Using DNSOverTLS With Unbound

Firstly, DNS is how web addresses are looked up to find their location in terms of IP addresses. So it is actually surprising that this lookup has always been unencrypted. The issue has become mainstream of sorts when UK’s Internet Service Provider’s Association nominated Firefox as an internet villain for enabling DNSOverHTTPS (DoH). This allowed people to bypass DNS based blocking performed by ISPs which further cemented the idea that one needs encrypted DNS to avoid being censored or worse MITMed by an authoritarian government by using domain level blocking. I prefer DoT over the DoH protocol simply because of latency issues caused by dependency on TCP for the latter. DoT works similar to regular DNS over UDP but under a different port. One reason for vendors to prefer DoH, is due to over eager firewalls blocking all ports except 80 and 443, used by HTTP and HTTPS by default. In this post, I want to show you how easy it is to get a secure and private DNS at the OS level, so you can do what Firefox does, but for all applications. Okay, lets get to the crux of the article!

Install and configure unbound

Unbound is usually available in the repositories of operating systems, Linux and BSD. Install it using your favourite package manager and we can begin!

The next step is to configure unbound to use root servers to resolve DNS recursively. This is useful to first get acquainted with unbound and also to rule out issues if DoT fails to work.

# /etc/unbound/unbound.conf
  verbosity: 1
  use-syslog: yes # outputs to systemd journal in our case
  do-daemonize: no # handled by systemd
  username: "unbound" # use separate user for security
  directory: "/etc/unbound"
  auto-trust-anchor-file: trusted-key.key # Auto-update the trust anchors, used for DNSSEC
 root-hints: root.hints # download root.hints from

It is important we take care of directory permissions so unbound can read and write to it. You may have to manually change ownership of /etc/unbound using chown. Before starting the service, make sure to change /etc/resolv.conf to use the local nameserver run by unbound.

# /etc/resolv.conf

This step also requires some care if your distribution is handling DNS using NetworkManager, systemd-resolved or openresolvconf. For NetworkManager, refer to configuration related to DNS in the “main section”. In the case of systemd-resolved, I would suggest you to just disable and import any local network related settings into unbound. In openresolvconf, we can use it with unbound as a subscriber. After this is done, start the unbound service and check the logs for errors if any. You can use drill or dig to do DNS testing from the terminal. For example,

> drill
;; ->>HEADER<<- opcode: QUERY, rcode: NOERROR, id: 42947
;; flags: qr rd ra ; QUERY: 1, ANSWER: 1, AUTHORITY: 0, ADDITIONAL: 0 
;;   IN      A

;; ANSWER SECTION:      3600    IN      A



;; Query time: 400 msec
;; WHEN: Wed Jul 10 11:52:06 2019
;; MSG SIZE  rcvd: 43

Check rcode and SERVER in the output to confirm your configuration.

DoT configuration

In the previous section unbound recursively resolved the DNS by querying the root servers. But in most cases we would like to resolve them from a caching server close to us. In this case we access the server using TLS like so,

# DNSOverTLS addition to unbound.conf
  tls-cert-bundle: /etc/ssl/certs/ca-certificates.crt # needed for verification of TLS

  name: "."
  forward-tls-upstream: yes

As can be seen the format for forward-addr in the case of DoT involves specifying the IP, port and name. The name is checked against the host mentioned in the TLS certificate securing our connection. In this example I am using the host from (cz.nic)[], but other alternative exists from Cloudflare, Google and Quad9 to name a few. As before, check the configuration using drill after restarting the service. You can also check the syntax of the configuration file, before restarting, by using unbound-checkconf to prevent unnecessary round trips. Hopefully by the end of this post, you have a secure and private DNS setup!

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