The deployment of a new address system for the internet brings with it connectivity problems, network security issues and privacy concerns, according to a new study.
The UK is lagging behind other areas of the world in relation to the transition to IPv6 and the continuing reliance on the existing IPv4 system of addresses has the potential to limit the UK's ability to offer innovative services and compete globally, the study said.
"Without IPv4 address space, the ability to grow the Internet’s technologies and services – both the legacy and traditional ones and the new and innovative ones – will be severely hampered," it said. "The most important implication of IPv4 exhaustion is that the limitations on growth will probably pose risks to competitiveness and innovation in the United Kingdom."
The study into the deployment of IPv6 (80-page / 1.66MB PDF) was commissioned by Ofcom and undertaken by consultancy business Interconnect Communications (ICom). It said that the UK appears to be "avoiding the cost of deploying IPv6 regardless of the circumstances".
"Without new IPv4 addresses available, new computers, mobile devices, sensors, and other consumer and commercial devices cannot connect directly to the Internet," ICom's study said.
Every device connected to the internet has an IP (Internet Protocol) address, essentially its internet 'postal address'. When the current version of the Internet Protocol (IPv4) was conceived in the 1970s, it provided over 4,000 million addresses, but ICom warned that there are very few new IPv4 addresses left to be allocated, and that the sharing of IPv4 addresses will be "extremely difficult, if not impossible" in future.
The scarcity of the IPv4 resource has been known about for years and a new Internet Protocol, IPv6, was devised to combat the problem. IPv6 is a replacement system, slowly developed since 1995, comprising 340,282,366,920,938,463,463,374,607,431,768,211,456 addresses. At the time of ICom's report, none of the UK's biggest internet service providers provided an IPv6 service, it said.
ICom warned that IPv6 is "a disruptive technology" and said it would "undermine the value of the IPv4 services they provide today". ICom said that some internet service providers have undertaken to use Carrier-Grade Network Address Translation (CGN) technology to make more efficient use of their IPv4 stock, but said that "from all indications, it appears that CGN cannot provide the necessary long term solution that IPv6 offers".
ICom predicted that IPv6 and IPv4 would co-exist within the internet space for "the foreseeable future" and said that there were a number of ways in which devices operating in accordance with the different protocols could communicate with one another.
However, it warned that the potential technical solutions to achieve this interconnection present network security vulnerabilities.
"A big concern with a number of mechanisms is the potential that they can be used to circumvent existing security measures," ICom said. "Furthermore, the complexity of each of these transition mechanisms increases the vulnerability of hosts and intermediate devices to attack both from the IPv4 and IPv6 Internets."
ICom also said that because of the vastly greater number of addresses available under the IPv6 system, it will make it easier to link individuals with devices. Because many IPv4 addresses have now been shared by multiple users, anonymity for users under the IPv4 system has been easier to maintain, it said.
"While it is correct to say that IPv4 does not offer the same privacy extensions as IPv6, the way that IPv4 was treated as a scarce resource provided inbuilt privacy protection because it was unlikely that a single IPv4 address would always identify the same user, and IPv4 addresses do not have the ability to identify uniquely a device connected to the network," ICom said.
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