Taking a see-no-evil, hear-no-evil approach to internet protocol version 6 (IPv6)? You might be leaving a door to your network wide open as a result.
IPv6 already exists and will eventually become the standard-bearer for internet traffic. Chief among the reasons: Its predecessor, IPv4, will eventually run out of virtual real estate because it uses 32-bit IP addresses. IPv6 implements 128-bit addresses. SMBs don't necessarily need to pump a lot of time or money into a robust IPv6 transition plan, according James Gudeli, VP of business development at Kerio Technologies. But they should take care to minimize the related security risks that could already be affecting their networks.
"I don't think small businesses are ready--there's no recommendation to start deploying," Gudeli said in an interview. "This is strictly about understanding the protocol and protecting yourself."
[ For more background on the security implications of IPv6, see Will IPv6 Make Us Unsafe?. ]
Gudeli doesn't think SMBs need to overthink IPv6 and what it might mean to their business, with one major exception: Security. Companies that unknowingly enable IPv6 traffic on their networks might invite significant threats inside the corporate perimeter. Here are the three basic risk-mitigation steps Gudeli advises; just about any SMB can put these in place with a reasonable amount of effort.
1. Call your ISP. Gudeli notes that plenty of smaller firms go online with wireless routers or other equipment provided by their internet service provider (ISP). At the smallest of companies, that could even mean a DSL or cable modem. If that's the case for you, call the ISP and start asking questions. First and foremost: Is the provider's equipment allowing IPv6 traffic? "If that [connection] is enabling access to IPv6, there might be a potential threat to your network," Gudeli said. "Start at the pipeline."
2. Audit your hardware. If your internet connection does enable IPv6 traffic, the next step is to address the various devices that access your network. The goal, according to Gudeli, is to understand which workstations, mobile devices, or any other hardware accessing the network is actively enabled for IPv6. Those machines could create security risks and you should disable the setting, at least for now, to minimize problems at the endpoints. The instructions for doing so would vary by operating system, but Gudeli said any IT pro that can set up an antivirus program can modify IPv6 settings.
3. Check your firewall or UTM device. Of course, step two might make some owners and managers cringe, especially as you move up the SMB scale. Another approach: Block IPv6 traffic through your firewall or unified threat management (UTM) device. That can seal up a leaky security perimeter; it could also help solve a related management headache: Employees spending time on non-work-related websites. In addition to IPv6-related attacks, "there are also a fair number of websites using IPv6 specifically to bypass filter rules found in front of UTMs so that people can access their content," Gudeli said.
Failing to address the devices on your network and your firewall or UTM could lead to an employee inadvertently hanging a neon sign out there advertising a weakness. "If there's a system that's looking for an IP address and it goes out through your firewall, which for whatever reason isn't IPv6-aware, and it hits the internet and is assigned an address, there's no filtering for that individual computer," Gudeli said. "People that are looking to get into to your network will have an open channel. There's no network translation happening--it's basically a public IP address that's shared with the rest of the world." Someone in China, say--where IPv6 is more widely deployed at this point--could use a simple sniffing program to find open access to networks via the protocol, according to Gudeli.
Once you've taken basic steps to secure your network from IPv6-related threats, then you can consider the ways in which it might impact your business in a positive way. Gudeli notes you can set up a test environment to better familiarize yourself with the protocol, for example. The more likely effect for the typical SMB: They'll see a trickle-down effect as IPv6 becomes standard for their cloud and virtualization providers.
"Once SMBs protect themselves, they'll know everything they need to know when it's ready," Gudeli said.
Security professionals often view compliance as a burden, but it doesn't have to be that way. In this report, we show the security team how to partner with the compliance pros. Download the report here. (Free registration required.)