In a Sept. 28 memo (PDF) sent to federal CIOs, Vivek Kundra, the nation's federal CIO, outlined the steps to speed up deployment of the next-generation IP protocol. He said the feds must move to IPv6 so they can expand their cloud computing, broadband, and smart grid projects; eliminate the need for network address translation (NAT); enable secure end-to-end network communications; and foster the expansion of Internet-based services.
The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has been pushing IPv6 deployment in the government for about five years, but deployment has been slow. The new deadlines might be a bit too ambitious, however, security experts say.
Guy Snyder, secure communications program manager for ICSA Labs, says Kundra's mention of "native IPv6" by 2012 and 2014 is especially aggressive. "I'm glad they're putting teeth" in the policy, he says. "But this is almost a little too aggressive. I know how much work it takes to do this and the issues they are going to run into. 'Native IPv6' is a little too [ambitious]. I think that's going to get reversed. The government will have to go with a dual stack. I don't see them going native IPv6 [then]."
IPv6, which has been in the works for more than a decade now, is back on the radar screens of some organizations due to the pending saturation of IPv4 address space, which is expected to occur anywhere from spring to June 2011. Unlike IPv4, the "new" protocol was built with security in mind: It comes with IPSec encryption, for instance, and its massive address space could help prevent worms from propagating, security experts say. But the adoption of IPv6 also poses new security issues, everything from distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks to new vulnerabilities in IPv6 to misconfigurations that expose security holes.
"In order to facilitate timely and effective IPv6 adoption, agencies shall: Upgrade public/external facing servers and services (e.g. web, email, DNS, ISP services, etc) to operationally use native IPv6 by the end of FY 20121; Upgrade internal client applications that communicate with public Internet servers and supporting enterprise networks to operationally use native IPv6 by the end of FY 2014," Kundra said in his memo.
Meanwhile, the feds' ultimate adoption of IPv6 will lay the groundwork for private industry. The good news about the feds' pushing IPv6 more forcefully is that it will also result in more and better vendor offerings, ICSA's Snyder says. "Vendors will say no one's asking for IPv6, but if the federal government is asking for it, that will make it available for businesses when they realize they need it," he says. "
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