Free DNS service from Internet nonprofits aims to protect users’ online privacy

A new group of technology non-profits has unveiled a free, secure DNS service specifically designed to put Internet users back in control of their personal data. 

Deep-pocketed online advertisers are constantly investing in ways to take personal data from unsuspecting Internet users, in order to edge out competitors and sell more stuff. Frequently, low-security DNS servers are used to build extensive personal profiles of Internet users, including their browsing habits, location and identity.  Many DNS providers, including many larger Internet service providers, are already in the lucrative business of storing personal data for resale to market research firms or digital advertising groups. 

A blow was struck in April, when the US Federal Communications Commission repealed broadband privacy rules that would have required Internet service providers to get consumer consent before selling or sharing personal information with advertisers and other companies. But the fight is far from over.

IBM Security, Packet Clearing House and Global Cyber Alliance on November 16 launched a free, public, global recursive DNS resolver, with strong privacy and security features built-in. Aptly named Quad9, it uses the IP address, and can be enabled with a few changes to network settings.

John Todd, executive director of Quad9, said the service is deliberately engineered to not store or analyse personally identifiable information, or PII. 

“Our foremost goal is to protect Internet users from malicious actors, whether the threat be from malware or fraud or the nonconsensual monetisation of their privacy. Quad9 doesn’t collect or store any PII, including IP addresses. We don’t have accounts or profiles or ask who our users are. Since we don’t collect personal information, it can’t be sold or stolen,” he said.

The new service comes at a time when better protection of  consumer data and Internet user privacy are being demanded by important stakeholders, including governments. In May 2018, the European Union will adopt the General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, a set of sweeping regulations meant to protect the personal data and privacy of its citizens. The new service "is built with GDPR in mind", according to a press release from Quad9. 

Quad9 promises to offer security and privacy without sacrificing the speeds that Internet users are accustomed to. The service shares the global network and infrastructure of Packet Clearing House, a US-based non-profit with the largest authoritative DNS service network in the world. Quad9 launched with 100 points of presence in 59 countries, and plans to double that location count by 2019. 

“With Quad9, all root and most TLD queries can be answered locally within the same stack of servers, without passing the query onward and making it vulnerable to interception and collection by others. Quad9 can answer queries, usually from a server in your own city or country, instead of in a distant data center, and PCH's decades of delivering authoritative DNS have shown that this model works to significantly improve performance for the entire end-user experience on any Internet transactions,” said Bill Woodcock, executive director of Packet Clearing House.

"We are pleased to support a project that values end-user privacy as highly as Quad9 does. This is a service that is squarely aimed at improving the Internet security and privacy situation for the global Internet user base. The fact that we can do it without compromising speed or performance is just icing on the cake,” he added.

The Quad9 service was publicly announced on November 16 with simultaneous press events in London, Maputo and New York.