What Is DNS Layer Security?

What is DNS layer security? Protecting your business at the DNS layer is today the best way to head off cyber threats. Learn more here.

Blog Post

7 minutes

Jul 22, 2021

If you’re looking to secure your work network, you may have heard of DNS layer security. DNS layer security is a crucial way of heading off threats before they even have a chance to attack.

In today’s blog post, we’re going to be taking a look at DNS layer security and why protecting your devices and users at the DNS layer is important to cybersecurity today.

At Impact, we provide our clients with Cisco Umbrella for cloud-based security—what we believe is the best solution for the job, so a lot of what we talk about will be based on the Umbrella solution, but the principle of DNS security is the same regardless of the solution you use.

Today, we’ll be talking about DNS layer security—what it is, why you need it, and how it protects your network from threats.

DNS Layer Security 

DNS layer security solutions operate on the edge of your network—they are in essence the first line of defense for organizations.

The way they do this is by monitoring communications between end users and the public internet at the DNS-layer level.

DNS Explained

DNS refers to the Domain Name System and is best thought of as the Internet equivalent of a phone directory.

You may not know that when you type in a web address in the search bar, the way it’s written is for your convenience.

When connecting to a website, your computer is actually connecting to an IP address, typically a bunch of numbers that will look something like this:

Because people would find it incredibly difficult to memorize addresses like this, we instead translate them into an address that we can more readily understand, like

There are two phases here.

Firstly, the request is made (entering into your browser). Once this has been performed, your computer connects with what’s referred to as a recursive DNS server, which effectively asks what is the IP address associated with this name?

It asks this question to the authoritative DNS server, which responds with the correct IP address. Once that has been received, the user can connect to the website.

This entire process happens every time you go to a website and is so quick that it all happens in the space of tenths of a second; so much so that you’ll barely notice it had to perform this task at all.

How Can You Protect Your Company With DNS Layer Security?

Your computer connects to DNS servers as the first step of visiting websites, and so as far as cybersecurity is concerned, this is the first and best opportunity to stop a threat in its tracks.

For example, say you have no protection at the DNS layer. This means that your computer will happily connect to DNS servers and websites regardless of their potential dangers because there is nothing to indicate they may be malicious.

This is how end users connect to suspicious websites and how they can subsequently be attacked and infected by clicking on elements of that website designed to infect computers.

With a cloud security gateway like Cisco Umbrella at the DNS layer, sites are inspected at the source and users can be blocked from visiting websites that are found to be malicious.

DNS attack cost graphic

Reactive vs. Proactive

This kind of protection is what cybersecurity experts would describe as a proactive method of avoiding data breaches and cyberattacks.

Traditionally, it has often been the case that the emphasis on cybersecurity was to react to threats after they are identified in the network—like a file on your computer that’s been spotted by antivirus and quarantined.

With the protections that come from cloud security gateways like Cisco Umbrella, the idea is reversed, with the intention to prevent users from ever visiting malicious websites in the first place.

How Does DNS Layer Security Differ From the Traditional Approach? 

To put it bluntly, the traditional approach to cybersecurity is no longer particularly useful to many modern businesses.

Typically, network security perimeters have been set up around business data centers at a centralized location—most often the main office.

Security is then pushed out through the “hub-and-spoke” model—the spokes being other offices with secondary nodes connecting to the main hub.

In this model, requests are made upstream to the central data center every single time a user connects to a new site or browses the Internet.

As you might imagine, this is an extremely inefficient and costly way to conduct network security, and while it was the best option in the past, advances in cloud technology have largely rendered this approach null and void.

Cloud DNS Layer Security Advantages 

The most obvious advantage of using a cloud security gateway solution like Umbrella is that it operates through the cloud on each individual device.

In effect, this means that your office laptops, phones, printers—you name it—they all get their security delivered to them at the device level through the cloud itself, as opposed to needing to connect to the main network hub where security protocols and software are traditionally installed.

Instead of having nodes report to a physical central location, they can instead report to the cloud.

This has the big added benefit that remote devices can be secured through the cloud too, no matter where they are in the world.

This also means it’s a lot more affordable for businesses to push enterprise-level security to all their devices, where in the past it would’ve required extensive investment in a centralized data center at the main company place of work, like its headquarters.

dns layer protection is crucial today graphic

Machine Learning vs. Traditional Detection

Machine learning is where Cisco Umbrella comes into its own. Billions of DNS requests are made every day by users accessing the internet with Umbrella protection.

Umbrella ingests this information, applies statical models and algorithms to the information, and from that can determine which sites are dangerous and should be blocked, and which are perfectly legitimate.

It does this by assessing behavior patterns of known threat actors, including common IP addresses used, types of servers used, and domains used in order to build a robust system for identifying bad actors.

With machine learning, which uses artificial intelligence to understand cybercriminal behavior and update its methods for identifying malicious sites accordingly, this cloud security gateway provides users with the most sophisticated way of avoiding cybercrime through interacting and falling victim to attacks.

This information is also used for proactive monitoring.

By assessing large data sets every day, evolving profiles of cybercrime infrastructure can be more readily identified to help fight against emerging cybercrime threats that traditional cybersecurity protections will only find after an attack is made.

This makes this kind of cloud security gateway leagues more advanced and far more capable than any traditional model, which typically operates on a model of waiting for an attack to happen before patching the software and pushing updates to end users—after the damage is already done.

The Bottom Line

Cloud security gateways are a method of delivering security to devices at the individual endpoint level.

For businesses that have an increased number of remote or mobile devices, it is essential for them to have an appropriate level of security protection, and solutions through the cloud are today the best way to do that.

By communicating directly through the cloud with a platform like Cisco Umbrella, devices can be effectively protected at the DNS level, meaning threats are taken care of proactively instead of waiting for an attack to occur.

Delivering security through a cloud gateway also means less latency for organizations that have operated on the hub-and-spoke model for device protection, improving latency issues and allowing mobile devices outside the office to be secured easily and efficiently.

Find out how Impact Networking can help provide you the DNS layer security your business needs by visiting our cybersecurity page.


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