DNS Encryption Explained

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Dec 23, 2018
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DNS Encryption Explained



The Domain Name System (DNS) is the address book of the Internet. When you visit cloudflare.com or any other site, your browser will ask a DNS resolver for the IP address where the website can be found. Unfortunately, these DNS queries and answers are typically unprotected. Encrypting DNS would improve user privacy and security. In this post, we will look at two mechanisms for encrypting DNS, known as DNS over TLS (DoT) and DNS over HTTPS (DoH), and explain how they work.

Applications that want to resolve a domain name to an IP address typically use DNS. This is usually not done explicitly by the programmer who wrote the application. Instead, the programmer writes something such as fetch("https://example.com/news") and expects a software library to handle the translation of “example.com” to an IP address.

Behind the scenes, the software library is responsible for discovering and connecting to the external recursive DNS resolver and speaking the DNS protocol (see the figure below) in order to resolve the name requested by the application. The choice of the external DNS resolver and whether any privacy and security is provided at all is outside the control of the application. It depends on the software library in use, and the policies provided by the operating system of the device that runs the software.


Overview of DNS query and response
The external DNS resolver

The operating system usually learns the resolver address from the local network using Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP). In home and mobile networks, it typically ends up using the resolver from the Internet Service Provider (ISP). In corporate networks, the selected resolver is typically controlled by the network administrator. If desired, users with control over their devices can override the resolver with a specific address, such as the address of a public resolver like Google’s or Cloudflare’s, but most users will likely not bother changing it when connecting to a public Wi-Fi hotspot at a coffee shop or...

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