Paper 2019/788

The Impact of Time on DNS Security

Aanchal Malhotra, Willem Toorop, Benno Overeinder, Ralph Dolmans, and Sharon Goldberg


Time is an important component of the Domain Name System (DNS) and the DNS Security Extensions (DNSSEC). DNS caches rely on an absolute notion of time (eg "August 8, 2018 at 11:59pm'') to determine how long DNS records can be cached (i.e their Time To Live (TTL)) and to determine the validity interval of DNSSEC signatures. This is especially interesting for two reasons. First, absolute time is set from external sources, and is thus vulnerable to a variety of network attacks that maliciously alter time. Meanwhile, relative time (e.g. "2 hours from the time the DNS query was sent'') can be set using sources internal to the operating system, and is thus not vulnerable to network attacks. Second, the DNS on-the-wire protocol only uses relative time; relative time is then translated into absolute time as a part of DNS caching, which introduces vulnerabilities. We leverage these two observations to show how to pivot from network attacks on absolute time to attacks on DNS caching. Specifically, we present and discuss the implications of attacks that (1) expire the cache earlier than intended and (2) make the cached responses stick in the cache longer than intended. We use network measurements to identify a significant attack surface for these DNS cache attacks, focusing specifically on pivots from Network Time Protocol (NTP) attacks by both on-path and off-path attackers. We therefore recommend that DNS resolvers stop using absolute time for caching, and instead start using relative time. We have implemented our recommendations as part of the popular Unbound open source resolver, and our implementation will be part of Unbound's upcoming release.

Available format(s)
Publication info
Preprint. Minor revision.
Network Time ProtocolDomain Name SystemDNS Security Extensionstime implementationsecuritycache attacks
Contact author(s)
aanchal4 @ bu edu
willem @ nlnetlabs nl
benno @ nlnetlabs nl
ralph @ nlnetlabs nl
goldbe @ cs bu edu
2019-07-14: received
Short URL
Creative Commons Attribution


      author = {Aanchal Malhotra and Willem Toorop and Benno Overeinder and Ralph Dolmans and Sharon Goldberg},
      title = {The Impact of Time on DNS Security},
      howpublished = {Cryptology ePrint Archive, Paper 2019/788},
      year = {2019},
      note = {\url{}},
      url = {}
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