Find Out What Your DNS Server is Doing

What is my DNS server responding to?

We have been in the process of moving from an old server to a newer server. The process is straight forward, we move the sites over to the new server and then update their zone records to point at the new server (the zone has a low TTL – Time To Live to make this transition smoother). Overall everything has gone smoothly with little interuption in the service of each site.

Finally once everything was moved over, we updated the nameserver records to point at the new server so now everything should be running off the new server’s DNS. We are ready to turn off the old server, but noticed that named (bind) was still handing out DNS responses (based on its activity in top). We thought we had everything updated so that this server shouldn’t be used at all.

So we had to find out what DNS requests were still hitting the old server and why we missed those. Here is what we did to find out.

Edit your named.conf (ours was in /etc).

Add the following section if you do not already have a section called logging {}.

logging {
channel query_logging {
syslog daemon;
severity debug 9;
category queries {

What this does it record any DNS query named serves up in the default syslog for named (generally /var/log/messages). This will help you see what domains are being requested from your server.

We determined what DNS queries were coming in, and based on the whois information found out that there were some very old nameserver records pointing at the server’s IP. Without the logging change above, we could have lost 3 or 4 long time customer’s DNS information when the old server was turned off. As it is now we have updated those nameserver records to point at the new nameservers, and will need to keep the old server up and running for at least another 48 hours (the amount of time a root nameserver record is cached). Saved us a black eye for sure.

What else is my DNS server handing out?

Additionally, you might want to look at the log information and determine if anybody is using your server for recursive lookups too.

What is DNS recursion?

Well, recursion itself isn’t bad, and actually a vital part of DNS. Recursion means that if you request a DNS lookup against a DNS server, and that server isn’t authoritative for that domain (it doesn’t have a zone for that domain), it must pass the DNS request to another server.

Why is it bad to allow recursion?

Until recently DNS recursion wasn’t really a bad thing, but hackers have determined that it is possible to “amplify” or magnify their DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks using spoofed UDP based DNS requests. (UDP is extremely easy to spoof the originating IP address of the request.) The hackers send a spoofed UDP request for a given domain with a large number of records to a DNS server that allows recursive lookups. Since the initial UDP request is realtively small, and the response (because it has so many records in it) is very large, hackers can amplify the amount of data they can send at a target using recursive third party DNS servers.

How do I turn off recursion in named/bind?

To turn off recursive lookups from unauthorized sources you can add the follownig ACL to your named.conf:

acl recursion {;; };

And then in your options do:

options {
allow-recursion { “recursion”; };

The first line creates an ACL (Access Control List) to let named (bind) know who is allowed to do recursive lookups against the server. The IP’s should be listed in CIDR notation, and be followed by a semicolon. Include any IP address that uses this server for legitimate DNS lookup purposes.

The second section should already exist in your named.conf, and you just want to add the allow-recursion line to that section. This will apply the ACL to your server. Then you just need to restart named, and you are good to go.

So that is why you should know exactly what your DNS server is doing.

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