Are .io Domains Safe? (Truth About Its Safety And Reliability)

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Techies and start-ups seem to love .io domains. One reason is that the term IO is representative of input/output, which makes it relevant for anything related to technology. Also, generic top-level domains like .com and .net are nearly exhausted. So, when one must explore other domain names for a new website, .io makes the cut because of its availability and relevance. However, the question is…

Are .io domains safe? Yes, .io domains are safe, but not completely reliable. The .io domain is an interesting alternative to traditional Top-Level Domains (TLDs) like .com, .net, and .org, and it is treated at par with generic TLDs like the .com. However, it has been prone to security threats in the past. This forces us to take a closer look at the safety aspects of this domain. Also, the DNS breaches in the past suggest that this domain is not as reliable as other generic TLDs.

To get a better idea of the potential problems, let us begin with the basics of this domain.

What Are .io Domains?

Very few .io website owners know that this domain isn’t a generic top-level domain. Instead, .io is a ccTLD or country-code top-level domain. Such domains are associated with a physical location.

In this case, .io refers to British Indian Ocean Territory, also known as the Chagos Archipelago.

However, there are no legal, permanent inhabitants of British Indian Ocean Territory, and the .io domain rights are now held by the International Computer Bureau. So, most of the domain use is unrelated to British Indian Ocean Territory.

Anyone can apply for a .io domain registration. The requirements are that the name should only contain alphanumeric characters and hyphens. It should also be between 3 and 63 characters long.

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What Makes .io Domains Very Popular?

The .io domain enjoys immense popularity over other extensions for the following reasons.

  • Easy availability: While it is nearly impossible to obtain a .com or .net of one’s liking, .io domain names are plentiful. The sheer availability of even common names makes .io domains very appealing.
  • Memorable and concise: A short and snappy website name is not only memorable, but it also looks good onscreen. After .com, .net, and .org, the .io is an easy and interesting extension. And if the company happens to be computer-related, the relevance of the extension adds to its appeal.
  • Has a creative edge: The 2016 US presidential candidate Marco Rubio demonstrated how the .io domain can be used creatively in a website name when he used rub.io as his domain name. This has inspired creative marketers to play with words and come up with shortened names that end with .io for their websites.
  • Search engine recognition: Google doesn’t see .io as a ccTLD. Instead, it treats .io just like generic top-level domains like .com and .net. This is great for website SEO. You will gain a competitive edge over other websites with territory-specific TLDs that don’t enjoy the same privilege.

Nevertheless, the main issue associated with a .io domain is its vulnerability to hacking. There have been major security breaches in the past, which present some concerns regarding its general safety. Let us explore it in greater detail.

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Safety Concerns Regarding .io Domains

Although all domains are vulnerable to safety issues, a recent incident in 2017 forces us to evaluate the fragility of .io domains. 

Security researcher Matthew Bryant was investigating DNS weaknesses when he came across a major security concern with .io nameserver domains. The vulnerability was confirmed when he was able to buy an .io nameserver domain, which left him in control of the hundreds of .io websites. You can read more about this incidence on Matthew Bryant’s blog.

Although Bryant contacted the .io registry operators promptly and informed them of this breach, it took several hours for the operators to take any action. Fortunately, the slip-up didn’t lead to any damage as it was discovered by an internet security researcher and not a hacker.

However, if the same had been noticed by a cyber-criminal, then it would have spelled doom for all websites using the .io nameservers that they gained access to. It could have led to criminal activity like redirecting to phishing websites and irreparable damage.

There is a general concern that ccTLDs have weaker security practices than generic TLDs, probably because the technical expertise of the organizations that maintain them is insufficient. Hence, the chances of oversight are higher.

However, in this case, the security breach occurred during the registry switchover to Afilias. Since Afilias has extensive experience in maintaining TLDs, we can hope that they will use stronger security practices and prevent such mishaps in the future.

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Pros And Cons Of Using .io Domains

Traditionally, the .com domain is the most coveted choice for a new website. However, it is nearly impossible to get a preferred .com name these days.

On the other hand, .io domains are easily available. By simply changing the ending, you may thus be able to get your first choice as your domain name. And if your business is computer-related, this extension makes absolute sense.

Also, if your business name contains the letters “io” or ends in it, you can use this extension to create an attention-grabbing URL. Another advantage is that the two-character domain name will make your URL short and crisp.

The .io extension is easily associated with tech companies because the .io automatically translates to Input-Output and tech-savvy people get that.

When it comes to SEO, your website will be treated just like any generic TLD. So, with good SEO strategies in place, you may even be able to outrank your .com or .net counterpart.

However, there are certain disadvantages to using the .io domain too.

Firstly, .io lacks the favorable reputation of a .com, .net, or .org domain. Being a newer domain extension, it may be considered too trendy. This may alienate some of your potential customers.

Also, since it is a relatively new entity, few customers are familiar with it. So, it can cause some confusion. Unless you emphasize the domain name in your branding strategies, it may be overlooked.

Another concerning aspect is the cost. The .io extension is expensive, probably because tech companies have demonstrated high demands for this domain. The .io domain often turns out to be more expensive than .com, .org, and .net counterparts. Nevertheless, many new businesses are ready to spring for the extra cost as it is a brand identifier.

The security aspect also deserves some serious thought. The DNS breach issue in 2017 suggests that .io domains do not have the necessary technical support and systems to manage a TLD. It was disappointing that it took several hours to see any action against the reported breach.

Similar concerns have also been reported on other occasions, which reduces confidence in this domain name. Such issues are rare with a .com. Hence, it is far more reliable.

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To Wrap Up…

Despite the interesting and snazzy extension and its relation to technology, .io domains have a fair share of problems. The .io nameservers have been susceptible to security breaches in the past. Not only does this reveal the inadequacy of registry owners, but it is also disturbing that this was not addressed promptly.

Since you will be paying a hefty amount for a .io extension, make sure your investment is worthwhile. If you have a choice between the .io domain and .com, I would recommend the .com as the more reliable choice.

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