The Ethereum Name Service (ENS) has added support for .onion addresses used on the privacy-preserving web browser Tor. This isn’t to help the Ethereum ecosystem; rather it’s using the decentralized properties of the service to help solve an issue that has been plaguing the dark web for years.
The ENS is a decentralized naming system integrated with the Ethereum blockchain. It converts complicated cryptocurrency addresses into readable domain names. This means you can send ether to YouNameIt.eth, rather than copying and pasting the right address.
Tor is an anonymous web browser that guarantees user anonymity by masking IP addresses. Its network is built up of thousands of layers of routers, which bounce users’ IP addresses around them, making it impossible for anyone to uncover their identity. But, in order to make it work, it has always had irritating domain names.
These are .onion addresses, which—similarly to cryptocurrency addresses—are long strings of alphanumeric characters. They’re a pain to use, let alone remember.
So, to solve this problem, the ENS has applied its decentralized solution to Tor. It allows websites on the darknet to be associated with easy-to-read domain names. This should make it a much more user-friendly area of the Internet.
While the darknet is typically associated with online black marketplaces, such as Silk Road, it is also used for less nefarious reasons. For example, it is often used by journalists to reveal information on totalitarian regimes or other such times when information should be shared but the normal web isn’t appropriate.
To access Tor addresses in this way, you need to use the darknet with MetaMask. This is an Ethereum wallet that lives in your browser and is typically seen as one of the gateways to the decentralized Internet. Now, it looks like it opens the door to the dark decentralized side of things too.