ACSC offers free protective DNS service to federal, state gov agencies

The Australian Cyber Security Centre has begun offering federal, state and territory government agencies a protective domain name system (DNS) service in a bid to prevent malware infections.

The opt-in Australian protective DNS service, or AUPDNS, will automatically check inbound and outbound network traffic against websites and email servers known to be high risk.

Agencies that perform critical services will be able to access the service for free, with ACSC partnering with UK-based cyber security firm Nominet to deliver the capability.

Nominet also provides the UK’s protective DNS through the National Cyber Security Centre, a service that has been available to government agencies in the country since August 2017.

ACSC has been looking to introduce such a capability in Australia since at least March 2019, though at that time the service was envisaged to eventually extend to all levels of government and critical infrastructure providers.

According to ACSC’s latest annual cyber threat report, the government sector (federal, state, territory and local) accounted for more than one-third of all cyber security incidents reported during 2020-21.

By comparison, the critical infrastructure sectors of education, health, communications, electricity, water and transport, represented around a quarter of incidents combined last year.

Announcing the AUPDNS on Thursday, Assistant Minister for Defence Andrew Hastie said that AUPDNS is already “protecting over 200,000 users” and that this number is continuing to grow.

“Government networks provide the essential services that Australians rely upon, such as healthcare and education,” he said.

“A single malicious connection could result in a government network being vulnerable to attack or compromise, so it’s vital we do everything to prevent cybercriminals for gaining a foothold.”

Hastie said the service had already “analysed over 10 billion queries and blocked over one million connections to malicious domains”.

A significant chunk of the queries were as a result of this year’s Census, with the technology forming part of the “defensive suite” used to protect the count.

“Throughout the Census, AUPDNS processed around 200 million queries a day and blocked more than 10,000 connections to known malicious domains, any one of which could have resulted in a phishing or ransomware attack,” Hastie said.