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Domain security best practices

Domain management is about more than just DNS. It’s also about ensuring a safe experience for your organization and your users.

Add a security contact

Governments maintain legitimacy by keeping the trust of their citizens, and a security flaw found on a .gov host can erode that confidence. When government systems are exposed by weak configuration or technical vulnerability, the security of the information, the privacy of its citizen-owners, and the reputation of its custodians are at risk.

A security contact can help you improve the resiliency of your digital services. Defining this contact is like building a digital front door for outsiders to report observed or suspected security issues at your domain. This could include notifications about compromised accounts, unsolicited email, routing problems, or reporting a potential vulnerability.

You can add a security contact at the .gov registrar, which will make it available in the .gov WHOIS (including port 43 in early 2019) and our published data. You can change your security contact at any time; removing the contact withdraws it from WHOIS and our published data.

A security contact should be capable of evaluating or triaging security reports for your entire domain. We recommend using a team email address specifically for reports, and avoiding the use of an individual’s email address. A common address form is security@<domain> or abuse@<domain>.

We’d also recommend placing your security contact info on your website and in organizational communications. If people can’t find where to report something, having a security contact isn’t helpful!

Develop a vulnerability disclosure policy

Consider having a vulnerability disclosure policy (VDP). A VDP outlines how your organization prefers to receive vulnerability reports and what you’ll do with them, the scope of systems covered by the policy, and legal authorization for those who follow the policy and report in good faith.

Once complete, put your vulnerability disclosure policy online. Some organizations include a link to their “security policy” near or with their privacy policy.

Preload your domain

Web browsers allow domains to be “preloaded”. This means that web browsers will always use HTTPS to connect with those websites. For example, whitehouse.gov has been preloaded into all major web browsers. If you type whitehouse.gov into your browser and press Enter or click on a link without https in the protocol, your browser knows to connect to https://whitehouse.gov instead of http://whitehouse.gov, even though you didn’t specifically tell it to. The same thing happens if you go to a subdomain of whitehouse.gov, like petitions.whitehouse.gov.

By preloading your domain, you can ensure your users will always make secure HTTPS connections to all of your websites. New domains can opt-in to preloading at registration.

See our preloading page for more information.

Use DMARC

It shouldn’t be easy to impersonate the government. DMARC, “Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting and Conformance”, protects your reputation and good name by making it difficult for malicious actors to successfully spoof your domain in email.

Setting an enforced DMARC policy can take some effort, but once you do, email that appears to come from your domain but fails email authentication checks is rejected by the mail server and not delivered to users.

For domains that don’t send mail, setting a strong DMARC policy ensures that no one receives mail that appears to come from your domain.

See the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) guide to DMARC and email authentication.

Sign up for DHS Cyber Hygiene

DHS operates a network and vulnerability scanning service for government organizations called “Cyber Hygiene”. Cyber Hygiene provides regular reports to help you secure your internet-facing systems from weak configuration and known vulnerabilities, and encourages the adoption of modern security best practices.

Join MS-ISAC

For non-federal government organizations, consider joining the Multi-State Information Sharing and Analysis Center. MS-ISAC has been designated by DHS as the cybersecurity information sharing center for state, local, tribal, and territorial governments, and works to help ensure the resiliency of government systems.