In this blog, we’re taking a close look at the growing importance of domain security, along with best practices that you can follow to secure your company’s domain name.
Your company’s domain name is the centerpiece of your online presence and a key component of critical applications that allow you to do business on the Internet. A domain name acts as an address for your company website, which serves as your digital storefront, customer service desk, and the primary gateway for customers to connect with your business in cyberspace. Your company domain name is also used whenever an email is addressed to your organization.
With domain names playing a central role in connecting your business with customers across the web, it’s no wonder that cyber adversaries are increasingly deploying attacks that attempt to hijack company domain names, manipulate Domain Name System (DNS) queries, or scam customers with spoofing and typosquatting.
To protect against these attacks and safeguard the customer experience, your business needs domain security: the right combination of policies and controls, technologies, and visibility to protect your company domain name against malicious cyber threats.
What is Domain Security?
Domain security is the practice of implementing security measures, controls, and technologies that protect your company domain name against malicious cyber threats.
A comprehensive approach to domain security should be multifaceted, covering everything from domain name registration and access controls, to DNS security, encryption, email authentication, and domain monitoring.
A robust approach to domain security can help prevent digital adversaries from gaining unauthorized access to your company domain, hijacking DNS requests to your domain, or executing successful domain/email spoofing attacks.
Why is Domain Security Important?
The importance of domain security is in direct proportion to the diversity and potential impact of cyber attacks launched against company domains by digital threat actors.
Consider the following types of cyber attacks that can be prevented or mitigated with a comprehensive approach to domain security:
Domain name registrars are companies that manage domain name registrations and map domain names to IP addresses. Registrars must be accredited by a domain name registry operator and administer domain name registrations based on the guidelines they provide.
If the designated registrar for your company domain name is hacked, cyber attackers may be able to gain administrative access to your domain and divert your web traffic to a malicious website.
Domain hijacking, also known as domain theft, is a type of account takeover attack where a cyber adversary gains unauthorized access to your company domain control panel.
Digital threat actors can hijack your domain by:
- Hacking the email account associated with the domain registration,
- Impersonating your company and convincing your domain registrar to transfer ownership of the domain to another person/registrar,
- Targeting your organization with malware, such as a keylogger that allows cyber adversaries to spy on your employees and steal access credentials to your domain,
- Targeting your employees with phishing emails that attempt to manipulate them into disclosing access credentials for your domain.
Typosquatting is when a cyber adversary registers a domain name that is similar to yours, but contains a common spelling error that your customers might make when attempting to access your website.
Typosquatting allows the cyber adversary to divert traffic away from your website to a malicious domain that they control. The malicious domain might attempt to install malware/ransomware on their machine, steal their access credentials for your company website, or gain access to their personal data.
Domain spoofing is when a cyber adversary creates a copy of your website on a domain that they control and impersonates your brand in an attempt to scam your customers.
Cyber adversaries can spoof a domain by replacing characters in the URL with characters from other languages or Unicode characters that closely resemble ASCII characters. Once the spoof domain is up and running, cyber adversaries may launch a phishing campaign to manipulate your customers into visiting the fake website.
When your customers are fooled by a domain spoofing attack, they may unknowingly provide the attackers with sensitive personal data or compromise secure login credentials by entering them on the attacker’s website.
Email spoofing tricks the recipient of an email into thinking that it came from your official company domain, when it was really sent by a cyber adversary. Cyber adversaries can create spoofed email in several ways, mainly by forging the sender address, a practice made possible by the lack of built-in authentication in the Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP).
Email spoofing exploits your domain name to earn the trust of the recipient, making them more susceptible to social engineering attacks that aim to steal their data or infect their machines with ransomware.
DNS Spoofing is when an unauthorized cyber adversary exploits the DNS system to change the responses to DNS queries and divert web traffic from the target domains.
Cyber adversaries can execute a DNS spoofing attack by intercepting and modifying DNS requests (proxying), blocking DNS requests to a target domain and sending a fake DNS reply (DNS injection), or by altering records in the DNS system (cache poisoning).
As with other domain-based attacks, redirecting traffic to an attacker-controlled domain allows the adversary to steal data, spread malware, or defraud victims.
Denial of Service (DoS) Attacks
A DoS or Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack attempts to disrupt the availability of your company website by flooding your IP address and network infrastructure with junk traffic. When successful, a DoS attack can render your website unavailable for regular customers, resulting in lost revenue and reputation damage.
Six Domain Security Best Practices
From domain hijacking to typosquatting, social engineering, spoofing, and DDoS attacks, cyber adversaries have a wide variety of techniques available for compromising or exploiting your company domain name.
The best practices described below will help your organization get started with a comprehensive approach to domain security that protects your organization, employees, and customers against a variety of domain-based cyber attacks.
- Choose a Reputable Domain Name Registrar
The first step to shoring up your domain security should always be choosing a reputable domain name registrar with accreditation from registry operators and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). Even better, choose a registrar that can demonstrate investment and expertise in cybersecurity, including controls, processes, technologies, and staff training.
- Register Lookalike Domain Names
The easiest way to start defending against typosquatting and domain spoofing attacks is to register look-alike domains yourself and redirect them to your company’s real website. Registering these domains on your own means that they can’t be registered by cyber adversaries who would use them to divert traffic away from your website and potentially scam your customers.
When registering lookalike domains, consider purchasing domains that contain misspellings of your company name, singular and plural versions, hyphenations, and generic top-level domains like .com, .info, .net, and .org.
Domain hijacking can sometimes happen when your domain registrations unexpectedly expire, or when a cyber attacker successfully impersonates your business to your designated registrar.
To help mitigate the risk, we recommend:
- Registering your domains for the longest term possible – usually up to ten years,
- Registering your company’s domain name directly to the corporation instead of to an individual,
- Registering your company’s domain name with a company credit card instead of an individual person’s payment information,
- Enabling domain privacy protection to exclude your personal data from the WHOIS directory,
- Enabling Registry Lock, a security feature that requires your registrar to manually verify any requested changes to your DNS records.
- Secure Access to Your Domain
Securing access to your domain control panel and controlling user permissions are important steps to preventing domain hijacking attacks. Most registrars offer features like two-factor authentication and IP validation that can help verify the identity of a user logging into your domain control panel.
A number of employees at your organization may require access to your domain control panel to fulfill their job duties, but only trusted individuals should be assigned elevated permissions to modify staff permissions or implement DNS configuration changes.
Cyber attackers may attempt to gain access to your domain control panel by contacting your domain name registrar and impersonating your business. Your registrar should prevent these attacks by following your authorized contact policy and implementing DNS changes only when requested by trusted, verified individuals at your company.
- Fortify Your DNS Security
The best way to strengthen your defenses against DNS spoofing and related DNS attacks is by enabling the DNS Security Extensions (DNSSEC) for your organization’s DNS servers.
DNSSEC adds data origin authentication and data integrity protection to the core DNS protocol, cryptographically verifying both the identity of the sender and the integrity of the data received. These features make your domain less susceptible to DNS attacks.
- Validate Emails with DMARC
Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting, and Conformance (DMARC) is a protocol that leverages the Sender Policy Framework (SPF) and DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM) standards to validate the authenticity of email communications and protect against email spoofing attacks that impersonate your domain.
With SPF, your company can detail the specific IP addresses that are authorized to send mail on behalf of your domain. Recipients of email from your company can compare the sender’s IP address to those listed on your SPF records. When the addresses match, the email is determined to be authentic. With DKIM, individual email messages are cryptographically signed and can be authenticated by the recipient on arrival.
ZeroFox can further enhance your organization’s email security with AI-driven processing and evaluation of DMARC authentication failure reports, enabling the detection and disruption of cyber attack infrastructure.
- Implement Domain Monitoring and Protection
Domain monitoring uses AI-driven processes to monitor the public attack surface, detect domains associated with your company, brand, and executives that you don’t own, and provide recommendations to safeguard the customer experience and avoid damaging security incidents.
ZeroFox Domain Protection leverages artificial intelligence to detect and identify typosquatting and domain phishing attacks that target your brand, employees, and customers. Once detected, ZeroFox works on your behalf to takedown fraudulent cyber attacker infrastructure and discourage future domain spoofing or impersonation attacks against your brand community.
Enhance Domain Security and Counteract Digital Adversaries with ZeroFox
ZeroFox provides enterprises protection, intelligence, and disruption to dismantle domain-based threats to brands, people, and assets across the public attack surface.
ZeroFox combines proactive Domain Monitoring to detect and prevent a variety of domain-based cyber attacks, helping your business securely engage with customers, avoid damaging security breaches, and fight back against malicious cyber adversaries.
Ready to learn more? Schedule a domain protection demo today!