Billed as “immunisation for your computer”, Quad9, a new DNS service, promises to enable much safer Web browsing, enhance your privacy while preserving performance. On top of all this, it’s free to use. So is there a catch? We take a look…
Quad9: what are we talking about?
The Domain Name System (DNS) refers to the framework in which all of those easy-to-remember website addresses (e.g. stationx.net) are translated into the long numerical IP addresses that your computer actually understands. So DNS servers act as a kind of internet phone book, matching those human-recognisable names to their correct IP addresses.
By default, the DNS servers you use are likely the ones provided by your Internet service provider (ISP). But you don’t have to use your ISP default DNS servers. If you want, you can opt for a third-party DNS server, which typically tend to offer enhancements such as faster connection times and optional website filtering.
Quad9 is a new DNS service worthy of serious attention.
First off, its credentials are impressive. Three organisations are involved: IBM Security, a group called Packet Clearing House (PCH), who are providing the infrastructure support, and The Global Cyber Alliance (GCA), an international cross-sector community of organisations geared towards identifying and preventing malicious cyber activity.
How does it work?
The service is free and easy to set up. Go to the DNS settings on your internet-enabled device. Next, simply reconfigure the primary DNS server to 184.108.40.206 (hence the Quad9 moniker). For the secondary DNS server set this to 220.127.116.11
If you’ve got a multi-endpoint setup, you can also change the settings via your DHCP server, and this should update all devices automatically.
You may want to change the DNS server of your router too to force a whole network to use Quad9.
Quad9: the benefits…
- A powerful blocklist. Links clicked on by the Quad9 user or addresses typed into the browser are automatically cross-checked against the IBM X-Force threat intelligence database (this analyses more than 40 billion websites and tracks an estimated 17 million spam and phishing attacks daily). The system automatically blocks you from entering sites that are known to be infected.
- Privacy. Some DNS services store things like browsing histories, geographic and ID data for marketing and other purposes. Quad9 doesn’t do any of this. No personally identifiable information (PII) is stored by the service.
- Covers a range of devices. Beyond the usual desktops, portable and mobile devices, it can also be used with Internet of Things (IoT) technologies, e.g. smart thermostats and connected home appliances.
- Little or no adverse impact on performance. At the time of launch (November 2017), the service is present in 70 locations across 40 countries. This is expected to double over the next 18 months, helping to ensure optimum speed and performance for users globally. Performance tends to be ISP and location-specific. That said, early user tests suggests that 18.104.22.168 is “not noticeably slower” than standard ISP services for many people. See how to test the speed of Quad9 below.
Should I use Quad9?
This method of using DNS services to block attacks is a familiar one - especially if you are a big business user or someone willing to pay a premium for access to sophisticated threat feeds.
Now, by drawing on multiple threat intel feeds (including IBM X-Force) - and by making all of this available for free, Quad9 brings to the wider table a promising and potentially useful tool for combating certain types of known threats - such as domain-spoofing phishing attacks.
But just be aware that like any signature or list-based method of protection, it has its limits. If an infected link hasn’t yet been picked up by the major feeds, it’s still going to go unblocked. And it’s not going to do much to pick up the type of malware that’s able to morph through rapidly changing DNS addresses to avoid detection.
So by all means, add Quad9 to your cyber security arsenal - but don’t let it be the ‘be-all-and-end-all’ of your protective shield!