IPv6: World's Largest Technology Upgrade On Deck

Bugs, spam, viruses, software security issues, quality of service and more have spurred experts to push for commercial deployment and government reform on Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6).

January 9, 2006

4 Min Read
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Bugs, spam, viruses, software security issues, quality of service and more have spurred experts to push for commercial deployment and government reform on Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6).

A panel battled the topic of when companies should deploy IPv6 and where the technology will make the greatest impact. The discussion took place at the 2006 International Consumer Electronics show in Las Vegas last week. In the end, the four panelists agreed to disagree. But all said companies should examine methods to ease future deployments, such as planning a transition and making certain future hardware and software purchases are IPv6 ready.

IPv6, the latest version of Internet Protocol, provides more IP addresses than today's version 4. It supports auto-configuration to help correct most shortcomings in the current version, and has security, quality of service, digital rights management and mobile communications features.

The debate has heated up in the U.S. now that Asian countries are mandating adoption where IP addresses are in short supply. "Let me reiterate how pathetic we are in the U.S.," said Alex Lightman, chief executive and president for IPv6 Summit Inc. "In the U.S., we have between 1,000 to 2,000 IPv6 users, whereas Japan has between 200,000 and 500,000."

The Japanese government estimates the move to IPv6 will create a $1.55 trillion technology market by 2010. Lightman said the U.S. Department of Defense has mandated IPv6, but they've yet to build a network. Rex Wong, chief executive at DAVETV, which delivers Internet-protocol television (IPTV) content to mobile devices, PCs and televisions, believes there are "too many regulations and competitors in the U.S.," slowing adoption.The U.S. government and the Department of Defense, two of IPv6's strongest proponents, are estimated to spend billions to make the transition happen. The White House Office of Management and Budget has directed U.S. federal agencies to develop IPv6 transition plans by February and requires that agencies comply with the mandate by June 2008."I predict the U.S. government won't use or accept IPv4 packets after 2017," Lightman said.

Momentum is increasing in the U.S. Experts believe the lack of IPv4 addresses in an "always on" connected world has prompted concern. In some industries the deficiency has begun to show. "Telecommunication carriers periodically check to see if you're done using the dynamic address they loan you when making a call," Lightman asked. "The dirty little secret is carriers take the address back when they need it even if it ends the call, leaving you to think it’s a bad cell zone."

Approximately 200 companies have requested a block of IPv6 addresses. Lightman, who expected everything from electronics in apparel to radio frequency identification technology to become IPv6-enabled, said only a dozen devices from various vendors such as Cisco System Inc., Juniper Networks Inc. and Panasonic are IPv6-ready.

Two technologies that slowed the need for more IP addresses were Network Address Translation (NAT), which translates IP addresses and lets large companies use one IP address to connect many devices, and Name Based Virtual Hosting, which allows multiple DNS names to function off the same IP address.

Recent surges in the use of mobile IP, IP telephony, IPTV and related technologies are creating a strong demand for the next-generation protocol. The CES panelist agreed IPv6 will make the biggest impact in IPTV by delivering low cost video transmission and quality of service (QoS). Set-top box shipment will reach 56 million units by 2009, estimates Christine Arrington, principal and senior analyst at Acacia Research Group.

But a transition to IPv6 from IPv4 means rewriting applications and installing new hardware. It puts security into question, too, since few firewalls and intrusion detection systems are v6 compliant. IPv6 will enable several security features, such as authentication, encryption, and an inability to "spoof or pretend to be another IP address like you can in IPv4," said Sinead O'Donovan, product unit manager for Windows Networking at Microsoft.When Microsoft releases its Vista operating systems later this year it will be IPv6-enabled out of the box, O'Donovan said. "Windows Vista will support IPv6 throughout the product where there are 14,000 components from Web server to browser," she said. "About 180 million PCs are shipped annually with the Windows operating system."

Most operating systems are enabled. Windows requires a service pack II upgrade by manually installing the feature. Microsoft's OS for mobile devices won't ship for another year. But Lightman said Symbian OS and Palm 6.0 are ready.

Security experts believe there are no known vulnerabilities in IPv6 that aren't already possible in IPv4. "We expect vulnerabilities in transition and tunneling protocols during the migration from IPv4 to IPv6," said Cory Benninger, CISSP Security Consultant at Foundstone Professional Services, a Division of McAfee, in an e-mail to TechWeb. "The IPv6 platform's immaturity is the largest vulnerability."

Implementation flaws in IPv6 have already hit a number of software vendors. Benninger provided a sample list: Cisco IOS IPv6 denial-of-service vulnerability, Linux Kernel IPv6 Denial of Service Vulnerability and Windows (XP, 2k3, Longhorn) is vulnerable to IPv6 Land attack.

IPv6 isn't backward compatible with IPv4. Lightman said transition will require encapsulation, tunneling or dual-stack routing where both protocols run simultaneously for awhile. O'Donovan said Microsoft Vista will be dual-stack.

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