Today, Facebook, in partnership with the Tor Project, announced that .onion domain names will get official recognition from the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), which is responsible for special domains.
This recognition means that .onion domains will stay off the public Internet. These domains allow Internet users to browse the Web anonymously through Tor.
Here's how .onion works: when browsing the Web for an .onion URL, anyone not using Tor won't have access to that particular link. However, as when searching for any URL, the information that you searched for that particular URL leaks to DNS services, which means that any such activity is not private.
When searching for .onion through a Tor client, though, that site is accessible through Tor's hidden network and the information dealing with the activity of looking at that site remains hidden.
IETF recognizing the .onion domain extension means that .onion will stay off the public Web and that users accessing it can only do so through a Tor client. This recognition also prevents ICANN from selling the domain name to other users. Finally, this means that anyone wishing to use .onion for their own website can do so free of charge.
"As a result, no one can buy .onion and there won't be a conflict of interest," said privacy researcher Jacob Appelbaum to The Verge.
Facebook worked with the Tor Project in getting this recognition for .onion. Facebook set up its own .onion address last year for those who wish to surf the site anonymously through Tor.
"It's important to us at Facebook to provide methods for people to use our site securely," wrote the company on its website. "People connect to Facebook in many different ways, which is why we have implemented HTTPS across our service, and Perfect Forward Secrecy, HSTS, and other technologies which help give people more confidence that they are connected securely to Facebook."
The .onion domains now join other "special" use domain names such as .invalid, .example and .test. Other domains looking for similar recognition include .exit, .gnu and .bit.
Established in 2002, the Tor Project offers free software to allow Internet users to browse the Web with anonymity. This system uses relays to redirect Internet traffic so that the activity of its individual users becomes harder to track, helping users achieve more Internet privacy and to prevent the monitoring of an individual's Internet activity.
Tor has helped many vulnerable Internet users, such as political activists fearing surveillance, as well as helped standard Web users avoid stalkers and censorship.
Photo: Phil Long | Flickr