Before we talk about the DNS, we need to briefly over view what an IP address is and how it relates to your personal computer. Basically, IP (which stands for Internet Protocol) addresses identify your specific device and where it is, what network it’s using to access the internet, etc. When your computer wants to access a particular website, you have to request the information on that website from a particular device responsible for storing that information. That means you need a system for figuring out the IP address of the device responsible for the targeted domain so that you can contact that device and have them send you the info you’re looking for.
Cue the DNS.
DNS stands for Doman Name System. It associates names like www.ratemypoo.com with the corresponding IP addresses that maintain the domain. Your computer uses the DNS to find the appropriate IP addresses to contact given the domain name of a website. Once it contacts those IP addresses, it can access the actual devices that hold the information expected to be at that domain. To be more specific, the information transfer happens like this:
Your computer wants information from www.ratemypoo.com. It contacts the nearest provider of the Domain Name System requesting the proper IP address. That provider then reaches out across all facets of the domain name system until it finds the IP address. The DNS gives your device the IP address associated with ratemypoo.com , and your computer accesses the relevant device like that.
No one DNS server can handle all the requests being made by all the different IP addresses, so an entire hierarchical system of DNS systems has been created for the task. They’re divided into zone in order to best split up responsibility in major domains; there’s a specific DNS server attributed to .com, .org, and .net websites for example.
DNS was originally created to be an open and public communication protocol for government and public education institutions. However, its openness makes it vulnerable to cyber attacks.
For example, there’s such a thing as DNS spoofing. This is when a hacker taps into a DNS server and changes it to match a domain name with the wrong IP address. That means that a hacker could make it so any device seeking a particular domain name could be redirected to a different, imposter website. If unknowing people then attempt to give their credit card information for example, because they think they’re ordering a product online, hackers can then access that person’s personal finances.
Another use of spoofing is less ill-natured; Disney is currently financing a company that uses DNS manipulation to keep IP addresses associated with certain devices from accessing some kinds of websites; it’s a child-proofing service Disney offers parents who want to keep their kids shielded from the darker aspects of the internet.
The internet is huge and getting bigger every day, but the DNS is designed to scale, so no matter how huge the internet becomes, there will always be enough Domain Name System operators for everyone.