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What is private DNS and should you be using it?

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You might not know this, but the Domain Name System (DNS) is a crucial component to your ability to enjoy the internet.

What does DNS do? It translates a Unified Resource Locator (the URL you enter to visit a site) into an IP address.

So instead of having to remember and type a complicated IP like 172.217.1.46, you can just type google.com.

In other words, there are a number of servers on the internet whose sole purpose is to translate the URLs you type into IP addresses that can then be easily routed across the network to their destinations.

Of course, entering a domain in your browser doesn’t just automatically send out a request to the internet for translation. First the browser will check the local cache to see if the URL has already been translated.

Photo by Umberto on Unsplash

If so, the process is faster than if it has to reach out to your configured DNS servers. If not, the request is sent out to public DNS servers.

What is a DNS Server?

The servers that carry out the translation process explained above are called DNS Servers and they typically do only that one thing. Those servers use a piece of software, such as BIND or named (pronounced name-dee), to handle the translations between IP addresses and URLs. But where are those servers responsible for DNS?

Nearly every Internet Service Provider (ISP) has their own DNS servers. And generally speaking, you do not have to bother with the configuration of those servers. However, there may be instances (such as when your ISPs DNS servers are slow) that you might want to use DNS servers from a third party. For example, Google has their own DNS servers at 8.8.4.4 and 8.8.8.8.

You can, without problems, use Google’s DNS instead of your ISPs. Even if your job entails outsourcing to Latin America, your computer will not care whose DNS servers you use, as long as they can translate properly.

There’s a catch, though – whenever you use traditional DNS servers, there’s a privacy risk.

The Lack Of Privacy in DNS

When you use regular DNS servers, every URL you type and every search query you enter are sent out in plain text. In other words, anyone with the skills can listen in on what you’re doing via your web browser.

Imagine, back in the day when you’d send handwritten letters to friends, loved ones, and businesses, that every letter you sent was in an unsealed envelope. Anyone who came in contact with that letter could open it up, read it, put it back in, and send it on its wat. That’s kind of what you do when you use standard DNS servers.

That system leads to a serious lack of privacy—such as identity theft. It’s also where Private DNS comes in.

What is Private DNS?

The actual terminology for Private DNS is either DNS over TLS or DNS over HTTPS. TLS stands for Transport Layer Security and HTTPS stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure. 

When you use either DNS over TLS or DNS over HTTPS, all of your DNS queries are encrypted. By doing this, you make it exponentially more difficult for malicious third parties to eavesdrop on your internet traffic. 

Even if your daily work requires you to outsource software to Latin America, that DNS-dependent network traffic will be far safer from spies. You may not know this, but that’s an added layer of privacy you want to employ.

How Do You Use It?

How you use Private DNS will depend upon the platform you use. Every operating system requires different steps for configuring DNS entries. Most desktop operating systems default to using automatic DNS setup, which means your DNS servers will be those offered by your ISP.

If you want to configure Private DNS you’ll need to find out how to configure DNS addresses for your platform and then use a DNS server from a third-party that offers DNS over TLS or DNS over HTTPS. One example is CloudFlare. The CloudFlare DNS servers are 1.0.0.1 and 1.1.1.1. Those are the two addresses you would use for DNS configuration.

If you happen to have an Android device running version 10, you can enable Private DNS Mode (from Settings > Network & Internet > Advanced) and then enter 1dot1dot1dot1.cloudflare-dns.com. Take note that the CloudFlare address required for the Android platform is different than those used in a standard desktop operating system.

Once you’ve configured your platform of choice to use Private DNS, you shouldn’t notice any slowdown in network speed, but you will enjoy much more privacy as you use the internet.

Give It a Try

There is no downside to giving Private DNS a try. You can configure your operating system to use DNS over TLS or DNS over HTTPS. If you find the new DNS servers don’t function as well as your ISPs servers, you can always go back to the original configuration. However, the privacy you gain from using Private DNS should outweigh the negligible difference in speed.

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