What is DNS CAA and How to Validate and Implement? An In-Depth Look

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Have you ever wondered who is allowed to issue SSL/TLS certificates for your domain? Well, that‘s exactly what DNS CAA records allow you to control.

In this comprehensive guide, we‘ll dig deep into what CAA records are, why they are critical for security, how to check for existing records, best practices for implementation, and much more. Whether you‘re a cybersecurity professional or everyday internet user, my goal is to help you truly understand the importance of CAA records and how to use them properly.

A Primer on CAA Records

CAA stands for Certification Authority Authorization. It is a type of DNS record that allows domain owners to specify which Certificate Authorities (CAs) are allowed to issue certificates for their domain.

For example, a CAA record may state that only Let‘s Encrypt and Comodo can issue certificates for If any other CA tries to issue a cert for that domain, it will be rejected.

CAA records prevent unauthorized certificates from being issued and strengthen the certificate validation process. They are defined in RFC 6844 and became a requirement for CAs in 2017 after being proposed in 2013.

Despite this, recent scans show that only between 3-6% of all domains have configured CAA records. There is still lots of room for improvement!

The Technical Details of CAA Syntax

Now let‘s dive into the technical syntax of CAA records so you know exactly how they work under the hood.

Here is an example CAA record:     CAA 0 issue ""

Breaking this down, a CAA record contains the following key fields:

  • Flag: A numeric value from 0-255 that specifies the criticality. 0 means non-critical, and 127-255 are defined for critical records that must be understood by CAs.

  • Tag: Specifies the property or parameter being set. Common tags are issue to allow certificate issuance, issuewild for wildcard certs, and iodef to specify a URI for security reports.

  • Value: Contains the value for the property. For issue/issuewild, this is the CA domain name in quotes. For iodef, it is a URI. Additional parameters like "cansignhttpexchanges" can also be appended.

Using this syntax, domain owners can finely control certificate issuance policies, permit multiple CAs, and enable enhanced monitoring and auditing.

For example, Cloudflare‘s CAA record looks like: CAA 0 issue "" CAA 0 issuewild ";" CAA 0 iodef "mailto:[email protected]"

This shows some more advanced usage with issue, issuewild, and iodef combined.

The Alarming Risks of Missing CAA Records

If a domain does not have a CAA record, any CA can issue a certificate for it as long as they validate domain control per CA/Browser Forum guidelines.

However, this leaves you vulnerable to potential certificate misissuance, security risks, and unintended outcomes in many scenarios:

  • Malicious activities: Attackers can obtain certificates for your domain from lax CAs and use them to intercept traffic or host phishing sites. Recent research indicates this is an ongoing threat.

  • CA compromise: If a CA has a breach, attackers may be able to issue arbitrary certificates for domains without CAA records. This happened during the DigiNotar breach in 2011.

  • Human error: Certificate resellers or partners may erroneously request certificates for your domains from the wrong CAs. This can disrupt operations if you rely on a certain provider.

  • Lack of visibility: You lose the ability to monitor and audit which certificates are issued and by whom. Revocation also becomes more challenging.

Proper CAA records mitigate the above risks by restricting certificate issuance authority. Even if a CA messes up, your domains stay protected.

According to the CA Security Council, domains with CAA show a 4x lower incidence of misissuance – a clear indicator of its security benefits.

Auditing Your Existing CAA Records

You can check for existing CAA records using the dig command like so:

dig CAA +short

This will display all CAA records configured for your domain. If no records show up, that means CAA is not yet implemented.

You can also use online CAA record checking tools like CAA Record Helper and SSLMate CAA Tool. These make it easy to validate and troubleshoot CAA without installing any software.

I recommend regularly auditing your CAA records to check for unauthorized changes or misconfigurations. This can be automated using monitoring systems that periodically validate and alert on DNS record changes.

Implementing CAA Records Like a Pro

The way to add CAA records depends on your domain registrar or DNS provider. Most offer straightforward ways to add new record types.

For Cloudflare, you can directly add CAA records within the dashboard DNS management page.

Registrars like GoDaddy also provide CAA record creation in their DNS management portals. Look for the ability to add custom DNS record types.

Some tips when implementing your first CAA record:

  • Audit existing certificates and include your current CA(s) to avoid any disruption.

  • Add issuewild if you use wildcard certificates.

  • Consider specifying iodef reporting contacts to enhance monitoring.

  • Start restrictive at first while testing, then expand authorized CAs later as needed.

  • Update CAA records whenever switching certificate providers.

  • Setup monitoring/alerting to detect unauthorized record changes.

Proper CAA record hygiene is a critical domain security practice on par with things like renewing certificates and patching systems. Treat it as such!

The Powerful Security Benefits of CAA

Implementing comprehensive CAA records provides immense security and risk reduction benefits:

  • Prevents unauthorized certificate issuance: The core purpose of CAA is denying unapproved certificates.

  • Limits your exposure: Reduces the number of CAs that can cause problems.

  • Enables granular control: CAA gives you full authority over your PKI ecosystem.

  • Improves monitoring: iodef reporting provides critical visibility.

  • Reduces certificate misissuance: Research shows CAA records decrease errors significantly.

  • Forces PKI best practices: Following standards like RFC 6844 improves security posture.

  • Easy to implement: CAA records are fast and inexpensive to deploy.

This combination of security, control, and auditability make CAA records a no-brainer for everyone operating domains on the internet today. Don‘t leave yourself vulnerable – take action to lock down certificate issuance authority on your turf!

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