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DNSSEC Deployment Reaching Critical Mass

Less than nine months after the DNS root was signed, the rollout of DNSSEC across the Internet's top-level domains is approaching the tipping point. Thanks to the combined efforts of registries around the world, the new security protocol will soon be available to the majority of domain name registrants in almost a quarter of all TLDs.

As a reminder, DNSSEC - Domain Name System Security Extensions - is a trust upgrade to the decades-old DNS protocol. Using DNSSEC, resolvers are able to ensure that no one or nothing has tampered with DNS messages by validating their cryptographic signatures. The technology goes a long way in protecting Internet users from attacks, like cache poisoning, that have the potential to undermine the trust we all place in electronic commerce.

According to ICANN's latest statistics, more than 20% of the world's TLDs have now implemented DNSSEC in their zones: 69 are signed, and 62 have also published the signatures in the root zone, meaning they are fully DNSSEC-compatible. This rapid uptake has been driven by the concerted efforts of TLD registries. Since the landmark DNSSEC signing of .org in 2010, Afilias has been rolling out the technology to all of the gTLDs and ccTLDs for which we provide registry services as part of our "Project Safeguard." Registrants of .info domains can now use DNSSEC, and we have also announced the signing of the .in, .me, .gi, .mn and .sc zones, among others.

Other ccTLDs have also recently been signed, but two of the largest recent DNSSEC deployments have occurred in .net and .com, which together account for more than half of the world's existing domain name registrations. While the .net implementation is now complete, .com is currently serving DNSSEC information that deliberately cannot be validated. The .com domain will not be fully "switched on" until the end of the month. When this happens, of the seven "original" gTLDs, only .mil and .int will remain unsigned.

DNSSEC availability in .com will also prove to be a landmark in terms of raising awareness among domain name registrants. It's great that so many TLDs are being signed, but this is of little use to Web surfers until second-level registrants also begin to sign their zones. Registrars are already launching services to simplify what is a complex technology to deploy and manage, but these need to be used.

When major corporations that have their primary website at a .com domain begin to publicly deploy the technology, DNSSEC will likely begin to market itself in a viral manner. Much like a newly launched TLD needs well-known brands to adopt its domains, a few big "anchor tenants" will also prove priceless for spreading the word about DNSSEC. When major e-commerce, financial services and social networking sites start to openly embrace the specification, it should become a competitive imperative for others to do the same so that they avoid appearing less secure than their rivals. With a bit of luck, at this time next year, I will be writing about the encouraging level of DNSSEC adoption at the second level of the domain name system, rather than at the top level.