A major change in the Tor anonymity network has transpired from 2020 to 2021 after their software team issued the latest version that updated .onion domains’ appearance and function. One important aspect of the Tor Project is how it was updated from having 16-character-long .onion domains or v2 addresses to being replaced with 56-character-long domains or v3 addresses.
The software team is driven to improve the Tor network’s resilience to de-anonymisation attacks, privacy, and security, leading them to update its overall function. Moreover, the update was announced a year earlier, while the process has taken over a year to accomplish.
Around September 2020, the team has released the Tor anonymity software v0.4.4 and notified server operators that v2 domains would be outdated soon. Tor v0.4.6 was released around July 2021, wherein server owners were blocked from registering on v2 onion domains. In October 2021, the team released more stable versions for all Tor branches, removing v2 domain support. Lastly, the team released the Tor Browser 11 in November 2021 that removed all support for v2 domains.
However, dark web researchers said most Tor networks still run the older v2 domain servers even though the update was announced early.
Dark web researchers observed an estimate of more than 104,000 active .onion services throughout both address schemes in the last six weeks, with about 62% having v2 addresses; and 38% having v3 addresses. A spike in new v3 domains was detected around July 2021 that overlapped with the software team prompting a full screen warning before users access v2 domains as they prepare for the v11 browser being released this fall.
The warning caused the spike of over 2,900 v3 domains registered for the last two weeks of July 2021. Moreover, based on the software team’s v2-to-v3 analysis last September, it was identified that v3 domain registration has inclined.
Since the release of v3, new v2 domains cannot be registered on the Tor network anymore. Users can still access old sites using Tor Browser’s older version since v2 domains are still loadable on those.
Despite v3 domains having a low rate of 50% existence, dark web experts expect v2 sites to vanish next year. Most node operators will update their versions to ones that v2 sites cannot be supported anymore; therefore, Tor relays capable of routing traffic on old versioned domains will be non-existent.