Joint NSA and CISA Guidance on Strengthening Cyber Defense Through Protective DNS

The National Security Agency (NSA) and CISA have released a Joint Cybersecurity Information (CSI) sheet with guidance on selecting a protective Domain Name System (PDNS) service as a key defense against malicious cyber activity. Protective DNS can greatly reduce the effectiveness of ransomware, phishing, botnet, and malware campaigns by blocking known-malicious domains. Additionally organizations can use DNS query logs for incident response and threat hunting activities.
CISA encourages users and administrators to consider the benefits of using a protective DNS service and review NSA and CISA’s CSI sheet on Selecting a Protective DNS Service for more information.
Protecting users’ DNS queries is a key defense because cyber threat actors use domain names across the network exploitation lifecycle: users frequently mistype domain names while attempting to navigate to a known-good website and unintentionally go to a malicious one instead (T1583.001); threat actors lace phishing emails with malicious links (T1566.002); a compromised device may seek commands from a remote command and control server (TA0011); a threat actor may exfiltrate data from a compromised device to a remote host (TA0010).1 The domain names associated with malicious content are often known or knowable, and preventing their resolution protects individual users and the enterprise.
Due to the centrality of DNS for cybersecurity, the Department of Defense (DoD) included DNS filtering as a requirement in its Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC) standard (SC.3.192). The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency issued a memo and directive requiring U.S. government organizations to take steps to mitigate related DNS issues. Additionally, the National Security Agency has published guidance documents on defending DNS [1, 2, 3].
This guidance outlines the benefits and risks of using a protective DNS service and assesses several commercial PDNS providers based on reported capabilities. The assessment is meant to serve as information for organizations, not as recommendations for provider selection. Users of these services must evaluate their architectures and specific needs when choosing a service for PDNS and then validate that a provider meets those needs.

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