interesting information and originally DNS also did not provide date integrity, making it vulnerable to DNS spoofing.

These days, improvements are being made to fix these problems. Data integrity is proved by DNSSEC and the privacy part is being tackled by the DNS Privacy project, proposing solutions like DNS-over-TLS (all data between resolver and client is encrypted) and QNAME minimisation (not sending the FQDN but only the relevant part to each DNS server when doing recursive resolving). More information about the DNS Privacy project can be found in this Fosdem 2018 talk.

There are basically 3 options for DNS on your client systems:

  1. You forward all requests to your ISP’s DNS servers (which is what is usually done by default).
  2. You forward all requests to a public global DNS service, like Cloudlfare’s 1.1.1.1, Quad9 or Google DNS.
  3. You set up your own DNS recursor which connects itself to authoritative DNS servers.

ISP’s default DNS servers

Quite often the problem with your ISP’s DNS servers, is that they don’t support DNSSEC and QNAME minmisation. There is an online test to check whether your DNS server does DNSSEC validation. To test whether QNAME minimisation is enabled for your current resolver, use this command:

$ dig +nodnssec +short TXT qnamemintest.internet.nl

(replace dig by kdig if you are using Knot’s DNS utils)

Some (mostly American) ISPs serve redirect pages when you enter an unexisting domain name and they often block hosts with content which is illegal in your country (child pornography, sites helping with copyright infringement, illegal gambling sites,…). In less democratic countries local DNS server are abused for censorship.

These might all be reasons in order to not to use your ISP’s DNS servers.

But at least in Europe, ISPs should be restricted by the GDPR to sell DNS data. And your ISP’s DNS servers prevent a single point of failure, a single point of data collection, and a single point of censorship. So there are advantages too.

Public global DNS services

The popular global public DNS services all support DNSSEC by default and you can connect to them using encrypted DNS-over-TLS. Some also do QNAME mimisation.

These public global DNS providers are often praised for their speed. You can find result of benchmarks of public DNS resolvers on dnsperf.com. You can also use namebench to benchmark different DNS servers . For example:

$ namebench 1.1.1.1 8.8.8.8 9.9.9.9 -x -O

You want your DNS resolver to be as close to you as possible, especially if your DNS server does not support EDNS Client Subnet (ECS). This is a method which allows a DNS recursor to send the subnet of the client to the authoritative DNS server. This is used by content delivery networks to provide you with the IP of the nearest server serving the requested content. Many privacy oriented DNS services do not support ECS, so the only information the authoritative DNS server has, is the location of your recursor. If that recursor is far away from you, this will lead to the client being sent to a far away server of the content delivery network, leading to much slower access to the content. For this reason, you should rather not use a DNS server in a foreign country, but use one which is as close as possible to your location. You can check how many hops a server is from you using the traceroute or mtr command, for example

$ mtr – report-wide 1.1.1.1

More information about this issue can be found in the blog post “Using Cloudflare’s 1.1.1.1 might lead to slower CDN performance” by Sajal Kayan.

Also for privacy reasons you would also prefer to have one in your own country, so that it’s not susceptible to legislation of a foreign country. Often, countries have a more relaxed legislation regarding spying on foreign connections.

That brings us to the last, but not least consideration: the privacy policy of the DNS service you are using. Are DNS requests being logged, for how long, and are they shared with a third party? On the PowerDNS blog there is a more elaborate article on the risks of using global DNS providers.

Your own DNS recursor

Then there is the third alternative to using a global public DNS service or your ISP’s DNS servers: running your own local recursive DNS resolver, for example with Knot Resolver. If you DNS server is well configured, it will provide you with DNSSEC validation and QNAME minimisation. However this has a serious privacy disadvantage too because this will reveal your own IP to all authoritative servers you connect to. Furthermore connections to authoritative DNS servers currently are always unencrypted, so your ISP and anyone between you and the authoritative server can see your DNS queries.

Overview of public DNS servers

In case you have decided for whatever reason you do not want to use your ISP’s DNS servers and also don’t want to do recursion yourself, there are many public DNS recursors. On the dnsprivacy.org website you can also find a list of public DNS resolvers and experimental servers with support for DNS-over-TLS. I will review a few of the most important ones here.

Cloudflare

Cloudflare‘s DNS service running on the 1.1.1.1 IP address appears to be the fastest in most cases. Unlike some other services, they do have a local server here in Brussels, which likely contributes to the great performance here. You can check which server you would be using by running this command:

$ dig +short CH TXT id.server @1.1.1.1

You can look up the three-letter code on https://www.cloudflarestatus.com/ (these are IATA codes of nearby airports). Cloudflare does not support EDNS Client Subnet, so make sure there is a server nearby when using 1.1.1.1. Cloudflare claims privacy to be one of their main advantages but in their privacy policy they admit that they share certain antonymous data with APNIC (the organization managing the IP addresses in Asia and the Pacific) for research. Cloudflare does support DNSSEC and QNAME minimisation.

Quad9

Quad9, running on the 9.9.9.9 IP address, is a DNS service set up by a nonprofit organization supported by the Global Cyber Alliance, IBM and PCH together in collaboration with other security partners. Their main feature is that they block malicious hosts (like phishing sites), improving security for your devices. Like Cloudflare, Quad9 shares some anonymized data with their threat-intelligence partners for security analysis.

In 2020, Quad9 had servers in 150 locations in 90 countries. Unfortunately there is no server in Belgium. Probably because of this, resolving of domains which DNS server is located in Belgium, is slower in the few tests I did. Because it also does not support ECS, it might not forward you to the nearest content location. You can check with the same command as Cloudflare which DNS server of Quad9 is in use for your location:

$ dig +short CH TXT id.server @9.9.9.9

You can see all locations where Quad9 does have a DNS cluster on the Quad9 website.

Quad9 does DNSSEC validation and now also supports QNAME minimisation.

However, Quad9 also does have alternative DNS servers (9.9.9.11) available which supports ECS. You can use these to get nearby hosts if Quad9 does not have a server in your country. However note that these alternative servers do not support QNAME minimisation. So by using ECS and disabling QNAME miminisation, more information is leaked to DNS servers.

Google

Google Public DNS, running on 8.8.8.8, appears to be the most public DNS service in use globally. According to SIDN (the registry maintaining the .nl domain), 15% of the requests come from Google’s public DNS servers. That’s probably because it’s around longer than many others (started in December 2009). Also systemd-resolved uses Google’s DNS as a fallback of there are no working default DNS servers set up. This is configured in /etc/systemd/resolved.conf.

Google supports ECS. The list of locations where it has servers can be found in the FAQ.

Google stores request logs a bit longer than some others, some even permanently. These days also more and more people distrust Google with their private data. Google DNS does DNSSEC validation, and now also QNAME minimisation.

OpenDNS

OpenDNS was already launched in 2006 and was acquired by Cisco in 2015. They have been redirecting unexisting domains to a custom search page with advertisements, but stopped doing so in 2014. OpenDNS has optional filtering of adult domains and other unwanted content.

OpenDNS seems to have less servers world-wide than the other services., but they do support ECS though.

Conclusion

Which of all these options to choose, is a personal decision. Personally I think that running your own recursor on your own computer is a bad idea. All authoritative name servers will see your personal IP, and your unencrypted queries can be easily monitored by your ISP. I think this should only be considered if you are setting up a DNS server for a fairly large number of clients.

My own ISP does not support DNSSEC and QNAME minimisation. I think these two are crucial features to protect the user’s privacy and for this reason I prefer to use one of the public DNS services. I have set up Knot Resolver to forward DNS requests to Cloudflare’s DNS service over TLS. Not only does it support QNAME minimisation in addition to DNSSEC and DNS-over-TLS, it is fast and has a local server in Belgium. Combine this with the abuse.ch urlhaus RPZ file to add some protection from malicious domains. More details about this can be found in my previous blog post Secure and private DNS with Knot Resolver. I also use this set up on the network I manage at work.

Secure and private DNS with Knot Resolver

Update 5 March 2018: this post was updated to work around a problem with the RPZ file from abuse.ch being ignored because it contains CRLF instead of LF where Knot Resolver does not expect them (bug 453) and to fix an error in the configuration of the predict module.

Knot Resolver is a modern, feature-rich recursive DNS server. It is used by Cloudflare for its 1.1.1.1 public DNS service.

To install it on Debian, run:

# apt-get install knot-resolver knot-dnsutils lua-cqueues

The knot-dnsutils contains the kdig command which is useful for testing your DNS server. lua-cqueues is needed for automatic detection of changes in the RPZ file.

By default the kresd daemon will listen on localhost only (see /lib/systemd/system/kresd.socket). If you want it to be available on other addresses, you will need to override the kresd.socket file. Execute

# systemctl edit kresd.socket

This will create the file /etc/systemd/system/kresd.socket.d/override.conf. Add a ListenStream and ListenDatagram line for all addresses you want it to listen on. For example:

[Socket]
ListenStream=127.0.0.1:53
ListenDatagram=127.0.0.1:53
 
ListenStream=[::1]:53
ListenDatagram=[::1]:53
 
ListenStream=192.168.0.1:53
ListenDatagram=192.168.0.1:53

If you want to listen on all interfaces, it is enough to put this in the file:

ListenStream=53
ListenDatagram=53

You can do the same with kresd-tls.socket to define the addresses on which to listen over DNS-over-TLS requests (port 853).

Knot Resolver’s configuration file is /etc/knot-resolver/kresd.conf. I give an example configuration file with comments:

 – Default empty Knot DNS Resolver configuration in -*- lua -*-
 – Switch to unprivileged user – 
user('knot-resolver','knot-resolver')

 – Set the size of the cache to 1 GB
cache.size = 1*GB

 – Uncomment this only if you need to debug problems.
 – verbose(true)

 – Enable optional modules
modules = {
  'policy',
  'view',
  'hints',
  'serve_stale < cache',
  'workarounds < iterate',
  'stats',
  'predict'
}

 – Accept all requests from these subnets
view:addr('127.0.0.1/8', function (req, qry) return policy.PASS end)
view:addr('[::1]/128', function (req, qry) return policy.PASS end)
view:addr('134.184.26.1/24', function (req, qry) return policy.PASS end)

 – Drop everything that hasn't matched
view:addr('0.0.0.0/0', function (req, qry) return policy.DROP end)

 – Use the urlhaus.abuse.ch RPZ list
policy.add(policy.rpz(policy.DENY, '/etc/knot-resolver/abuse.ch.rpz',true))


 – Forward all requests for example.com to 192.168.0.2 and 192.168.0.3
policy.add(policy.suffix(policy.FORWARD({'192.168.0.2', '192.168.0.3'}), {todname('example.com')}))

 – Uncomment one of the following stanzas in case you want to forward all requests to 1.1.1.1 or 9.9.9.9 via DNS-over-TLS.

 – policy.add(policy.all(policy.TLS_FORWARD({
 –          { '1.1.1.1', hostname='cloudflare-dns.com', ca_file='/etc/ssl/certs/ca-certificates.crt' },
 –          { '2606:4700:4700::1111', hostname='cloudflare-dns.com', ca_file='/etc/ssl/certs/ca-certificates.crt' },
 – 
 – })))

 – policy.add(policy.all(policy.TLS_FORWARD({
 –           { '9.9.9.9', hostname='dns.quad9.net', ca_file='/etc/ssl/certs/ca-certificates.crt' },
 –           { '2620:fe::fe', hostname='dns.quad9.net', ca_file='/etc/ssl/certs/ca-certificates.crt' },
 – })))

 – Prefetch learning (20-minute blocks over 24 hours)
predict.config({ window = 20, period = 72 })

I use the urlhaus.abuse.ch RPZ file, which contains a blacklist of malicious domains. You will have to download it first:

# cd /etc/knot-resolver
# curl https://urlhaus.abuse.ch/downloads/rpz/ | sed -e 's/\r$//' -e '/raw.githubusercontent.com/d'> /etc/knot-resolver/abuse.ch.rpz

I use sed to convert CRLF in LF (otherwise Knot Resolver fails to parse the file), and I filter out raw.githubusercontent.com. According to urlhaus.abuse.ch it hosts some malware, but there is too much useful stuff there too to block the domain completely.

In order to update it automatically, create /etc/systemd/system/update-urlhaus-abuse-ch.service:

[Unit]
Description=Update RPZ file from urlhaus.abuse.ch for Knot Resolver

[Service]
Type=oneshot
ExecStart=/bin/sh -c 'curl https://urlhaus.abuse.ch/downloads/rpz/ | sed -e 's/\r$//' -e '/raw.githubusercontent.com/d'> /etc/knot-resolver/abuse.ch.rpz'

and then create a timer which will run the service approximately every 10-15 minutes./etc/systemd/system/update-urlhaus-abuse-ch.timer:

[Unit]
Description=Update RPZ file from urlhaus.abuse.ch for Knot Resolver

[Timer]
OnCalendar=*:0/10
Persistent=true
RandomizedDelaySec=300

[Install]
WantedBy=timers.target

Use the first two commands to enable and start the timer. You can check the status using the last command:

# systemctl enable update-urlhaus-abuse-ch.timer
# systemctl start update-urlhaus-abuse-ch.timer
# systemctl list-timers

Now you need to enable and start one or more instances of kresd. kresd is single-threaded, so if you want to make use of all of your CPU cores, you can start as many instances as the numbers of cores you have. For example in order to enable and start 4 instances run this command:

# systemctl enable – now kresd@{1..4}.service

More information

“The Great Firewall of Belgium” active

Since today, Belgium has got it’s own version of “The Great Firewall of China”. The biggest Belgian ISPs are blocking access to several web sites, often related to child porn.

The idea already existed for several months, but the implementation was probably accelerated after a Dutch guy recently created a website where he posted detailed personal information about child abusers in Belgium. While publishing such detailed private information is forbidden in Belgium, it was very difficult to take real action against the website, because it operated from abroad.

So now this website is not accessible anymore from most Belgian ISPs. People who try to access this website, get redirected to a web page which explains that the web site is not accessible because it is considered illegal in Belgium.

Technically, it’s not really a firewall. The redirection happens on the DNS level. Instead of returning the real IP of the server, the DNS servers now return the address of a server in Belgium containing the warning page.

While I agree (like every sane person) that things like child’s pornography are completely sick and should be severely acted against, I think that creating a blacklist of websites which people cannot visit any more is a very dangerous precedent. It’s not clear at all how it is decided to put a website on the blacklist. Currently this is not based on a judge’s decision after an official juridical procedure. Also how long will it take until someone makes a mistake in the list and blocks half of the Internet by error (which is not unrealistic, it happened to Google recently!), or worse, until sites of political dissidents are blocked? For this reason, I have decided to stop my internal Bind DNS server at home from forwarding its requests to my ISPs DNS and instead I let it do iterative recursion now.  I read that many others are starting to use OpenDNS now, but this seems to have privacy issues by itself too.