Improve Your Privacy with DNS Over TLS

HTTPS is quickly becoming standard, in no small part thanks to Let’s Encrypt. HTTPS helps keeping ISPs and other third parties from spying on users. But there is one more gaping hole, the DNS protocol. And DNS over TLS aims to plug it.

What is DNS?

Wait a sec, what’s this DNS stuff?” might be your reaction. DNS, or domain name system, is the Internet’s yellow pages. It translates URLs into IP addresses. So, whenever you type an address into your browser, the computer sends a request to a DNS server. In turn, the DNS server tells it which server to connect to. Most DNS servers use DNSSEC to sign their answers. Thanks to that you be sure the answer you got is not bogus. Unfortunately, the whole communication is in plain text and therefore visible to anyone en route. This is where DNS over TLS comes into picture.

What is DNS over TLS

DNS over TLS is a new standard that leverages TLS to encrypt all DNS requests, using port 853. TLS is a battle- tested protocol, that is also used by HTTPS, among other things, so you can trust it. DNS over TLS is now supported by Cloudflare and Google, as well as some OpenNIC servers, so you have plenty of options, depending on which DNS provider you trust.

Setup DNS over TLS using Stubby

But how do you set it up? If you are on Linux, one option is to use Stubby. Many distributions already have it in their repositories. Look for the getdns package. Alternatively, you can build it from source. When installed, edit your configuration file (usually found at /usr/local/etc/stubby/stubby.yml), so it looks like this:

dns_transport_list: [GETDNS_TRANSPORT_TLS]
  - address_data:
    tls_auth_name: ""
      - digest: "sha256"
        value: teXpPMydh/upfzX5W9tlx1RWxo649tAIMfVlAqzXPuE=
idle_timeout: 60000 # keep-alive for 1 min, for better performance
limit_outstanding_queries: 10 # try to reduce SERVFAILS
timeout: 12000 # 12 sec, try to reduce SERVFAILS

and restart Stubby. As you can see, this example uses my OpenNIC DNS server. If you prefer to use Cloudflare instead, use in address_data and tls_auth_name fields. Finally, change your /etc/resolv.conf file, so it has the following line on top:



Your computer will now encrypt all DNS requests, which should stop your ISP snooping around. For even more privacy, check out how to use Pi-Hole. If you are in doubt why that is necessary, checkout the excellent Why Privacy Matters by Glenn Greenwald.