DNS over TLS in FreeBSD 12

With the arrival of OpenSSL 1.1.1, an upgraded Unbound, and some changes to the setup and init scripts, FreeBSD 12.0, currently in beta, now supports DNS over TLS out of the box.

DNS over TLS is just what it sounds like: DNS over TCP, but wrapped in a TLS session. It encrypts your requests and the server’s replies, and optionally allows you to verify the identity of the server. The advantages are protection against eavesdropping and manipulation of your DNS traffic; the drawbacks are a slight performance degradation and potential firewall traversal issues, as it runs over a non-standard port (TCP port 853) which may be blocked on some networks. Let’s take a look at how to set it up.

Basic setup

As a simple test case, let’s set up our 12.0-ALPHA10 VM to use Cloudflare’s DNS service:

# uname -r
12.0-ALPHA10
# cat >/etc/rc.conf.d/local_unbound <<EOF
local_unbound_enable="YES"
local_unbound_tls="YES"
local_unbound_forwarders="1.1.1.1@853 1.0.0.1@853"
EOF
# service local_unbound start
Performing initial setup.
destination:
/var/unbound/forward.conf created
/var/unbound/lan-zones.conf created
/var/unbound/control.conf created
/var/unbound/unbound.conf created
/etc/resolvconf.conf not modified
Original /etc/resolv.conf saved as /var/backups/resolv.conf.20181021.192629
Starting local_unbound.
Waiting for nameserver to start... good
# host www.freebsd.org
www.freebsd.org is an alias for wfe0.nyi.freebsd.org.
wfe0.nyi.freebsd.org has address 96.47.72.84
wfe0.nyi.freebsd.org has IPv6 address 2610:1c1:1:606c::50:15
wfe0.nyi.freebsd.org mail is handled by 0 .

Note that this is not a configuration you want to run in production—we will come back to this later.

Performance

The downside of DNS over TLS is the performance hit of the TCP and TLS session setup and teardown. We demonstrate this by flushing our cache and (rather crudely) measuring a cache miss and a cache hit:

# local-unbound-control reload
ok
# time host www.freebsd.org >x
host www.freebsd.org > x 0.00s user 0.00s system 0% cpu 0.553 total
# time host www.freebsd.org >x
host www.freebsd.org > x 0.00s user 0.00s system 0% cpu 0.005 total

Compare this to querying our router, a puny Soekris net5501 running Unbound 1.8.1 on FreeBSD 11.1-RELEASE:

# time host www.freebsd.org gw >x
host www.freebsd.org gw > x 0.00s user 0.00s system 0% cpu 0.232 total
# time host www.freebsd.org 192.168.144.1 >x
host www.freebsd.org gw > x 0.00s user 0.00s system 0% cpu 0.008 total

or to querying Cloudflare directly over UDP:

# time host www.freebsd.org 1.1.1.1 >x      
host www.freebsd.org 1.1.1.1 > x 0.00s user 0.00s system 0% cpu 0.272 total
# time host www.freebsd.org 1.1.1.1 >x
host www.freebsd.org 1.1.1.1 > x 0.00s user 0.00s system 0% cpu 0.013 total

(Cloudflare uses anycast routing, so it is not so unreasonable to see a cache miss during off-peak hours.)

This clearly shows the advantage of running a local caching resolver—it absorbs the cost of DNSSEC and TLS. And speaking of DNSSEC, we can separate that cost from that of TLS by reconfiguring our server without the latter:

# cat >/etc/rc.conf.d/local_unbound <<EOF
local_unbound_enable="YES"
local_unbound_tls="NO"
local_unbound_forwarders="1.1.1.1 1.0.0.1"
EOF
# service local_unbound setup
Performing initial setup.
destination:
Original /var/unbound/forward.conf saved as /var/backups/forward.conf.20181021.205328
/var/unbound/lan-zones.conf not modified
/var/unbound/control.conf not modified
Original /var/unbound/unbound.conf saved as /var/backups/unbound.conf.20181021.205328
/etc/resolvconf.conf not modified
/etc/resolv.conf not modified
# service local_unbound start
Starting local_unbound.
Waiting for nameserver to start... good
# time host www.freebsd.org >x
host www.freebsd.org > x 0.00s user 0.00s system 0% cpu 0.080 total
# time host www.freebsd.org >x
host www.freebsd.org > x 0.00s user 0.00s system 0% cpu 0.004 total

So does TLS add nearly half a second to every cache miss? Not quite, fortunately—in our previous tests, our first query was not only a cache miss but also the first query after a restart or a cache flush, resulting in a complete load and validation of the entire path from the name we queried to the root. The difference between a first and second cache miss is quite noticeable:

# time host www.freebsd.org >x 
host www.freebsd.org > x 0.00s user 0.00s system 0% cpu 0.546 total
# time host www.freebsd.org >x
host www.freebsd.org > x 0.00s user 0.00s system 0% cpu 0.004 total
# time host repo.freebsd.org >x
host repo.freebsd.org > x 0.00s user 0.00s system 0% cpu 0.168 total
# time host repo.freebsd.org >x
host repo.freebsd.org > x 0.00s user 0.00s system 0% cpu 0.004 total

Revisiting our configuration

Remember when I said that you shouldn’t run the sample configuration in production, and that I’d get back to it later? This is later.

The problem with our first configuration is that while it encrypts our DNS traffic, it does not verify the identity of the server. Our ISP could be routing all traffic to 1.1.1.1 to its own servers, logging it, and selling the information to the highest bidder. We need to tell Unbound to validate the server certificate, but there’s a catch: Unbound only knows the IP addresses of its forwarders, not their names. We have to provide it with names that will match the x509 certificates used by the servers we want to use. Let’s double-check the certificate:

# :| openssl s_client -connect 1.1.1.1:853 |& openssl x509 -noout -text |& grep DNS
DNS:*.cloudflare-dns.com, IP Address:1.1.1.1, IP Address:1.0.0.1, DNS:cloudflare-dns.com, IP Address:2606:4700:4700:0:0:0:0:1111, IP Address:2606:4700:4700:0:0:0:0:1001

This matches Cloudflare’s documentation, so let’s update our configuration:

# cat >/etc/rc.conf.d/local_unbound <<EOF
local_unbound_enable="YES"
local_unbound_tls="YES"
local_unbound_forwarders="1.1.1.1@853#cloudflare-dns.com 1.0.0.1@853#cloudflare-dns.com"
EOF
# service local_unbound setup
Performing initial setup.
destination:
Original /var/unbound/forward.conf saved as /var/backups/forward.conf.20181021.212519
/var/unbound/lan-zones.conf not modified
/var/unbound/control.conf not modified
/var/unbound/unbound.conf not modified
/etc/resolvconf.conf not modified
/etc/resolv.conf not modified
# service local_unbound restart
Stopping local_unbound.
Starting local_unbound.
Waiting for nameserver to start... good
# host www.freebsd.org
www.freebsd.org is an alias for wfe0.nyi.freebsd.org.
wfe0.nyi.freebsd.org has address 96.47.72.84
wfe0.nyi.freebsd.org has IPv6 address 2610:1c1:1:606c::50:15
wfe0.nyi.freebsd.org mail is handled by 0 .

How can we confirm that Unbound actually validates the certificate? Well, we can run Unbound in debug mode (/usr/sbin/unbound -dd -vvv) and read the debugging output… or we can confirm that it fails when given a name that does not match the certificate:

# perl -p -i -e 's/cloudflare/cloudfire/g' /etc/rc.conf.d/local_unbound
# service local_unbound setup
Performing initial setup.
destination:
Original /var/unbound/forward.conf saved as /var/backups/forward.conf.20181021.215808
/var/unbound/lan-zones.conf not modified
/var/unbound/control.conf not modified
/var/unbound/unbound.conf not modified
/etc/resolvconf.conf not modified
/etc/resolv.conf not modified
# service local_unbound restart
Stopping local_unbound.
Waiting for PIDS: 33977.
Starting local_unbound.
Waiting for nameserver to start... good
# host www.freebsd.org
Host www.freebsd.org not found: 2(SERVFAIL)

But is this really a failure to validate the certificate? Actually, no. When provided with a server name, Unbound will pass it to the server during the TLS handshake, and the server will reject the handshake if that name does not match any of its certificates. To truly verify that Unbound validates the server certificate, we have to confirm that it fails when it cannot do so. For instance, we can remove the root certificate used to sign the DNS server’s certificate from the test system’s trust store. Note that we cannot simply remove the trust store entirely, as Unbound will refuse to start if the trust store is missing or empty.

While we’re talking about trust stores, I should point out that you currently must have ca_root_nss installed for DNS over TLS to work. However, 12.0-RELEASE will ship with a pre-installed copy.

Conclusion

We’ve seen how to set up Unbound—specifically, the local_unbound service in FreeBSD 12.0—to use DNS over TLS instead of plain UDP or TCP, using Cloudflare’s public DNS service as an example. We’ve looked at the performance impact, and at how to ensure (and verify) that Unbound validates the server certificate to prevent man-in-the-middle attacks.

The question that remains is whether it is all worth it. There is undeniably a performance hit, though this may improve with TLS 1.3. More importantly, there are currently very few DNS-over-TLS providers—only one, really, since Quad9 filter their responses—and you have to weigh the advantage of encrypting your DNS traffic against the disadvantage of sending it all to a single organization. I can’t answer that question for you, but I can tell you that the parameters are evolving quickly, and if your answer is negative today, it may not remain so for long. More providers will appear. Performance will improve with TLS 1.3 and QUIC. Within a year or two, running DNS over TLS may very well become the rule rather than the experimental exception.

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