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Domains, Security & Privacy, Technology

How to Prevent Domain Hijacking and Cyber Attacks

Cyber attacks have become one of the biggest risks that companies and individuals alike face. More specifically, attacks on domain names are a much larger threat than in the past. These threats pose significant consequences such as damaged reputation, data theft, and financial loss. 

The Efficient IT and IDC’s 2019 Global DNS Report has highlighted how organizations have faced an average increase of 34% Domain Name System (DNS) attacks over 2018.

What makes the situation even worse is that finding a winning domain name, or one that is easy to remember and naturally reflects your business’s purpose, isn’t an easy task as it may seem. And when you add the high risk of security breaches and DNS attacks to the mix, things only get more complicated.

In this article, we’ll discuss domain hijacking and its causes in more detail, along with the measures you can take to keep your domains safe from cyber attacks.

What Is Domain Name Hijacking?

Domain name hijacking is just a fancier way to say that your domain name has been stolen.

A hacker tries to get access to his target’s complete domain registrar account details that will allow him to make unauthorized changes and transfers to his advantage. This includes changing DNS name servers, setting up a new domain status, and transferring the domain name.

Throughout the years, several hackers have been successful in gaining control over the DNS of famous sites and making various alterations to the account. Since the Internet cannot function without DNS capabilities, taking swift precautionary and corrective steps is the only way out.

Undoing the damage caused through domain hijacking is very challenging, if not impossible, which makes things even trickier. And this is not considering the negative impact on your business name and high attack costs.

How Can Anyone Hijack Your Domain Name?

There are multiple ways in which attacks can hijack your domain name.

For those of you who aren’t aware, DNS is a fundamental mechanism of the Internet that leaves a trail of your online activities — something that you cannot do much about. In case of a security flaw, also known as DNS leak, your DNS requests get revealed to ISP DNS servers, giving unauthorized access to hackers. 

People have also fallen victim to social engineering attacks, fake phishing pages, and through local keyloggers installation in your computer that eventually sends all confidential information to hackers.

Shield on laptop with multiple alerts

Other Types of DNS Attacks that You Should Know

We’ve already discussed domain hijacking, but there are several other types of critical DNS attacks that can affect your online presence. Let’s review them below:

Typosquatting

Typosquatting is not only a security problem but can also pose a big risk to keeping corporate secrets confidential.

It refers to the practice of registering a domain name that is confusingly similar to an already existing popular brand. Business owners do this intentionally in hopes of benefiting from misdirected web traffic, but there are also situations where it’s used to steal information.

To mitigate this threat, you should monitor newly-registered domain names to find confusingly similar variants of your brand. Luckily, finding information about new domain registrations is readily available from registries.

You can also enlist the services of companies offering dedicated digital brand management services.

Cache poisoning

Your computer uses DNS data whenever you send emails or visit websites. This data is then cached somewhere on your network, similar to that with your ISP.

While caches reduce the load on various registries that provide authoritative DNS responses and boost Internet performance, it is also prone to “poisoning“ attacks. Attackers set up counterfeit sites that look similar to the original, often becoming successful in penetrating your network defenses and gaining access to crucial information such as usernames and passwords.

DNSSEC protocol is the best solution for preventing DNS cache poisoning. After DNSSEC adoption becomes universal, browsers and ISPs will be able to validate the authenticity of the received DNS information after a DNSSEC digital signature is added to a domain name.

DDoS

Distributed Denial of Service attacks (DDoS) is usually not a direct threat to DNS. But there are still vulnerabilities since DNS represents a logical chokepoint on the network, which is often overlooked by organizations when planning their infrastructure capacity.

It’s important to understand that if the DNS infrastructure isn’t capable of handling incoming requests, the website will either be degraded or disabled.

Your best bet here would be to monitor networks regularly and learn how to identify DDoS attacks and use the appropriate measures to stop them. In case an attack does occur, look for criminal activity, fraud, or data breaches. You can also employ consultants or security professionals to identify and recover from these attacks.

DNS amplification attacks

DNS has a recursion feature that permits domain name resolution to be handed off to more powerfully built sites. Specifically, the recursion feature essentially acts as a middle man between consumers and the DNS servers hosting a company’s domains and IP addresses. DNS recursion is both a useful and common feature for companies to deploy within an enterprise environment. 

As for DNS amplification, it’s a tactic used in DDoS attacks for leveraging DNS servers deployed in insecure “recursive“ configurations. What attackers discovered here was that they could use “open“ recursive DNS servers in their favor.

You see, “open” recursive DNS servers are those recursive name servers that have neither controlled nor restricted access, and hence, can be exploited by attackers to enhance the efficacy of their DDoS attacks.

To mitigate this threat, you can do a simple configuration change to secure your DNS servers. Also take note that securing your DNS servers is an important element of ensuring PCI compliance, which is essential if your business is going to be accepting customer financial data.

To put it simply, running a recursive DNS server that is open to the broad Internet isn’t an acceptable security practice anymore.

laptop with protected domain

Steps to Protect Your Domain Name from Cyber-Attacks

There is no doubt that building a solid defense is the best offense to protect yourself against any malicious acts. The following are a few steps that can help prevent any issues with your domain names:

1. Finalize a good domain registrar company

There are several types of domain registrars that permit you to register a domain name — some cheaper, some more expensive.

However, price shouldn’t be the only influencing factor since it’s the security of your business in question here. Instead, look for advanced and additional features that can amp up for the security of your domain name. For instance, 24/7 technical support, and efficient DNS management.

2. Use strong passwords and change them periodically

You might’ve already heard the advice: don’t use a password at all when possible, and if you do, keep a strong one.

A strong password doesn’t have to be a complex series of letters, numbers, or symbols, but you should avoid using dictionary-based words or anniversaries, birthdays, common names, etc. In fact, it would be best if you use a password generator to generate harder to predict passwords.

Moreover, you should consider changing your passwords every 72 to 90 days. Your new password should always be strong. If you‘re going to change your old password with a weaker one, it would be better to not change at all.

3. Increase Overall Protection Levels

You can increase your domain’s protection levels by enabling certain features like two-factor authentication, domain locking, and WHOIS protection.

  • Enabling Two-Factor Authentication 

You should enable two-factor authentication for all your account online accounts. This second layer of authentication will protect you from losing control of your domain name if somebody tries to gain access to your username and password.

  • Enabling WHOIS Protection 

Generally, when people are interested in acquiring a domain or want to find out if it’s already registered, they can refer to a WHOIS database, making it easier to contact the domain name holder or clarify ownership. At the same time, it’s important to have your WHOIS protection enabled to restrict the amount of personal data exposed to the Internet such as your home address, country of residence, contact number, or email. This is especially helpful to prevent social engineering attacks.

  • Enabling Domain Locking 

Offered by all domain registrars, domain locking is a security enhancement feature that permits you to prevent unauthorized domain name transfers to another registrar.

4. Keep your eye out for phishing or scam emails

Phishing and scam emails are usually sent by forging a trusted sender’s email address or domain name. For example, to make it appear that the email is coming from ICANN, attackers can use emails like support@icann.org.

If you find incoming mails that request your username or password or want to direct you to another page by asking you to click on a link, treat it as a red flag. In such cases, contact your domain registrar from the official web page or get in touch with technical support to help determine whether or not it’s a phishing attack.

VPNs and Data Leaks: Can Getting a VPN Prevent Data Leaks?

Getting a virtual private network (VPN) is a prudent precaution to detect or prevent a DNS leak.

You see, VPNs add a layer of encryption for routing all your devices‘ traffic when it goes to other devices connected to the Internet through it. As a result, your personal information and particularly your IP address is obscured.

Features to look for in a VPN to prevent DNS leaks

The following are two essential features to look for in a good VPN that can help prevent DNS leaks: 

  • Encryption and Protocol

Research the market to find a VPN that best suits your needs. For DNS leaks, in particular, it would be best to look for VPN providers that offer the best possible encryption. Read the privacy policy of the service before you open an account as well. Websites that support no logging can be beneficial for protecting your privacy.

  • Avoid Using Free VPN Services

The biggest problem with free VPN services is that they are often slow and unreliable. Let’s face it: nothing is really free in the world. So if a company is offering the service for free, it may not offer the same level of privacy and security as opposed to VPN services that cost money. You can always test VPNs by opting for a free trial before making a decision as well.

VPNs are still not a guaranteed solution…

While VPNs certainly provide an additional layer of security to keep things encrypted and private, they still don’t offer full-proof protection. You would be wise to test your VPNs on a regular basis since there is still a possibility of reconnection leaks that may compromise the anonymity of your IP address. 

Additionally, to enhance your protection you should use a VPN with built-in DNS leak features and carry out DNS leak tests. We would also recommend using a VPN monitoring software that includes support in the event of a DNS leak. 

Several experts recommend disabling Teredo, which is a Windows-based technology that allows two IP protocols to communicate with each other. Since this communication can result in DNS leaks, disabling it once and for all will eliminate risks.

Summing Up

Protecting your domain name is incredibly important. Losing access can have several repercussions with a decline in business, losing contact with clients, and dropped SEO rankings. In other words, it can be a complete disaster.

But if you take the necessary steps that guarantee your business’s privacy and security, you can considerably reduce the likelihood of domain hijacking, keeping your brand safe.

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Gary Stevens avatar

Gary Stevens

Gary Stevens is a web developer and technology writer. He's a part-time blockchain geek and a volunteer working for the Ethereum foundation as well as an active Github contributor. More articles written by Gary.

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