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Cloudflare is joining the AS112 project to help the Internet deal with misdirected DNS queries

Cloudflare is joining the AS112 project to help the Internet deal with misdirected DNS queries

Today, we’re excited to announce that Cloudflare is participating in the AS112 project, becoming an operator of this community-operated, loosely-coordinated anycast deployment of DNS servers that primarily answer reverse DNS lookup queries that are misdirected and create significant, unwanted load on the Internet.

With the addition of Cloudflare global network, we can make huge improvements to the stability, reliability and performance of this distributed public service.

What is AS112 project

The AS112 project is a community effort to run an important network service intended to handle reverse DNS lookup queries for private-only use addresses that should never appear in the public DNS system. In the seven days leading up to publication of this blog post, for example, Cloudflare’s 1.1.1.1 resolver received more than 98 billion of these queries — all of which have no useful answer in the Domain Name System.

Some history is useful for context. Internet Protocol (IP) addresses are essential to network communication. Many networks make use of IPv4 addresses that are reserved for private use, and devices in the network are able to connect to the Internet with the use of network address translation (NAT), a process that maps one or more local private addresses to one or more global IP addresses and vice versa before transferring the information.

Your home Internet router most likely does this for you. You will likely find that, when at home, your computer has an IP address like 192.168.1.42. That’s an example of a private use address that is fine to use at home, but can’t be used on the public Internet. Your home router translates it, through NAT, to an address your ISP assigned to your home and that can be used on the Internet.

Here are the reserved “private use” addresses designated in RFC 1918.

Address block
Address range
Number of addresses

10.0.0.0/8
10.0.0.0 – 10.255.255.255
16,777,216

172.16.0.0/12
172.16.0.0 – 172.31.255.255
1,048,576

192.168.0.0/16
192.168.0.0 – 192.168.255.255
65,536

(Reserved private IPv4 network ranges)

Although the reserved addresses themselves are blocked from ever appearing on the public Internet, devices and programs in private environments may occasionally originate DNS queries corresponding to those addresses. These are called “reverse lookups” because they ask the DNS if there is a name associated with an address.

Reverse DNS lookup

A reverse DNS lookup is an opposite process of the more commonly used DNS lookup (which is used every day to translate a name like www.cloudflare.com to its corresponding IP address). It is a query to look up the domain name associated with a given IP address, in particular those addresses associated with routers and switches. For example, network administrators and researchers use reverse lookups to help understand paths being taken by data packets in the network, and it’s much easier to understand meaningful names than a meaningless number.

A reverse lookup is accomplished by querying DNS servers for a pointer record (PTR). PTR records store IP addresses with their segments reversed, and by appending “.in-addr.arpa” to the end. For example, the IP address 192.0.2.1 will have the PTR record stored as 1.2.0.192.in-addr.arpa. In IPv6, PTR records are stored within the “.ip6.arpa” domain instead of “.in-addr.arpa.”. Below are some query examples using the dig command line tool.

# Lookup the domain name associated with IPv4 address 172.64.35.46
# “+short” option make it output the short form of answers only
$ dig @1.1.1.1 PTR 46.35.64.172.in-addr.arpa +short
hunts.ns.cloudflare.com.

# Or use the shortcut “-x” for reverse lookups
$ dig @1.1.1.1 -x 172.64.35.46 +short
hunts.ns.cloudflare.com.

# Lookup the domain name associated with IPv6 address 2606:4700:58::a29f:2c2e
$ dig @1.1.1.1 PTR e.2.c.2.f.9.2.a.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.8.5.0.0.0.0.7.4.6.0.6.2.ip6.arpa. +short
hunts.ns.cloudflare.com.

# Or use the shortcut “-x” for reverse lookups
$ dig @1.1.1.1 -x 2606:4700:58::a29f:2c2e +short  
hunts.ns.cloudflare.com.

The problem that private use addresses cause for DNS

The private use addresses concerned have only local significance and cannot be resolved by the public DNS. In other words, there is no way for the public DNS to provide a useful answer to a question that has no global meaning. It is therefore a good practice for network administrators to ensure that queries for private use addresses are answered locally. However, it is not uncommon for such queries to follow the normal delegation path in the public DNS instead of being answered within the network. That creates unnecessary load.

By definition of being private use, they have no ownership in the public sphere, so there are no authoritative DNS servers to answer the queries. At the very beginning, root servers respond to all these types of queries since they serve the IN-ADDR.ARPA zone.

Over time, due to the wide deployment of private use addresses and the continuing growth of the Internet, traffic on the IN-ADDR.ARPA DNS infrastructure grew and the load due to these junk queries started to cause some concern. Therefore, the idea of offloading IN-ADDR.ARPA queries related to private use addresses was proposed. Following that, the use of anycast for distributing authoritative DNS service for that idea was subsequently proposed at a private meeting of root server operators. And eventually the AS112 service was launched to provide an alternative target for the junk.

The AS112 project is born

To deal with this problem, the Internet community set up special DNS servers called “blackhole servers” as the authoritative name servers that respond to the reverse lookup of the private use address blocks 10.0.0.0/8, 172.16.0.0/12, 192.168.0.0/16 and the link-local address block 169.254.0.0/16 (which also has only local significance). Since the relevant zones are directly delegated to the blackhole servers, this approach has come to be known as Direct Delegation.

The first two blackhole servers set up by the project are: blackhole-1.iana.org and blackhole-2.iana.org.

Any server, including DNS name server, needs an IP address to be reachable. The IP address must also be associated with an Autonomous System Number (ASN) so that networks can recognize other networks and route data packets to the IP address destination. To solve this problem, a new authoritative DNS service would be created but, to make it work, the community would have to designate IP addresses for the servers and, to facilitate their availability, an AS number that network operators could use to reach (or provide) the new service.

The selected AS number (provided by American Registry for Internet Numbers) and namesake of the project, was 112. It was started by a small subset of root server operators, later grown to a group of volunteer name server operators that include many other organizations. They run anycasted instances of the blackhole servers that, together, form a distributed sink for the reverse DNS lookups for private network and link-local addresses sent to the public Internet.

A reverse DNS lookup for a private use address would see responses like in the example below, where the name server blackhole-1.iana.org is authoritative for it and says the name does not exist, represented in DNS responses by NXDOMAIN.

$ dig @blackhole-1.iana.org -x 192.168.1.1 +nord

;; Got answer:
;; ->>HEADER<<- opcode: QUERY, status: NXDOMAIN, id: 23870
;; flags: qr aa; QUERY: 1, ANSWER: 0, AUTHORITY: 1, ADDITIONAL: 1

;; OPT PSEUDOSECTION:
; EDNS: version: 0, flags:; udp: 4096
;; QUESTION SECTION:
;1.1.168.192.in-addr.arpa.	IN	PTR

;; AUTHORITY SECTION:
168.192.in-addr.arpa.	10800	IN	SOA	168.192.in-addr.arpa. nobody.localhost. 42 86400 43200 604800 10800

At the beginning of the project, node operators set up the service in the direct delegation fashion (RFC 7534). However, adding delegations to this service requires all AS112 servers to be updated, which is difficult to ensure in a system that is only loosely-coordinated. An alternative approach using DNAME redirection was subsequently introduced by RFC 7535 to allow new zones to be added to the system without reconfiguring the blackhole servers.

Direct delegation

DNS zones are directly delegated to the blackhole servers in this approach.

RFC 7534 defines the static set of reverse lookup zones for which AS112 name servers should answer authoritatively. They are as follows:

  • 10.in-addr-arpa
  • 16.172.in-addr.arpa
  • 17.172.in-addr.arpa
  • 18.172.in-addr.arpa
  • 19.172.in-addr.arpa
  • 20.172.in-addr.arpa
  • 21.172.in-addr.arpa
  • 22.172.in-addr.arpa
  • 23.172.in-addr.arpa
  • 24.172.in-addr.arpa
  • 25.172.in-addr.arpa
  • 26.172.in-addr.arpa
  • 27.172.in-addr.arpa
  • 28.172.in-addr.arpa
  • 29.172.in-addr.arpa
  • 30.172.in-addr.arpa
  • 31.172.in-addr.arpa
  • 168.192.in-addr.arpa
  • 254.169.in-addr.arpa (corresponding to the IPv4 link-local address block)

Zone files for these zones are quite simple because essentially they are empty apart from the required  SOA and NS records. A template of the zone file is defined as:

  ; db.dd-empty
   ;
   ; Empty zone for direct delegation AS112 service.
   ;
   $TTL    1W
   @  IN  SOA  prisoner.iana.org. hostmaster.root-servers.org. (
                                  1         ; serial number
                                  1W      ; refresh
                                  1M      ; retry
                                  1W      ; expire
                                  1W )    ; negative caching TTL
   ;
          NS     blackhole-1.iana.org.
          NS     blackhole-2.iana.org.

IP addresses of the direct delegation name servers are covered by the single IPv4 prefix 192.175.48.0/24 and the IPv6 prefix 2620:4f:8000::/48.

Name server
IPv4 address
IPv6 address

blackhole-1.iana.org
192.175.48.6
2620:4f:8000::6

blackhole-2.iana.org
192.175.48.42
2620:4f:8000::42

DNAME redirection

Firstly, what is DNAME? Introduced by RFC 6672, a DNAME record or Delegation Name Record creates an alias for an entire subtree of the domain name tree. In contrast, the CNAME record creates an alias for a single name and not its subdomains. For a received DNS query, the DNAME record instructs the name server to substitute all those appearing in the left hand (owner name) with the right hand (alias name). The substituted query name, like the CNAME, may live within the zone or may live outside the zone.

Like the CNAME record, the DNS lookup will continue by retrying the lookup with the substituted name. For example, if there are two DNS zone as follows:

# zone: example.com
www.example.com.	A		203.0.113.1
foo.example.com.	DNAME	example.net.

# zone: example.net
example.net.		A		203.0.113.2
bar.example.net.	A		203.0.113.3

The query resolution scenarios would look like this:

Query (Type + Name)
Substitution
Final result

A www.example.com
(no DNAME, don’t apply)
203.0.113.1

DNAME foo.example.com
(don’t apply to the owner name itself)
example.net

A foo.example.com
(don’t apply to the owner name itself)

A bar.foo.example.com
bar.example.net
203.0.113.2

RFC 7535 specifies adding another special zone, empty.as112.arpa, to support DNAME redirection for AS112 nodes. When there are new zones to be added, there is no need for AS112 node operators to update their configuration: instead, the zones’ parents will set up DNAME records for the new domains with the target domain empty.as112.arpa. The redirection (which can be cached and reused) causes clients to send future queries to the blackhole server that is authoritative for the target zone.

Note that blackhole servers do not have to support DNAME records themselves, but they do need to configure the new zone to which root servers will redirect queries at. Considering there may be existing node operators that do not update their name server configuration for some reasons and in order to not cause interruption to the service, the zone was delegated to a new blackhole server instead – blackhole.as112.arpa.

This name server uses a new pair of IPv4 and IPv6 addresses, 192.31.196.1 and 2001:4:112::1, so queries involving DNAME redirection will only land on those nodes operated by entities that also set up the new name server. Since it is not necessary for all AS112 participants to reconfigure their servers to serve empty.as112.arpa from this new server for this system to work, it is compatible with the loose coordination of the system as a whole.

The zone file for empty.as112.arpa is defined as:

   ; db.dr-empty
   ;
   ; Empty zone for DNAME redirection AS112 service.
   ;
   $TTL    1W
   @  IN  SOA  blackhole.as112.arpa. noc.dns.icann.org. (
                                  1         ; serial number
                                  1W      ; refresh
                                  1M      ; retry
                                  1W      ; expire
                                  1W )    ; negative caching TTL
   ;
          NS     blackhole.as112.arpa.

The addresses of the new DNAME redirection name server are covered by the single IPv4 prefix 192.31.196.0/24 and the IPv6 prefix 2001:4:112::/48.

Name server
IPv4 address
IPv6 address

blackhole.as112.arpa
192.31.196.1
2001:4:112::1

Node identification

RFC 7534 recommends every AS112 node also to host the following metadata zones as well: hostname.as112.net and hostname.as112.arpa.

These zones only host TXT records and serve as identifiers for querying metadata information about an AS112 node. At Cloudflare nodes, the zone files look like this:

$ORIGIN hostname.as112.net.
;
$TTL    604800
;
@       IN  SOA     ns3.cloudflare.com. dns.cloudflare.com. (
                       1                ; serial number
                       604800           ; refresh
                       60               ; retry
                       604800           ; expire
                       604800 )         ; negative caching TTL
;
            NS      blackhole-1.iana.org.
            NS      blackhole-2.iana.org.
;
            TXT     "Cloudflare DNS, <DATA_CENTER_AIRPORT_CODE>"
            TXT     "See http://www.as112.net/ for more information."
;

$ORIGIN hostname.as112.arpa.
;
$TTL    604800
;
@       IN  SOA     ns3.cloudflare.com. dns.cloudflare.com. (
                       1                ; serial number
                       604800           ; refresh
                       60               ; retry
                       604800           ; expire
                       604800 )         ; negative caching TTL
;
            NS      blackhole.as112.arpa.
;
            TXT     "Cloudflare DNS, <DATA_CENTER_AIRPORT_CODE>"
            TXT     "See http://www.as112.net/ for more information."
;

Helping AS112 helps the Internet

As the AS112 project helps reduce the load on public DNS infrastructure, it plays a vital role in maintaining the stability and efficiency of the Internet. Being a part of this project aligns with Cloudflare’s mission to help build a better Internet.

Cloudflare is one of the fastest global anycast networks on the planet, and operates one of the largest, highly performant and reliable DNS services. We run authoritative DNS for millions of Internet properties globally. We also operate the privacy- and performance-focused public DNS resolver 1.1.1.1 service. Given our network presence and scale of operations, we believe we can make a meaningful contribution to the AS112 project.

How we built it

We’ve publicly talked about the Cloudflare in-house built authoritative DNS server software, rrDNS, several times in the past, but haven’t talked much about the software we built to power the Cloudflare public resolver – 1.1.1.1. This is an opportunity to shed some light on the technology we used to build 1.1.1.1, because this AS112 service is built on top of the same platform.

A platform for DNS workloads

We’ve created a platform to run DNS workloads. Today, it powers 1.1.1.1, 1.1.1.1 for Families, Oblivious DNS over HTTPS (ODoH), Cloudflare WARP and Cloudflare Gateway.

The core part of the platform is a non-traditional DNS server, which has a built-in DNS recursive resolver and a forwarder to forward queries to other servers. It consists of four key modules:

  • A highly efficient listener module that accepts connections for incoming requests.
  • A query router module that decides how a query should be resolved.
  • A conductor module that figures out the best way of exchanging DNS messages with upstream servers.
  • A sandbox environment to host guest applications.
  • The DNS server itself doesn’t include any business logic, instead the guest applications run in the sandbox environment can implement concrete business logic such as request filtering, query processing, logging, attack mitigation, cache purging, etc.

    The server is written in Rust and the sandbox environment is built on top of a WebAssembly runtime. The combination of Rust and WebAssembly allow us to implement high efficient connection handling, request filtering and query dispatching modules, while having the flexibility of implementing custom business logic in a safe and efficient manner.

    The host exposes a set of APIs, called hostcalls, for the guest applications to accomplish a variety of tasks. You can think of them like syscalls on Linux. Here are few examples functions provided by the hostcalls:

    • Obtain the current UNIX timestamp
    • Lookup geolocation data of IP addresses
    • Spawn async tasks
    • Create local sockets
    • Forward DNS queries to designated servers
    • Register callback functions of the sandbox hooks
    • Read current request information, and write responses
    • Emit application logs, metric data points and tracing spans/events

    The DNS request lifecycle is broken down into phases. A request phase is a point in processing at which sandboxed apps can be called to change the course of request resolution. And each guest application can register callbacks for each phase.

    AS112 guest application

    The AS112 service is built as a guest application written in Rust and compiled to WebAssembly. The zones listed in RFC 7534 and RFC 7535 are loaded as static zones in memory and indexed as a tree data structure. Incoming queries are answered locally by looking up entries in the zone tree.

    A router setting in the app manifest is added to tell the host what kind of DNS queries should be processed by the guest application, and a fallback_action setting is added to declare the expected fallback behavior.

    # Declare what kind of queries the app handles.
    router = [
        # The app is responsible for all the AS112 IP prefixes.
        "dst in { 192.31.196.0/24 192.175.48.0/24 2001:4:112::/48 2620:4f:8000::/48 }",
    ]
    
    # If the app fails to handle the query, servfail should be returned.
    fallback_action = "fail"
    

    The guest application, along with its manifest, is then compiled and deployed through a deployment pipeline that leverages Quicksilver to store and replicate the assets worldwide.

    The guest application is now up and running, but how does the DNS query traffic destined to the new IP prefixes reach the DNS server? Do we have to restart the DNS server every time we add a new guest application? Of course there is no need. We use software we developed and deployed earlier, called Tubular. It allows us to change the addresses of a service on the fly. With the help of Tubular, incoming packets destined to the AS112 service IP prefixes are dispatched to the right DNS server process without the need to make any change or release of the DNS server itself.

    Meanwhile, in order to make the misdirected DNS queries land on the Cloudflare network in the first place, we use BYOIP (Bringing Your Own IPs to Cloudflare), a Cloudflare product that can announce customer’s own IP prefixes in all our locations. The four AS112 IP prefixes are boarded onto the BYOIP system, and will be announced by it globally.

    Testing

    How can we ensure the service we set up does the right thing before we announce it to the public Internet? 1.1.1.1 processes more than 13 billion of these misdirected queries every day, and it has logic in place to directly return NXDOMAIN for them locally, which is a recommended practice per RFC 7534.

    However, we are able to use a dynamic rule to change how the misdirected queries are handled in Cloudflare testing locations. For example, a rule like following:

    phase = post-cache and qtype in { PTR } and colo in { test1 test2 } and qname-suffix in { 10.in-addr.arpa 16.172.in-addr.arpa 17.172.in-addr.arpa 18.172.in-addr.arpa 19.172.in-addr.arpa 20.172.in-addr.arpa 21.172.in-addr.arpa 22.172.in-addr.arpa 23.172.in-addr.arpa 24.172.in-addr.arpa 25.172.in-addr.arpa 26.172.in-addr.arpa 27.172.in-addr.arpa 28.172.in-addr.arpa 29.172.in-addr.arpa 30.172.in-addr.arpa 31.172.in-addr.arpa 168.192.in-addr.arpa 254.169.in-addr.arpa } forward 192.175.48.6:53

    The rule instructs that in data center test1 and test2, when the DNS query type is PTR, and the query name ends with those in the list, forward the query to server 192.175.48.6 (one of the AS112 service IPs) on port 53.

    Because we’ve provisioned the AS112 IP prefixes in the same node, the new AS112 service will receive the queries and respond to the resolver.

    It’s worth mentioning that the above-mentioned dynamic rule that intercepts a query at the post-cache phase, and changes how the query gets processed, is executed by a guest application too, which is named override. This app loads all dynamic rules, parses the DSL texts and registers callback functions at phases declared by each rule. And when an incoming query matches the expressions, it executes the designated actions.

    Public reports

    We collect the following metrics to generate the public statistics that an AS112 operator is expected to share to the operator community:

    • Number of queries by query type
    • Number of queries by response code
    • Number of queries by protocol
    • Number of queries by IP versions
    • Number of queries with EDNS support
    • Number of queries with DNSSEC support
    • Number of queries by ASN/Data center

    We’ll serve the public statistics page on the Cloudflare Radar website. We are still working on implementing the required backend API and frontend of the page – we’ll share the link to this page once it is available.

    What’s next?

    We are going to announce the AS112 prefixes starting December 15, 2022.

    After the service is launched, you can run a dig command to check if you are hitting an AS112 node operated by Cloudflare, like:

    $ dig @blackhole-1.iana.org TXT hostname.as112.arpa +short
    
    "Cloudflare DNS, SFO"
    "See http://www.as112.net/ for more information."
    

    Source:: CloudFlare