Internet

Why .gov went dark

error

Government domain websites were down for several hours Aug. 14, probably because of a technical problem related to security.

FierceGovernmentIT reported that the outage was "likely caused by a failure to update a cryptographic key necessary for DNSSEC," citing cybersecurity researcher Johannes Ullrich, who first blogged about the outage. Ullrich is the dean of research at the SANS Technology Institute.

DNSSEC stands for Domain Name System Security Extensions, and government websites have made use of them since 2009 for security purposes. DNSSEC uses "key signing keys" to validate "zone signing keys" to verify that the typed-in URL loads the correct Internet protocol address, according to the report.

In plain English, the zone signing keys, which are changed frequently, compute encoded "signatures" for the domain name server of a given website. The key signing key, changed much less often, "signs" the zone signing key. The two keys together establish that the website is the one it claims to be. (See this document at ICANN.org for more information.)

"I think they published a new [key signing key] but forgot to update the new [delegation of signing] record to the root zone," Ullrich told FierceGovernmentIT. "That likely meant that DNS resolvers were sending the wrong cryptographic hash to the government root, meaning that browser requests couldn't be resolved.

Ullrich said government webmasters probably reverted back to the old key signing key to prevent further outage.

A General Services Administration official confirmed the outage to FCW and acknowledged it was related to a DNSSEC error. The outage would have affected only users on unsecure networks, the official said.

About the Author

Frank Konkel is a former staff writer for FCW.

Featured

  • Cybersecurity

    DHS floats 'collective defense' model for cybersecurity

    Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen wants her department to have a more direct role in defending the private sector and critical infrastructure entities from cyberthreats.

  • Defense
    Defense Secretary James Mattis testifies at an April 12 hearing of the House Armed Services Committee.

    Mattis: Cloud deal not tailored for Amazon

    On Capitol Hill, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis sought to quell "rumors" that the Pentagon's planned single-award cloud acquisition was designed with Amazon Web Services in mind.

  • Census
    shutterstock image

    2020 Census to include citizenship question

    The Department of Commerce is breaking with recent practice and restoring a question about respondent citizenship last used in 1950, despite being urged not to by former Census directors and outside experts.

Stay Connected

FCW Update

Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.