Better Browser Experience for blocked SSL sites

Posted September 7, 2017 by David Redekop to Feature

Traditionally, DNS-level filtering for SSL has been problematic because the block page SSL certificate would never match the host header requested by the browser.

For example, https://badactor.co access would be presented with https://someblockurl.com certificate. This would result in the end-user having to approve an SSL mismatch warning, illustrated to the right, which incidentally, is exactly what bad actors would do with DNS poisoning attacks. This makes it very difficult to train end-users when to ignore and when to heed warnings like that!

Our approach is different. By default, all TCP port 443 (used for TLS/SSL connections) that attempt to connect to the block page server are rejected (a TCP reset). This achieves the following results:

  • End-user device response is immediate, so the user isn’t waiting and wondering what’s going on
  • Bandwidth usage is reduced
  • Device resources are never congested due to wait times

Some DNS-based SSL blocking approaches, will offer a DNS answer of 0.0.0.0 which achieves the above results as well, but then cannot present the end-user with anything helpful.

What we do want, is for the end-user to have some sort of feedback to indicate what just happened. This is where our browser extension comes in handy. To see it in action, here’s a short demonstration:

And here’s a direct link to the knowledge base article with further details and extension access.

Now you can enjoy a user-friendly SSL block page experience!

Using a Zero Trust Model to block outbound VPN, Proxy, TOR, and P2P

Posted July 28, 2017 by David Redekop to Feature Security Whitelist

Traditionally, it has been difficult to block unwanted traffic that is initiated behind an Internet gateway. This is completely understandable considering that a traditional consumer, prosumer, and SMB gateways take an allow all, block some approach. This means that workarounds just need to find one protocol, destination or port that isn’t blocked, and bingo! Your egress channel is now unrestricted using that open hole.

What we are demonstrating here, though, is the opposite. A zero trust model works like this: block all, allow some. This idea of whitelisting is far from new. However, a practical and convenient way to do so has been the challenge. We would like to share with you how we implement a practical solution:

The DTTS (Don’t Talk To Strangers) is currently available for an early adopter group. If you’re interested, kindly contact us via support.

Making your life easier

Posted March 4, 2017 by David Redekop to Feature

Our newest firmware (3.1.4) supports our largest feature upgrade yet! Most of it you will experience in the Internet experience itself as well as the dashboard, as you learn about the new capabilities that you asked for, such as:

  • Brand new tool at http://mytools.management/ which is available from any computer or device on your network
  • Automated way to check a website for dependencies so when you have a whitelisted device asking to whitelist eBay.com for example, the system crawls it for dependencies and shows you which ones are safe and which ones aren’t
  • Auto-whitelisting allows for automatic approval of unblock requests provided that
    • the domain has a positive reputation
    • no known threats hosted on the domain
    • is not categorized as adult content

    (more than 90% of unblock requests will be auto-approved with this method)

  • Don’t Talk To Strangers (DTTS) new feature is included in the firmware itself; watch our blog for more details coming shortly
  • “Last seen online” option coming back soon to your dashboard; your firmware will now include the required software to offer this
  • Automatic tagging of discovered devices by Operating System coming soon; your firmware will now include the required software to offer this also
  • Business-grade platforms now include additional per-interface features; a DNS listener for each VLAN
  • Watch for new plans available soon to take advantage of these features now available in your firmware

New firmware goodies

Posted August 9, 2016 by David Redekop to Feature

We are very excited about all of these new features in our production firmware scheduled to be released at your router’s next update cycle:

  • DNSthingy now supports authoritative entries, allowing you to use a name instead of IP for internal (or external) resources.
  • Device discovery has been changed from ARP broadcasts to enrollment on “first-seen” basis from the perspective of receiving a DNS request.
  • Unknown devices including queries from foreign subnets including internal vlans not locally-connected, are now treated with your default ruleset.
  • A new utility is included to support future NVRAM migrations (on ASUS routers only).
  • The feature to allow remote support has been improved (previously it required some additional manual steps which are no longer required).
  • DNScrypt support is included in firmware, and will be introduced in the dashboard very soon.
  • Many more bug fixes and stability improvements.

It is also worth noting that ClearOS marketplace subscribers will be updated automatically as long as you’re auto-updating/upgrading your ClearOS software.  pfSense subscribers will need to visit your Packages section and confirm your update/upgrade.

New SafeSearch option includes Bing

Posted June 27, 2016 by David Redekop to DNS Feature

SafeSearch filters the display of explicit search results in images, videos, and text.

We’re glad to be able to offer an expanded version of our Forced SafeSearch feature. Forced SafeSearch uses the network-level enforcement method offered by Bing and Google. Here’s how the feature looks on the dashboard with a simple ON/OFF button:

Force SafeSearch option on DNSthingy.com/dashboard

This setting is now on by default for new subscribers and new Blacklist rulesets. This was much requested as iOS’s Siri uses Bing exclusively.

Why we believe Forced SafeSearch is better

It is important to note that this feature is not locking SafeSearch as utilized in the past for school/home environments. Locking and other proxy methods previously in use, could easily bypass SafeSearch by using https (SSL) instead of http. Locking SafeSearch into the browser is easily bypassed with a new private/incognito window.

The combination of network-level forced SafeSearch and alternate DNS attempts being blocked (also a default with DNSthingy in router mode) makes circumvention much more difficult.

New YouTube filtering options

Posted June 10, 2016 by David Redekop to Feature

Our new Ruleset feature looks like this, and is available for any ruleset type, blacklist or whitelist:

youtube-filtering

No YouTube account login required. YouTube offers opt-in restriction mode by logged-in accounts, which can easily be circumvented by launching a different browser, or by using new incognito/private window. However, when this setting is used on a DNSthingy service, it cannot be bypassed. Attempts to do so will look like this:

Restricted Mode is enabled by your network administrator.

Here’s an example of a common YouTube search today and how the results vary by filtering level options:

Searching "Miley Cyrus" Unfiltered Moderate Strict Blocked
Search results 10 Million+ 7 Million+ 500,000 None
(all) (some filtered out) ~95% filtered out!

In addition, both moderate and strict modes filter out comments which is most often requested by our subscriber to suppressed regardless of filtering levels. The comment section will state this:

Restricted Mode has hidden comments for this video.

You might also notice that no matter what the YouTube account settings are at, your DNSthingy is considered a network-level enforcement option, so it overrides your YouTube account.

When using network-level enforcement of filtering options, it doesn’t matter how YouTube is watched, as all of these are covered:

  • YouTube app on mobile
  • YouTube via browser on mobile
  • YouTube via desktop browser
  • YouTube via incognito/private window
  • YouTube embedded on a website/blog post

And finally, you can set different rulesets for different devices. Our solution is the only one in existence that can offer network-level enforcement options with different settings per device or group of devices. Here’s how our subscribers typically use it:

Role Forced YouTube Safety Mode
Parents/Business Owners Off (with optional account-level opt-in, but note it is easy to circumvent)
Staff/PG13+ Moderate
Children 12 and under Strict (or, if necessary, it can be blocked entirely on a blacklist)
We’ve had some great feedback from early adopters and are thrilled to make this available to all of our subscribers.

New platform release available

Posted May 23, 2016 by David Redekop to Feature

DNSthingy services are now available as a preview release that can be installed on pfSense® software from ESF.

Minimimum system requirement is simply any existing pfSense® installation version 2.3+. pfSense® is a platform chosen by many seasoned IT veterans that focus on managed gateways for a variety of business sectors. Based on FreeBSD, this platform’s strength is in its stability and subscription-free operating system. While DNSthingy is subscription-based, it is still a fit based on the high number of requests over the past while to offer our services on this platform.

For a preview-release installation and a free evaluation, simply contact our support team. We are looking in particular for more multi-WAN environments as well as usage of several VLANs with restrictive/hardened environments.

pfSense® is a registered trademark owned by Electric Sheep Fencing LLC and is used herein with permission.
More information as to pfSense® can be found at www.pfsense.org.

Schedule Internet Access Rules

Posted April 12, 2016 by David Redekop to Feature

Did you know you can schedule your Internet access rules?

Here’s a screenshot of a sample schedule in use by one of our homeschoolers, designed to minimize distractions during the schooldays, while providing entertainment and social media access in specific times of the day:

Scheduled Internet Access

You can completely customize it your own. Here are some typical use cases:

  • Your small business likes to keep staff focused on specific tasks during specific hours. Create a ruleset and a schedule that whitelists only required services for required times.
  • While the office is closed, no Internet access is required except for services such as operating system updates and online backups. Create a schedule that these are the only services allowed during closed hours.
  • Not sure what your Internet-of-Things devices are doing? Schedule them to be online only when they’re in use.

Here’s a short 3-minute video to give you an alternate example:

Authoritative DNS made easy

Posted February 15, 2016 by David Redekop to DNS Feature

How often do you end up having to remember IP addresses to access internal resources such as a NAS or any of your IoT devices? Consider using names instead of IP addresses:

Before After
By IP address By memorable name
Example: http://192.168.1.10 Example http://MyNAS.local
Hard to remember Easy to remember
Might change with a factory reset Never needs to change
Incompatible with future network schemes Never needs to change
Will need to change with IPv6 Never needs to change

A better practice is to simply choose an easy-to-remember name and use your DNSthingy to create an authoritative list and enable it on your rulesets. Now you’ll never have to remember the IP address by simply following these steps, for example, if you had a NAS at 192.168.1.10 you wish to access by various names:

  1. From DNSthingy.com/dashboard, login and create a new authoritative list like this:
    Create an authoritative list
  2. Fill in the IP address and the full list of names you want to work, similar to this:
    Edit the list names
  3. Finally, enable the list in your rulesets so it looks like this:
    Authoritative list enabled

That’s it! You’re all set! Now you can always access your NAS via http://mynas.local or http://nas.local or http://yournas.local or http://newnas.local.

Important: this feature requires version 2.7.0 which will be automatically upgraded for all subscribers and non-subscribers alike.

Real SSL certificate on our firmware

Posted December 7, 2015 by David Redekop to Feature Security

Securing the world of Internet communications with self-signed SSL certificates has had an unintended consequence:

invalid certificate

We would like to undo this. The reasons why prosumer-grade or even commercial-grade routers have never done this is two-fold:

  1. The nature of manual firmware upgrade cycles. Manufacturers have traditionally waited for the end-user to download and apply firmware upgrades.
  2. Certificates have an actual expiry date. Therefore, if the end-user does not upgrade the certificate (i.e. firmware), the certificate expires, in which case it’s even worse than a self-signed or unsigned certificate as some browsers don’t even allow for an override to continue.

Since DNSthingy firmware in prosumer gateways are upgraded without the option of opting out, it opened the door for us to include a real SSL certificate and at the very least contribute to the undoing of the comfort level of self-signed or unsigned certificates. When you access the gateway of any of our ASUS routers flashed with DNSthingy firmware and inspect the SSL certificate, this is what you will see:

mybox.management certificate

We recognize that this approach could be analyzed as a weakness insomuch as reverse engineers could capture the private key off any of our firmware devices. That means in combination with DNS poisoning in a man-in-the-middle scenario + possession of the private key, our domain mybox.management could be abused. However, the domain mybox.management is used nowhere else except on the devices themselves, and is irrelevant to our device-to-controller communications. From our perspective, the upside is dramatically more pronounced than the down-side.

In related news, we salute the efforts of letsencrypt.org‘s sponsors to make SSL everywhere more accessible and affordable. Beta is now open to the public.