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<nettime> IANA declares .onion special-use domain ( = ICANN gives .onion to Tor for free)

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ICANN just gave a company a new gTLD for free

Kevin Murphy
September 10, 2015, 09:45:34 (UTC)
Domain Policy

   The Tor Project Inc, a Massachusetts non-profit software maker, just
   got a new gTLD reserved for its own exclusive use, by ICANN, for free.

   Tor did this without engaging in the ICANN new gTLD program, paying any
   ICANN application fees, or following any of the rules in the ICANN
   Applicant Guidebook.

   It basically circumvented the entire ICANN process, and it only took
   six months from asking.

   Neat trick, right?

   Tor develops the software that creates the Tor "anonymity network" used
   by people who wish to obfuscate their internet usage (legal or
   otherwise) by routing their traffic via a series of proxies or relays.

   The free software, which plugs into browsers, uses meaningless, hashed
   ".onion" domains because the routing method is known as "onion

   IANA, an ICANN department, last night placed .onion on its list of
   Special Use Domains, meaning it cannot be delegated to the DNS.

   If anyone were to apply for it today -- assuming that were possible --
   they'd be out of luck. It seems .onion now has the same protected
   status as .example and .localhost.

   The reservation was made at the instruction of the Internet Engineering
   Task Force, which published a new Internet Draft reserving the
   .onion gTLD for use with Tor.

   An Internet Draft is a "work in progress" standards track document with
   a six-month shelf life, not yet a finalized Request For Comments (RFC).

   This one was written by engineers from Tor and Facebook.

   The Internet Engineering Steering Group, the IETF's coordinating body,
   approved the draft last week.

   Of the 13 IESG members who voted on the document, the first draft
   of which was published six months ago, five voted "Yes", seven offered
   "No Objection" and only one abstained.

   The abstainer, Barry Leiba, standards guru at Huawei Technologies,

     I believe the IETF shouldn't be involved with registering
     special-use TLDs for things that were used outside of IETF
     protocols, and should not be wading into territory that belongs to
     ICANN. I know there are a bunch of other such TLDs that
     people/organizations would have us snag for them, and I very much
     want to avoid doing a batch of others.

     That said, I well understand the deployed code involved and the
     importance of keeping things working in this case, and I don't want
     to stand in the way. So I'm standing aside with an "Abstain" ballot.

   The logic behind the reservation is that if ICANN were to delegate
   .onion to somebody else (for example, The Onion) there would be a
   risk that the improved privacy offered by Tor would be compromised.

   Voting in favor of the draft, Cisco engineer Alissa Cooper wrote:

     Registering this name seems warranted in light of the potential
     security impact. We need to make our processes work for the
     Internet, not vice versa.

   Another affirmative vote came from Oracle engineer Ben Campbell. He

     This one took some soul searching. But I think the arguments have
     been made, and that on the whole this registration does more good
     than harm.

   A number of IESG members suggested that the IETF should revisit and
   possibly amend the RFC in which it originally granted itself the power
   to reserve gTLDs.

   That's RFC6761, entitled "Special-Use Domain Names", which dates to
   February 2013.

   RFC6761 lays out a seven-point test that a string must pass before it
   can be considered "special use" and thereby reserved.

   The tests cover whether humans, applications and various types of DNS
   software are expected to handle the string differently to a regular

   The RFC also notes:

     The IETF has responsibility for specifying how the DNS protocol
     works, and ICANN is responsible for allocating the names made
     possible by that DNS protocol... Reservation of a Special-Use Domain
     Name is not a mechanism for circumventing normal domain name
     registration processes.

   I think reasonable people could disagree on whether that's what has
   just happened in the case of .onion.

   Indeed, there was some discussion on the IETF's "dnsop" working
   group mailing list about whether Tor was "squatting" .onion, and
   whether it was appropriate to reserve its chosen TLD string.

   I wonder what kind of precedent this could set.

   The Tor Project Inc is a Massachusetts non-profit company. It's
   primarily funded by US government grants, according to its 2013
   financial statements, the most recent available. It doesn't sell .onion
   domains -- they're auto-generated by the software.

   Part of the argument in favor of allowing the new Internet Draft is
   that .onion substantially pre-dates the creation of RFC6761 -- it's not
   an attempt to game the RFC.

   Why wouldn't that same argument apply to, for example, alternate root
   operator Name.Space, which has been offering hundreds of
   pseudo-gTLDs since 1996?

   Name.Space could argue that its strings pre-date .onion by eight years,
   and that the security of its registrants and users could be compromised
   if ICANN were to delegate them to the DNS.

   What about NameCoin, another alternate root provider? It also pre-dates
   RFC6761 and, like Tor, uses browser software to work around the DNS.

   I don't know enough about the IETF's processes, to be honest, to say
   whether it would be forced to apply its .onion logic to these other
   namespaces. But it's an interesting question.

   And as somebody who has spent the last five years immersed in the
   minutiae of the rules ICANN has created to govern the allocation of
   words, it's jarring to see those rules circumnavigated so completely.

   (c) 2010-2015 TLD Research Ltd

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