Operational Notification: NSEC3 hash iterations should be minimised
  • 28 Sep 2021
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Operational Notification: NSEC3 hash iterations should be minimised

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Article Summary

Posting date: 28 September 2021

Program impacted: BIND

Versions affected: All versions of BIND that support DNSSEC zone signing with NSEC3


This notification describes a recommended change in DNSSEC practice relating to authoritative zones that are DNSSEC-signed using NSEC3. Although we are issuing this advisory to users of BIND, the advice therein is also applicable to authoritative zone operators using other DNS implementations.

DNSSEC-signed zones offer protection against response spoofing to both DNSSEC-validating resolvers and authoritative DNS zone operators who choose to sign their published zones.

NSEC and NSEC3 are the mechanisms within DNSSEC used to provide proof of non-existence of names. This is achieved by a DNSSEC-signed assurance that between two signed names, no other names exist.

NSEC3 uses hash mechanisms to avoid disclosure of the bounding names themselves, otherwise it is possible to establish a list of all names in a zone by 'walking' the non-existence bounds chain (NSEC). NSEC3 records are created by first hashing the input domain and then repeating that hashing algorithm a number of times based on the iterations parameter in the NSEC3PARM and NSEC3 records.

The use of non-zero NSEC3 iterations is largely now held to be ineffectual against a determined attacker. Furthermore, the use of NSEC3 iterations impose a significant computational overhead on DNSSEC-processing. Updated best practice guidance for NSEC3 is to select an iteration value of 0 (in other words, use no additional hash iterations).

BIND and other DNS resolver implementations are being updated to treat DNSSEC-signed zones as insecure (unsigned) if the zone operator is using NSEC3 with greater than 150 iterations.

For more information and additional references, see ISC KB article https://kb.isc.org/docs/dnssec-signed-zones-best-practice-guidance-for-nsec3-iterations


Operators of DNSSEC-signed authoritative zones using NSEC3 iterations greater than 150 will weaken rather than strengthen their zone's DNSSEC security.


Review your DNSSEC implementation. If you are maintaining DNSSEC-signed zones using NSEC3 with iterations greater than 150 and prefer not to follow updated best practice guidance to use a value of 0 (no additional hash iterations beyond the first one), then to ensure that your zone is still secure, reduce the iterations to a value less than 150 so that DNSSEC-validating resolvers do not downgrade responses from your zone's servers to insecure (unsigned).

Note: The validation limit on NSEC3 additional hash iterations has been set at 150 in 2021, but may be further reduced in future years.

Related documents:

  1. BIND Administrator Reference Manual section on DNSSEC.

  2. ISC KB article https://kb.isc.org/docs/dnssec-signed-zones-best-practice-guidance-for-nsec3-iterations

  3. IETF Draft https://datatracker.ietf.org/doc/html/draft-hardaker-dnsop-nsec3-guidance

Do you still have questions? Questions regarding this advisory should go to security-officer@isc.org. To report a new issue, please encrypt your message using security-officer@isc.org's PGP key which can be found here: https://www.isc.org/pgpkey/. If you are unable to use encrypted email, you may also report new issues at: https://www.isc.org/reportbug/.


ISC patches only currently supported versions. When possible we indicate EOL versions affected. (For current information on which versions are actively supported, please see https://www.isc.org/download/.)

ISC Security Vulnerability Disclosure Policy:

Details of our current security advisory policy and practice can be found in the ISC Software Defect and Security Vulnerability Disclosure Policy at https://kb.isc.org/docs/aa-00861.

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