Andrew Kanieski

Software Architect
Passionate Programmer
Loving Husband & Father of Three

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer’s view in any way.

Dangling DNS and Subdomain Takeovers - Oh My!

Posted on March 9, 2021 | 4 minute read

It’s a busy work week, your backlog seems neverending, you’re rushing to get things pushed out to production. You think I’ve got a new configuration for my Frontdoor that I want to deploy, I’ll just tear down the old one and push that ARM template to deploy it’s replacement. You fire off the delete command. Once it’s done you push the latest scripts for deployment and go get coffee. You comeback to find that although the delete was successful the deployment failed. You check the error logs, “Name already in use”.

You think, meh, no problem, I’ll just run the deployment, maybe the delete hadn’t fully committed before the replacement was deployed with the same name. You run it again, “Name already in use”. You triple check. Same. You go to your resource explorer looking for the Frontdoor with the same name. It’s not there. What’s going on??

You go to visit your application to see if it’s running, you swing over to which should, by way of a CNAME entry on your domain, route you directly to your Frontdoor. You find that the website takes you to some other website. Another website, being hosted under your subdomain. Have I been hacked?

The scenario I describe above is what’s known as a “Dangling DNS Subdomain Takeover”, and is a common way for bad actors to gain unintended access to hosting a site in your subdomain. Let’s break down how it works!

First off, what is a CNAME entry? A CNAME is a DNS record that allows it’s owner to point the DNS resolution for a given domain or subdomain to another hostname. It is a commonly used tool to direct traffic to a multi-tenanted
or shared hosting environment, like Azure Frontdoor, Azure App Services, Google’s App Engine or Amazon’s Elastic Beanstalk. So in practice the CNAME entry for our example above might look like this.


In this example we have a subdomain, pointing to This allows us to host our site behind Azure Frontdoor using the user defined url from Azure Frontdoor. Now let’s say your using a custom domain and custom SSL certificate on, so your not using Azure DNS to manage your DNS, for reasons I’ll get into later in this article.

So put yourself into the grimy shoes of a malicious actor, trying to steal cookies from the app hosted in your subdomain. After some reflection you might realize there is a weakness in this chain. What happens if the app owner deletes the shared resource that, even if just for a moment? Many hosting providers will release the auto generated hostname assigned to the resource. In the case of my example, the get’s released. You think to yourself, what if I write a script to swoop in as soon as it’s deleted, and provision my own Azure Frontdoor instance with the same name as the target of our attack, which is now newly released and ready to be reused.

You can see where this is going. Now a brand new Azure Frontdoor is online, with the same name as your old Frontdoor except it’s not owned and operated by you! They spin up their malicious app, and maybe they collect your user’s cookies or worse they create an identical login screen and start harvesting user’s credentials.

This is essentially a typical “Dangling DNS Subdomain Takeover”. The “Dangling DNS” refers to the CNAME entry that is left pointing to a non-provisioned resource in a multi-tenanted hosting service.

How to mitigate?

In the scenario described above there are a handful or mechanisms customers can employ to mitigate this risk. Microsoft has a fantastic article that explains this type of attack, and lays out a few key ways of mitigating and some ways of stopping it dead in it’s tracks before it even happens. Read more here. Use of Azure DNS with “Aliases” addresses this issue. Also note in the article there are other proactive measures that can be taken even if your not ready to Azure DNS.

This particular issue is not one that is unique Azure, and the solutions are also not unique to Azure. Securing your domains and DNS entries from this sort of attack is crucial to maintaining security!

The key takeaway, never delete a resource that backs a CNAME entry in your DNS without first redirecting or removing the CNAME record first!

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Tags:frontdoor dns azure security

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer’s view in any way.

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