Using the registry to anticipate cyber risks

The registry offers a global relationship network, security awareness, DNS expertise and an understanding of the climate in the .ch cyberspace.

Text: Urs Eppenberger, published on 01.07.2019

More than 30 years ago, researchers brought the internet to Switzerland and registered the first .ch domain names. Swiss universities founded SWITCH, and the registry has been part of the foundation’s DNA ever since. But what advantages does the registry offer universities today?

The online climate in Switzerland

The Swiss Federal Council considers the operation of .ch domains to be one of its critical infrastructures requiring particular protection. On behalf of OFCOM, SWITCH is responsible for the central element of the internet in Switzerland: the registry manages all domain names ending in .ch in the global Domain Name System (DNS).

As a registry, the foundation has the opportunity and the responsibility to systematically identify cyber risks, anticipate specific threat potential, protect against cases of domain abuse and actively pursue hackers. Last year, SWITCH-CERT identified and resolved 1,636 malware and 925 phishing cases in the .ch and .li country zones. These analyses provide us with a comprehensive overview of current and potential threats in Swiss cyberspace; knowledge that is also passed on to the university community and thus protects researchers and students against attacks.

A reliable network

As the operator of a critical infrastructure, SWITCH has a very different position both nationally and internationally, is better connected, and is better able to represent the collective IT interests of the university community – including in the federal city of Bern. International networks play a particularly important role for SWITCH-CERT. The 15-person security team relies on a trustworthy global network.

CERTs from different countries communicate with one another about security incidents via secure channels and can support one another accordingly in the event of such incidents. If, for example, a university’s domain name is attacked from a server located in Thailand, SWITCH-CERT can crack down on that server with help from its Thai partner CERT – usually within a matter of hours. Without a partner on location, the only other option for taking action across borders would be lengthy foreign policy measures.

Unique capabilities

The registry also provides SWITCH-CERT with an enviable level of DNS expertise that offers Swiss universities a wide range of advantages. DNS specialists are there to help in the event of a security incident, work to implement new security standards like the DNS Firewall, and increase the resilience of the Swiss internet, for example through the spread of DNSSEC.

This expertise is also a significant advantage when it comes to the steady rise of digitalisation in research and teaching. This increases the possibility of attacks and, in turn, the risks. New security concepts are required in order to counter these threats. And collaborative expertise is needed to develop these concepts because, in the future, it will be increasingly important to consider network security from a variety of points of view. No other Swiss organisation operates a registry and a network with the level of complexity of SWITCHlan. This combination of a wide range of expertise under one roof is what makes SWITCH so unique.

An awareness specialist on the team

As the official registry for .ch domain names and as a foundation created by the university community, SWITCH is not only tasked with making the internet safer by OFCOM, but also has a fundamental interest in doing so. A total of 81% of all data breaches are the result of weak or stolen passwords. Continuously raising awareness amongst internet users is crucial for promoting the safe handling of information and data. With her expertise and advice as to which measures are most effective in which cases, the SWITCH security awareness specialist is also available to universities.

About the author
Urs   Eppenberger

Urs Eppenberger

After graduating in Electrical Engineering at the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Urs Eppenberger joined SWITCH in 1987. He has worked in a variety of fields is currently Head of Devision, Registry & Collaboration.

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