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Versions: 00                                                            
Network Working Group                                    Martin Hamilton
INTERNET-DRAFT                                                Jon Knight
                                                 Loughborough University
                                                              March 1998

             Distributing control of the Domain Name System


                          Status of This Memo

      This document is an Internet-Draft.  Internet-Drafts are working
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      This Internet Draft expires September 1998.


   This proposal outlines a way in which the Internet community may be
   able to route around the legal and political issues associated with
   control of the Domain Name System.  We suggest a new mechanism for
   the distribution of domain name information, based on strong
   cryptographic authentication.  In this new system, anyone is free to
   "publish" domain name information, with control over whether or not
   it is accepted left to the local site DNS server administrators.

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INTERNET-DRAFT                                                March 1998

1. Problem definition

   The Domain Name System is theoretically an extension to the basic
   Internet infrastructure - simply resolving requests to look up
   "domain name" tokens and returning Internet Protocol addresses and
   related information [1,2].  In practice it is treated as essential by
   the vast majority of Internet users, and control of the DNS is a
   legal and political Hot Potato.

   There appear to be two general problems with control of the DNS :-

     * Clashes over who has the right to a particular domain name,
         e.g. should Apple Computer, Inc. have an inalienable
         right to the apple.com domain name ?

     * Clashes over the hierarchical authority structure which is
         used to delegate portions of the Internet domain namespace
         to particular domain name serveres.

   This proposal does not address the first point directly, though it
   may be of some indirect benefit in this area.  The second point is at
   the heart of this proposal.

2. Proposed solution

   The Usenet News system incorporates a "control" mechanism, which is
   used for the creation and deletion of "newsgroups" (conferences).
   Anyone is free to create or delete a newsgroup, but in practice most
   Usenet servers will only act on control messages from a very small
   number of originators - at the discretion of their administrators.
   Usenet has recently added strong cryptographic authentication for
   control messages, using PGP [3].

   We propose that this model should be adopted for the distribution of
   Domain Name information.

   We anticipate that some minor changes would be necessary to DNS
   server software (e.g. BIND) to take account of this new model of DNS
   propagation.  No changes would be needed at the resolver level, as
   moving to this new system would be transparent to end users.  Usenet
   News would be an excellent mechanism for the distribution of DNS
   related control messages - though not a timely one.  For this reason
   we assume that most use of this system would be for the distribution
   of new top level domain information, which could be expected to
   change infrequently.

   The exact level of control which is given to a particular identity
   would, of necessity, vary from site to site.  Some sites might choose

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INTERNET-DRAFT                                                March 1998

   to act on control messages from particular people (e.g. Jon Postel or
   Paul Vixie :-) for arbitrary second and third level domains - at
   their discretion.

3. Security considerations

   Use of strong cryptographic authentication such as PGP is essential
   for the correct operation of this system.  Compromised cryptographic
   protocols (e.g. using 40 bit keys, or escrowed private keys) would
   not be appropriate, since these weaknesses are now well known outside
   the cryptological community - e.g. in the print and broadcast media.

   It is essential that stringent measures are taken to protect the
   private keys which are used to sign the control messages.  As a bare
   minimum these should be stored on computers which are not connected
   to a network, with messages and signatures being transported via
   floppy disk.  We envisage that a code of conduct would rapidly emerge
   if this proposal is successful.

   The trust model for this system is very simple :-

     * Implementations should discard control messages which
         have not been cryptographically signed.

     * Control messages with invalid signatures may be logged,
         but should not be acted upon - even if they come from
         a trusted originator.

     * Control messages which have a valid signature from a
         trusted originator but do not fall into their access
         control list of permitted operations may be logged,
         but should not be acted upon.

   In addition, implementors should take care to avoid the normal
   security problems - e.g. avoid allocating fixed size buffers, check
   for buffer overruns.  Checking for unusual behaviour would also be
   advisable, e.g.  attempts to change large amounts of domain name
   information in a short space of time may indicate that the
   originator's private key has been compromised.

4. References

   [1] P.V. Mockapetris.  "Domain names - implementation and
   specification", RFC 1035, 1987.

   [2] P.V. Mockapetris.  "Domain names - concepts and facilities", RFC
   1034, 1987.

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INTERNET-DRAFT                                                March 1998

   [3] David Lawrence et al - pgpcontrol.

5. Authors' address

   Martin Hamilton, Jon Knight
   Department of Computer Studies
   Loughborough University of Technology
   Leics. LE11 3TU, UK

   Email: m.t.hamilton@lut.ac.uk

                This Internet Draft expires September 1998.

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