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Subject: TA13-088A: DNS Amplification Attacks
From: "US-CERT" <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date: Fri, 05 Jul 2013 14:17:15 -0500

Title: TA13-088A: DNS Amplification Attacks

US Computer Emergency Readiness Team banner graphic

National Cyber Awareness System:

03/29/2013 02:26 PM EDT

Original release date: March 29, 2013 | Last revised: July 05, 2013

Systems Affected

  • Domain Name System (DNS) servers


A Domain Name Server (DNS) amplification attack is a popular form of distributed denial of service (DDoS) that relies on the use of publically accessible open recursive DNS servers to overwhelm a victim system with DNS response traffic.


A Domain Name Server (DNS) amplification attack is a popular form of distributed denial of service (DDoS) that relies on the use of publically accessible open recursive DNS servers to overwhelm a victim system with DNS response traffic. The basic attack technique consists of an attacker sending a DNS name lookup request to an open recursive DNS server with the source address spoofed to be the victim’s address. When the DNS server sends the DNS record response, it is sent instead to the victim. Attackers will typically submit a request for as much zone information as possible to maximize the amplification effect. Because the size of the response is typically considerably larger than the request, the attacker is able to amplify the volume of traffic directed at the victim. By leveraging a botnet to perform additional spoofed DNS queries, an attacker can produce an overwhelming amount of traffic with little effort. Additionally, because the responses are legitimate data coming from valid servers, it is especially difficult to block these types of attacks.

While the attacks are difficult to prevent, network operators can implement several possible mitigation strategies. The primary element in the attack that is the focus of an effective long-term solution is the detection and elimination of open recursive DNS resolvers. These systems are typically legitimate DNS servers that have been improperly configured to respond to recursive queries on behalf of any system, rather than restricting recursive responses only to requests from local or authorized clients. By identifying these systems, an organization or network operator can reduce the number of potential resources that the attacker can employ in an attack.


A misconfigured Domain Name System (DNS) server can be exploited to participate in a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack.



Several organizations offer free, web-based scanning tools that will search a network for vulnerable open DNS resolvers.  These tools will scan entire network ranges and list the address of any identified open resolvers.

Open DNS Resolver Project
The Open DNS Resolver Project has compiled a list of DNS servers that are known to serve as globally accessible open resolvers.  The query interface allows network administrators to enter IP ranges in CIDR format [1].

The Measurement Factory
Like the Open DNS Resolver Project, the Measurement Factory maintains a list of Internet-accessible DNS servers and allows administrators to search for open recursive resolvers [2].  In addition, the Measurement Factory offers a free tool to directly test an individual DNS resolver to determine if it allows open recursion.  This will allow an administrator to determine if configuration changes are necessary and verify that configuration changes have been effective [3].  Finally, the site offers statistics showing the number of open resolvers detected on the various Autonomous System (AS) networks, sorted by the highest number found [4].

Another freely available, web-based tool for testing DNS resolvers is DNSInspect.  This tool is similar to The Measurement Factory in that it tests a specific resolver for vulnerability, but it offers the ability to test an entire DNS Zone for several other potential configuration and security issues [5].


In a typical recursive DNS query, a client sends a query request to a local DNS server requesting the resolution of a name or the reverse resolution of an IP address.  The DNS server performs the necessary queries on behalf of the client and returns a response packet with the requested information or an error [6, page 21].  The specification does not allow for unsolicited responses.  In a DNS amplification attack, the key indicator is a query response without a matching request.  


Unfortunately, due to the overwhelming traffic volume that can be produced by one of these attacks, there is often little that the victim can do to counter a large-scale DNS amplification-based, distributed denial-of-service attack.  While the only effective means of eliminating this type of attack is to eliminate open recursive resolvers, this requires a large-scale effort by numerous parties.  According to the Open DNS Resolver Project, of the 27 million known DNS resolvers on the Internet, approximately “25 million pose a significant threat” of being used in an attack [1].  However, several possible techniques are available to reduce the overall effectiveness of such attacks to the Internet community as a whole.  Where possible, configuration links have been provided to assist administrators with making the recommended changes.  The configuration information has been limited to BIND9 and Microsoft’s DNS Server, which are two widely deployed DNS servers.  If you are running a different DNS server, please see your vendor’s documentation for configuration details.

Source IP Verification

Because the DNS queries being sent by the attacker-controlled clients must have a source address spoofed to appear as the victim’s system, the first step to reducing the effectiveness of DNS amplification is for Internet service providers (ISPs) to deny any DNS traffic with spoofed addresses.  The Network Working Group of the Internet Engineering Task Force released a Best Current Practice document in May 2000 that describes how an Internet service provider can filter network traffic on its network to drop packets with source addresses not reachable via the actual packet’s path [7]. The changes recommended in this document would cause a routing device to test whether it is possible to reach the source address of the packet via the interface that transmitted the packet. If it is not possible, the packet obviously has a spoofed source address. This configuration change would considerably reduce the potential for most current types of DDoS attacks.

Disabling Recursion on Authoritative Name Servers

Many of the DNS servers currently deployed on the Internet are exclusively intended to provide name resolution for a single domain.  These systems do not need to support resolution of other domains on behalf of a client, and therefore should be configured with recursion disabled.


Add the following to the global options [8]:
options {
     allow-query-cache { none; };
     recursion no;

Microsoft DNS Server

In the Microsoft DNS console tool [9]:

  1. Right-click the DNS server and click Properties.
  2. Click the Advanced tab.
  3. In Server options, select the “Disable recursion” checkbox, and then click OK.

Limiting Recursion to Authorized Clients

For DNS servers that are deployed within an organization or ISP to support name queries on behalf of a client, the resolver should be configured to only allow queries on behalf of authorized clients.  These requests should typically only come from clients within the organization’s network address range.


In the global options, add the following [10]:
acl corpnets {;; };
options {
  allow-query { corpnets; };
  allow-recursion { corpnets; };

Microsoft DNS Server

It is not currently possible to restrict recursive DNS requests to a specific client address range in Microsoft DNS Server.  The most effective means of approximating this functionality is to configure the internal DNS server to forward queries to an external DNS server and restrict DNS traffic in the firewall to restrict port 53 UDP traffic to the internal server and the external forwarder [11].

Response Rate Limiting (RRL) of Recursive Name Servers

There is currently an experimental feature available as a set of patches for BIND9 that allows an administrator to restrict the number of responses per second being sent from the name server [12].  This is intended to reduce the effectiveness of DNS amplification attacks by reducing the volume of traffic coming from any single resolver.


Patches are currently available for 9.8.latest and 9.9.latest to support RRL on UNIX systems. Red Hat has made updated packages available for Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6 to provide the necessary changes in advisory RHSA-2013:0550-1. On BIND9 implementation running the RRL patches, add the following lines to the options block of the authoritative views [13]:
rate-limit {
    responses-per-second 5;
    window 5;

Microsoft DNS Server

This option is currently not available for Microsoft DNS Server.

Disclaimer: RRL of DNS responses may prevent legitimate hosts from receiving answers. Such hosts may be at increased risk for successful DNS cache poisoning attacks.


Revision History

  • March 29, 2013: Initial release
  • April 18th, 2013: Minor updates to Description and Solution sections(Source IP Verification and BIND9)
  • July 5th, 2013: Added disclaimer for DNS request rate limiting

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