August 15, 2013
All US government web sites were unreachable for several hours yesterday for many users; which no doubt would have caused great concern.
As it turned out, it wasn't hackers, foreign agents, the zombie apocalypse or any other event heralding the end of the world as we know it.
According to Ars Technica, Domain Name System Security Extensions (DNSSEC) information being distributed by the .GOV root domain name server became corrupted; affecting .GOV's digital signature and "making it appear not to be the authoritative server for the government's Internet names."
The issue was fixed by around 10:20am US Eastern Time yesterday (Australian time) and then "government sites magically reappeared on the Internet."
All servers were still functioning during the mishap and sites were available within the Government's own network. Those affected would have been people using ISP's with name servers that verify DNSSEC signatures; an increasingly common feature.
So, what is DNSSEC?
The Domain Name System (DNS) maps domain names to IP addresses, does it very well and has done so for many years. However, when it was originally designed, the slew of security issues that threaten the Internet today were not foreseen and it is vulnerable to malicious behaviour; such as redirecting users attempting to access a certain online destination to phishing websites.
As these web sites can closely imitate the original; users are unaware and may enter sensitive information that can then be used to access bank accounts or assume identities.
Simply put; DNSSEC is a suite of protocols that helps to ensure a web site URL that someone taps into their web browser or a link they click is resolving to the correct site.
You can learn more about DNSSEC on Wikipedia
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